The SEC has a bunch of teams that play great defense and 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 may knock on the door again.
MISS ST: Thank you, Baylor! Mississippi State got a huge lift this season from Baylor transfer junior Lawrence Roberts. The 6-foot-9 forward, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per contest, is a strong low post player who shoots 56 percent from the field. Roberts keys a Bulldogs defense that allows 40 percent shooting, while hitting 47 percent of their field goal tries (second in the SEC).
Roberts teams with 6-8 senior Brandon Vincent to form a strong low post punch. Guard Timmy Bowers (15 ppg) runs the backcourt and leads the team in assists. Bowers is a solid outside shooter, moves well and a good passer. The Bulldogs started an impressive 8-0 SU on the road, including 7-0 ATS.
S. CAROLINA: So how did South Carolina burst on the scene in the SEC this season? Defense! The Gamecocks are No. 1 in the SEC in points allowed and opponents shooting (37 percent). That’s excellent. Experience has helped, too, with 10 players back from last season. The frontcourt is tough with 6-7 Carlos Powell and 6-8 senior Kerbrell Brown.
The Gamecocks outscore opponents by a 67-60 average on the road, where they started 7-3 SU and 8-2 ATS. That’s impressive when you realize two seasons ago head coach Dave Odom’s team was 1-11 SU (3-8-1 ATS) away from home. One weakness is that this is not a strong offensive team, shooting just 42 percent from the field.
FLORIDA: Coach Bill Donovan likes the up-tempo game and has another strong team. The Gators have a talented Big Four of 6-8 junior David Lee, 6-9 sophomore Adrian Moss, 6-6 sophomore Matt Walsh and sparkplug sophomore guard Anthony Roberson. Florida can shoot the three-pointer (39 percent) with Walsh and Roberson outstanding from long range.
The Gators play good defense when focused, holding Auburn to 41 percent in a 68-52 rout (Roberson had 21 points on 8-12 shooting). Florida outscores teams by 17 per game at home (83-66 average), and averages an impressive 71 points on the road. The Gators have a road stretch this week, playing at Georgia (Feb. 17) and Ole Miss this Saturday.
KENTUCKY: Coach Tubby Smith likes tough defense: How about 11-2 "under" the total this season! The Wildcats have a monster front line that crashes the boards as well as any team in the country. Kentucky is a tough shooting (48 percent and rebounding team because of a front line of 6-7 junior Chuck Hayes and 6-9 senior Erik Daniels.
The tall frontcourt allows 6-3 senior Gerald Fitch and senior playmaker Cliff Hawkins to strut their stuff in the backcourt. The deep Wildcats went 11-1 SU (10-2 ATS) on the road last season and started 7-1 this season. Kentucky is battling South Carolina and Florida for first place in the SEC West. The Cats finish the regular season on the road at South Carolina and Florida.
LSU: John Brady’s team has overachieved, even after losing its two best players from last year Ronald Dupree and Torris Bright. The reason is a terrific frontcourt anchored by 6-9, 246-lb junior Jaime Lloreda (17 ppg, 11 rpg) and 6-8 freshman Brandon Bass (13 ppg, 7 rpg). These two strong low post pieces lead the Tigers in scoring and rebounding.
Lloreda and Bass clog the low post and play the kind of defense Brady likes. Along with South Carolina, LSU is one of the top teams in the SEC in points and field goal shooting allowed. LSU started 6-2 "under" the total this season. One area of concern is home/road breakdown. During a three-game losing streak to SEC teams, LSU scored 54, 49 and 55 points against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and South Carolina (two of those games were on the road).
VANDY: The Commodores get it done with offense, ranking just behind Florida and Mississippi State in scoring offense. Vandy does it with three-point shooting and from the foul line. Tennessee, Florida and Vandy are the best in the SEC from the charity stripe, which certainly can make a big difference in close games.
The Commodores are led by 6-9 Matt Freije (18 ppg) and 6-9 sophomore Julian Terrell. Vandy has been terrific at home, but not away from Nashville. This was a problem last season, too, when Vandy was 10-6 SU at home (8-5 ATS) and a terrible 1-12 SU on the road (4-8-1 ATS). The Commodores host LSU this Saturday.