This is the year-end version of the SEC Hoops Power Poll Round Table, which is hosted here at Garnet and Black Attack. In a few days, GABA will, as usual, provide a roundup of all the responses throughout the participants.
Let's talk post-season awards. Who deserves SEC Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, and why?
If we are going to include the SEC and NCAA tournaments, I think the Player of the Year is a tie between Chandler Parsons of the Florida Gators and Brandon Knight of the Kentucky Wildcats. Parsons no doubt deserves consideration, at least, for his consistent performance throughout the year. But Knight's heroics at the end of the season and the overall value he provided to a Final Four participant earns him serious consideration also. In the end, I can't really pick between them, so I am taking the easy way out and calling it a tie.
For coach of the year, I have said all along that this is easy for me, and it still is -- Anthony Grant of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Grant took a team that was considered to be a marginal NIT team and took them to the NIT finals, and to the SEC West regular-season championship. Grant is proving to be exactly the kind of hire I expected when Alabama tabbed him for the job -- outstanding.
Which program was the most pleasant surprise? Why?
Once again, this nod has to go to Alabama. Given my expectations for Alabama at the beginning of the season, which was basically a third or fourth-place finish in the SEC West, the Crimson Tide far exceeded my expectations, and most likely those of every other SEC basketball fan.
It would be one thing if Alabama had been in the top three overall -- that would have been a reasonable performance in excess of expectations. But to win the West
and overall regular-season championship and then get all the way to the NIT final is performance far in excess of most watcher's expectations.
Which program had the most disappointing season? Why?
Another easy one for me -- the Mississippi St. Bulldogs. Given the talent level in Starkville this year, the struggles of this MSU team were clearly chemistry-based and created from the inability of Rick Stansbury to get control of his team. The team fought on ESPN cameras and behind the scenes all year, and one must wonder if Stansbury is going to be able to get control of it as long as Renardo Sidney is there.
If there was a non-Coach of the Year award, Stansbury would be the runaway winner.
Which coach's seat is hottest going into 2011-2012? Will he survive to see another season?
None of them are likely to be fired next season, but I do think that Andy Kennedy of the Mississippi Rebels and Rick Stansbury of Mississippi State are both coming onto what I would call the watch list. Kennedy has been at Ole Miss for five years now, and has yet to make the NCAA tournament even once. I think that makes his seat decidedly warm, and I would expect that if he doesn't at least make the dance in the next couple of years, they will be looking to make a change in Oxford.
Stansbury has been much more successful in his 13 years in Starkville, making the NCAA tournament six times with 2 SEC Tournament titles. The problem is, after the MSU version of Team Turmoil last year, the Bulldog faithful may be getting a little tired of his act. MSU has won exactly 1 NCAA tournament game since 2008, not exactly a historic drought by MSU standards, but enough combined with this year's debacle that Stansbury's seat must be feeling a bit in need of cooling.
The league will have two new coaches next year: Arkansas's Mike Anderson and Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin. What do you see in their futures?
Cuonzo Martin and Mike Anderson have both impressed with their effort so far. I am concerned that Martin may not get a fair shake at Tennessee. In the first place, his style of play clashes with the Bruce Pearl style that the Tennessee Volunteers fans have come to love and admire. Just as Tubby Smith came under withering fire from the UK fan base from his more deliberate style when compared to Rick Pitino's pressing, three-point shooting game. I fear the same for Martin.
I am confident Mike Anderson will succeed at Arkansas. The fans have longed for the return of Nolan Richardson's success without his other baggage, and Anderson is as close to Richardson as it is possible to get. He plays a very similar system, and is a dynamic recruiter with a game that will attract high major prospects to Fayetteville. The Arkansas Razorbacks are likely to ascend up the ranks of the SEC very quickly under Anderson, although I do doubt that in the current environment that he can restore Arkansas to the height of its glory.