According to the media, Kentucky is picked to finish second in the East behind Florida. Surprised?
Well, not me, not really. Kentucky is young, after all, and right now, kind of in limbo with Enes Kanter's eligibility still being hashed out by the pointy-heads in the NCAA. Florida is an experienced basketball team that should have solid leadership and gets an infusion of freshman talent in the front court with 6'8" Patric Young, a player who will remind some of Patrick Patterson with his inside strength and motor. But Young looks to fill an off the bench role for the experienced Gators this year.
For the Wildcats, I really don't care what sportswriters think about them. Their overall talent looks to me to easily match up with the Gators' experience, and although a lot depends upon how much Calipari can teach them about defending the pick and roll between now and the SEC season, I don't think Wildcat fans have any reason to believe UK won't overcome Florida. The days of Donovan seem to be firmly in the rear-view mirror, and although he is still recruiting well and has good talent, the path to the SEC East championship still runs through Lexington.
It's not that I think that the Gators are a bad choice, mind you. To the contrary, they are the safe choice. You can't blame writers for going with experience over talent, not with Dukes victory in the tourney last year and the Wildcats' flame-out against West Virginia. But the Gators over the last several years have suffered from serious chemistry issues, and I'm not going to declare those problems dead and gone until I see the Gators in some tough games with quality opponents, where they have generally folded like a house of cards over the last few years. I guess what I'm saying is, Donovan has put himself in the position of having to prove himself all over again. Those national championships were so three years ago.
Whither Tennessee? Well, the writers picked the Volunteers to finish fourth behind, of all people, Georgia. I think that likely reflects all the off-season trouble that Tennessee had with Bruce Pearl, but on a pure talent standpoint, I don't think I agree. Yes, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie are really good, but I'm not ready to buy that they are that good. We'll see. I think I would have picked the Vols over Georgia just on track record alone.
In the west, it seems that Mississippi State is the favorite. Arkansas looks like the sleeper in that division to me, assuming they can rectify the chemistry and discipline issues that have plagued them since John Pelphrey stepped on campus. I don't really buy Ole Miss second, but to be honest, Andy Kennedy has impressed me more often than not, so maybe they are on to something.
Once again, it seems like most of the action will be in the East, at least until Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney regain eligibility. If I remember right, I think both of them will be available for conference play, and that will make MSU very, very threatening indeed. Renardo Sidney is a serious NBA talent, and I have to admit, part of me drools at the thought of Sidney and Kanter going after each other. Or Trey Thomkins and Kanter. Good stuff, I just hope it happens.
As to the "Who's better, Calipari or Pitino?" debate, I have little to say. They are both great coaches, but they have different strengths. Pitino, it is said, is a better bench coach, and perhaps that is so. Calipari is unquestionably a better recruiter. Some say Pitino develops talent better, but I am not buying that. Pitino has had some notable successes, but Calipari did a bang-up job on getting Patrick Patterson to take his game to another level. In the end, some will prefer one and some the other.
A Ken UPDATE: I didn't want to post this over top of Glenn's excellent article, but Coach Calipari has posted an open letter to UK fans at CoachCal.com. If interested, go here.