Earlier we took an early, pre-pre-season look at the basketball teams of Alabama and Auburn, two SEC West members. Today, we will do a similar evaluation of Georgia and Vanderbilt from the East.
Georgia has been rebuilding for several years now since Dennis Felton took over from the corrupt Jim Harrick. Georgia has gradually been improving during Felton's tenure, and seems poised to finally make a triumphant return to the NCAA tournament.
Georgia lost relatively few people to graduation. Forward Steve Newman and Levi Stukes were their only seniors last year. Star guard Sundiata Gaines will return, along with Takais Brown down low.
Newcomers this year include Scout.com 4-star Jeremy Price, an athletic 6'8" 220# PF that is a strong post player and rebounder, Chris Barnes, a huge 6'8"/245# PF who was a former UK recruit, and 6'7"/220# combo forward Jeremy Jacob. Georgia is on a solid improvement path, bringing in 5-star forward Trey Thompkins from Oak Hill for 2008-09.
Star junior wing Mike Mercer is still recovering from a ruptured ACL and a severely sprained MCL in his knee. It is questionable if he will be available for the non-conference schedule. Felton has proven he can compete for talent recruiting in the SEC, but during his tenure, Felton has struggled with his out of conference foes and team consistency.
Georgia's 3-point FG defense -- worst in the SEC last year and doesn't figure to improve much this year.
CONTENDER, OR PRETENDER?
Georgia should be improved this year over last, and their big, athletic forwards are going to give their SEC foes a tough time on the blocks. Mercer's status will greatly affect the overall success of the team this year. Should make the NCAA tournament. Pretender this year, but watch out next year.
Vanderbilt had its best season in many years last year, going 22-12 and making it to the Sweet 16 before loosing a nail-biter to eventual Final Four participant, Georgetown. Star swingman Shan Foster returns, along with Alex Gordon in the back court. Ross Neltner returns up front also, along with key reserve JeJuan Brown.
Kevin Stallings has recruited his needs in 2007, and although none of these players have a lot of stars by their name, Stallings has a way of getting a lot out of a little. Australian big man A. J. Ogilvy, all 6'11"/250# of him, will be suiting up for the Commodores this year, along with cagey combo guard Keegan Bell. Swingman Andre Walker out of New Hampsire and power forward Darshawn McClellan from Fresno, California. complete the class.
Derrick Byars, in my opinion the best player in the SEC last year, is lost to graduation. Also lost is clutch shooter Dan Cage, who buried so many teams with a dagger 3-pointer, they aught to call him The Undertaker. The 'Dores lost a huge chunk of outside shooting, and still lack an inside presence. With the exception of Ogilvy, none of Vanderbilt's freshmen seem capable of making a significant impact this year.
Vanderbilt's front line. Ogilvy will not help the weak-rebounding 'Dores near as much as the loss of Byars and Cage will hurt them.
CONTENDER, OR PRETENDER?
The Byars/Foster/Cage triumvirate provided 59% of Vandy's scoring offense, and they just lost 65% of that. Shan Foster and Ross Neltner will not be enough to make it up. Pretender
We will take a look at two more pre-pre-season SEC teams in a few days.