No longer about UK in SEC

Feb 14, 2006 3:35 AM

The SEC has a bunch of teams that are loaded with talent, depth and athleticism. Kentucky won the national championship in 1998 and Florida knocked on the door in 2000, getting to the title game against Michigan State.

Here’s a look at some of college basketball’s best teams in the SEC that hope to knock on the door again.

Florida: Coach Bill Donovan likes the up-tempo game (83 ppg) and has another strong group. The Gators are young and very good. Sophomore Taurean Green has taken over at the point and leads in scoring and assists, while three sophomores crash the glass in 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah, 6-8 Corey Brewer and 6-9 Al Horford. The trio leads the Gators in rebounding and all average 12 ppg. Talk about balance and depth!

UF has only been an underdog one time, getting three points in a 75-70 win over Syracuse. Even the defense is good (when the minds are into it), allowing 58 ppg at home. Florida plays four of its final six games on the road, beginning this week with games at Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Vandy will be looking for revenge after an 81-58 loss in Gainesville last month. The Gators were a +5 dog at Nashville last season and won, 82-65.

Tennessee: Possess a dynamite offense run by the three-guard attack in sophomore Chris Lofton (16 ppg), senior C.J. Watson (15 ppg) and 6-4 junior Dane Bradshaw. That uptempo style is why the Volunteers started 11-5 "over" the total. UT has had plenty of punch — starting 3-3 SU, 4-2 ATS as a dog and 12-0 SU, 7-2 ATS at home.

The frontcourt is more finesse than power behind 6-10 junior Major Wingate and 6-7 senior Andre Patterson. The guards run the show, one reason the Vols lead the SEC in steals. Next week (Feb. 22) Tennessee has an SEC West showdown at Florida. You can bet the Gators have that one circled on their calendar after suffering an 80-76 loss in Knoxville on Jan. 21.

Alabama: The bad news is losing 6-7 senior and leading scorer Chuck Davis. (14 ppg, 7 rpg) halfway through the season to an injury. The good news is that Bama didn’t fall apart. A big plus has been 6-8, 268-pound freshman Richard Hendrix, a force under the boards. Hendrix has earned more playing minutes since Xmas, evidenced from his 16 rebounds (10 on the offensive glass) against Mississippi State!

Teamed with 6-10 junior Jermareo Davidson (13 ppg, 9 rpg), the frontcourt has been able to keep on performing at a high level with the unfortunate loss of Davis. Sophomore guard Ronald Steele runs the backcourt. One concern is that the Tide haven’t been strong on the road (2-4 SU, 2-3 ATS). ”˜Bama also gets Tennessee this weekend in Tuscaloosa, and next week hosts Florida — their two toughest remaining games.

Kentucky: Coach Tubby Smith didn’t have the big frontcourt of past seasons, due to the two-month suspension of 6-11, 260-pound sophomore Randolph Morris. As a result, the Wildcats were not the dominating defensive force of years past and went to a three-guard lineup (all sophomores) of Rajon Rondo, 6-4 Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley.

The Wildcats overachieved, but with Morris reinstated suffered bad losses last week at Florida (95-80) and at home to Tennessee (75-67). Kentucky is 0-2 SU/ATS as a dog. UK ends the regular season against LSU, Tennessee and Florida — the first two on the road!

LSU: The Tigers again are the team no one wants to play because of that mammoth frontcourt of 6-9, 310-pound sophomore Glen Davis (17 ppg, 9 rpg) and 6-9 Tyrus Thomas (13 ppg, 9 rpg). That’s why LSU shoots 48 percent from the field and pulls down over 41 rebounds per game, tops in the SEC. LSU leads the conference in blocks (7) per contest.

Senior guard Darrel Mitchell (18 ppg) runs the backcourt and leads the Tigers in scoring. LSU won 71-68 in OT at West Virginia, and lost 67-66 at UConn as a +10 dog. LSU is 4-1 ATS as a dog and it’s nice to have wide bodies in the paint for high percentage shots and to gobble up rebounds.

Arkansas: The young Razorbacks have made some waves this season, starting with defense. Arkansas allows 63 ppg behind 6-7 junior Ronnie Brewer (18 ppg), whose three steals per game leads the SEC. Jonathon Modica, a 6-5 senior, stabilizes the backcourt. The Hogs are not tall and haven’t quite been able to step up this season, going 0-5 SU, 2-3 ATS as a dog. Saturday will be big in Fayetteville when Florida comes calling.