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November 7, 2008
The SEC welcomes two new coaches for whom expectations couldn't be more disparate.
Trent Johnson comes to LSU after taking Stanford to the Sweet 16. He inherits a wildly talented if not especially disciplined team that could win the SEC West and be a surprise on the national scene. It was picked second in the West in the SEC preseason media poll and received 11 first-place votes.
Darrin Horn arrives at South Carolina after guiding Western Kentucky to the Sweet 16. The Gamecocks have a couple of nice building blocks in all-conference guard Devan Downey and forward Dominique Archie and return seven of their top eight scorers. Still, they were picked fifth in the East in the SEC media poll.
That's the nature of the beast in the SEC East. South Carolina must contend with Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, each of which has been to at least the Sweet 16, if not beyond, since the last time the Gamecocks even made the NCAA tournament in 2004.
"I know that I am focusing on the positives," Horn said at SEC Media Days in October. "One of the biggest we have is the SEC. I think that you have to recruit well and you have to do it for consecutive years to be able to perform. We're excited about the challenge and the opportunity to do that. We've seen what Florida and Tennessee have done in recent years, and our mind-set is that if they can do it, why can't we?
"We have a lot of positives in place. We have a great facility, a passionate fan base. People are crazy about Gamecock athletics."
Still, that 2004 NCAA bid was the only one South Carolina has had in the past 10 years. The SEC East is no molehill. It's Everest.
"I've had to live with the East twice every time, so I know what those numbers are," said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, whose Vols were the runaway favorite to win the league in the preseason vote. "Kentucky and Florida are in the East. And Tennessee has had a good run the last few years. It's the toughest division in college basketball."
Team on the rise Ole Miss. Andy Kennedy is entering his third season as coach, and his first two have seen the Rebels walking tall. In 2006-07, they were picked to finish last in the SEC West. They hadn't finished higher than third in the division in five seasons. Kennedy promptly led them to a tie for first. The Rebels again were picked to finish sixth in the SEC West last season. Instead, they burst from the gate 13-0 and finished third. Now Ole Miss returns all three of its starting guards and two more guards who averaged 5.9 points. It also has a recruiting class with four-star power forward Terrance Henry and two three-star prospects. And recruiting already has picked up for the 2009 class. Kennedy has secured a commitment from four-star power forward Reginald Buckner out of Memphis; he's the No. 30 overall prospect in the class.
Rivals.com Preseason All-SEC
Tyler Smith is our preseason SEC player of the year.
Arkansas. The Hogs lost their top five scorers from a team that went 23-12 overall and 9-7 in the league. It was a team that had been picked to finish atop the West but finished three games behind Mississippi State. Now, second-year coach John Pelphrey will be severely tested. In addition to losing several key players whose eligibility was up, Patrick Beverley, the Hogs' leading scorer a year ago, was ruled ineligible for the season. Instead of sitting out, the junior-to-be opted to sign a pro contract in Europe. "Losing Patrick is a devastating blow," Pelphrey said. "He's a guy that's been here for two years, and the thing that he added for us was that leadership. Whenever we had an off night, we could count on Patrick to make sure we went back to work the next day. That's probably what we've got to figure out, who is going to take over that role." And a lot of other roles, too.
Coach on the rise
Coach on the hot seat
Best offensive player
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Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.