Gators still best of SEC

Feb 13, 2007 1:27 AM

The SEC has a bunch of teams that are loaded with talent, depth and athleticism. Kentucky won the national championship in 1998. Florida knocked on the door in 2000, getting to the title game against Michigan State before winning it all last season. Here’s a look at some of the elite teams in this conference.

Florida: Coach Bill Donovan had a talented young team last season that won the title. Now a talented veteran bunch, the Gators love the up-tempo game (83 ppg) with four juniors and a senior in the starting five. Junior Taurean Green runs the break, leading in scoring and assists. The Gators started 11-5 over the total and hit more than 43 percent from long range.

The frontcourt is tall and athletic with three juniors crashing the glass in 6-11 Joakim Noah, 6-8 Corey Brewer and 6-9 Al Horford. The trio leads the Gators in rebounding and all average over 12 ppg. Talk about balance and depth! Florida lost to Kansas in OT, but still covered as a +6 dog. UF is 8-2 as a dog since 2005.

Alabama: The front court of 6-8, 268-pound sophomore Richard Hendrix (15 ppg) and 6-10 senior Jermareo Davidson (14.5 ppg) averages over eight rebounds apiece. Throw in 6-6 youngsters Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley, and you can see why Bama leads the SEC West in rebounds.

Junior point guard Ronald Steele runs the backcourt. One concern is the Crimson Tide not being a strong road team (3-7) in recent years. That’s again the case with Bama starting this season 2-4 both SU and ATS away from home (3-7 last year). That was evident after allowing 99 points in a loss at Notre Dame. This is a big week for the Tide, visiting Florida and hosting Kentucky.

Kentucky: Coach Tubby Smith has a fine team that is chasing Florida for first in the SEC East. Yet, Smith has been unhappy with team’s uneven play. "I think we had an up-and-down effort, "which has been indicative of our play." Smith said after the Wildcats beat Arkansas. Kentucky depends mostly on three juniors, 6-11, 260-pound Randolph Morris (15 ppg, 7 rpg) along with guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley.

The Cats stepped up in competition in late November and fell flat, losing to No. 5 UCLA (73-68), No. 11 Memphis (80-63) and at No. 6 North Carolina (75-63). Kentucky is 2-3 SU/ATS as a dog. UK has a tough stretch this week, playing Tennessee and Alabama on the road before hosting LSU. The regular season finale is at No. 1 Florida.

Mississippi: The surprising Rebels are led by super-soph 6-8 Dwayne Curtis (13 ppg, 9 rpg) up front along with leading scorers Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders. Both Doyne and Sanders are senior guards. One concern is Ole Miss winning 11 of its first 12 home games, then dropping 7-of-9 road contests.

Another key has been unselfish senior guard Todd Abernathy, who averages more than five assists per game and is a strong three-point threat. Ole Miss is 8-3 ATS as a dog, but double-digit losers to UConn, Memphis and Mississippi State.

Vanderbilt: Scrappy Vandy is second in the SEC East in assists behind Florida because of an experienced backcourt led by 6-5 senior Dan Cage, junior Alex Gordon and Shan Foster. The Commodores have impressive upset wins over Tennessee (82-81), Alabama (94-73), and at Kentucky (72-67) as a +11 dog.

Vandy is also the top free throw shooting team in the East. One concern is a lack of height with 6-7 Derrick Byars and 6-9 Ross Neltner the top rebounders. Vandy is the second worst rebounding unit in the East. Still, the Dores are 6-4 SU, 7-3 ATS as a dog.

Tennessee: The Volunteers have stumbled in SEC play, but got a big boost last week. Junior guard and leading scorer Chris Lofton returned from a sprained right ankle after a four-game absence to key a 70-67 victory over LSU.

Bruce Pearl has a young, backcourt-oriented team. Three guards are the top scorers, led by Lofton, junior JaJuan Smith and freshman Ramar Smith. The up-tempo attack is why the Vols started 13-9 over the posted total, averaging 81 ppg. The biggest weakness is experience (no senior starters) and road play. The Vols began a miserable 1-6 SU/ATS away from Knoxville.