The Kentucky Wildcats are the defending NCAA Basketball Champions, but they may get upset as SEC Champions in the 2012-13 season with their top six players gone and no veteran leadership. Who can unseat them?
The 2012-13 NCAA Basketball season begins in the first week of November, and before making your NCAA Basketball picks, it is important to do you homework in these final weeks leading up to the season.
The posted money line at 5 Dimes has Texas-San Antonio as an underdog for this contest at current odds of +120.
We are now taking a look at what we think the top of the SEC will look like at the end of this season. This conference obviously boasts the defending national champions in the Kentucky Wildcats, and as usual, the Wildcats have the best recruiting class in the country. But will that be enough to win the SEC this season?
Besides the usual top teams of years past, the SEC will have a new look in 2012 with Missouri and Texas A&M both joining the league after bolting from the Big 12. Those moves are more significant in basketball that they are in football, where the SEC was already king to begin with, as they provide an upgrade to what was a pretty weak SEC Basketball conference after the top tier teams.
So will Kentucky dominate the conference again this year and compete for another national title? We might be in the minority, but we do not believe so as we are picking an upset atop the conference, although we do believe that the Wildcats will get better as the season goes on.
This is who we feel the top four teams in the SEC will be this season.
1 – Florida Gators: Florida is our upset choice to win the SEC this year as the Gators return four key players from the team that went all the way to the Elite Eight for the second straight year last season, with shooting guard Kenny Boynton, center Patric Young and power forward Erik Murphy all starting and Mike Rosario in all likelihood resuming his role as the top scorer off the bench. Also, never underestimate the ability of Coach Billy Donavan to get the most out of his players, and his teams have always improved as the season has gone on. With all the returning experience on this team though, we expect a better beginning to this year also, and that is a key reason why we give Florida the nod over Kentucky.
2 – Kentucky Wildcats: Yes, the Wildcats always have great recruiting classes under John Calipari and this year is no exception. However, even with the great recruiting teams Kentucky has had in the past, it has always had one or two veteran players to lend a steadying influence to the “Diaper Dandies”. This time around, the Wildcats lost their entire starting five from last season to the NBA, as well as a sixth man that played starters’ minutes in Darius Miller to graduation. Miller also provided senior leadership off the bench, and while the Wildcats have another superior group of freshmen, they return basically nobody that can fill Miller’s role. Now do not get us wrong as this team could be awesome by year’s end as the youngsters gel, but we simply think it will take longer to happen than past years without a steadying influence on the floor.
3 – Missouri Tigers: Yes, we realize that the last time we was the Tigers they were getting upset by 15th seeded Norfolk State in their first NCAA Tournament game last season, but this is still a very talented team coming over from what was possibly the best conference in the country from top to bottom last year, when the Tigers won 30 games, went 14-4 in Big 12 play and won the Big 12 Tournament. Now the team will have a new look this year with only two returning starters, but Missouri hit the mother load with center Alex Oriakhi transferring over from Connecticut, and it also has three other very talented transfers coming in with Jabari Brown, Keion Bell, Earnest Ross all coming on board. It also helps that the Tigers are facing softer competition this year than last season.
4 – Tennessee Volunteers: Not too much was expected out of Tennessee last year, but Cuonzo Martin did a great coaching job in his first year after succeeding Bruce Pearl by leading the Volunteers to an 18-13 record and an NIT Tournament berth. Perhaps more remarkable was Tennessee going 10-6 in SEC play, good enough for second in the conference. No we are not expecting another second-place finish this season, but the Vols should remain competitive with four returning starter including Jarnell Stokes. It was the insertion of Stokes into the lineup that turned Tennessee’s season around after a 3-6 start, and he will also go down as the first Martin recruit to make an impact.