April 17, 2011

Which league will make biggest jump?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college basketball coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Which of the Big Six leagues do you think will make the biggest jump from this past season to next season?

David Fox's answer:
The challenge is trying to find leagues that won't get worse. The ACC still looks like North Carolina and Duke and a mess of everyone else. Most teams in the Pac-12 will be hit hard by early entries, and the league will be watered down with the additions of Utah and Colorado. The Big Ten and Big 12 have their losses, too. The Big Six league with the most to gain clearly is the SEC. Even if Kentucky loses Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, the Wildcats have the best recruiting class in the country. Florida might not reach the Elite Eight again, but the Gators will be in the tournament again. Vanderbilt has just about everyone back. Tennessee has to rebuild but won't be distracted by Bruce Pearl's NCAA issues next season. The West stands to improve the most: Alabama will be a tournament contender all year long. Mississippi State will have talent. Mike Anderson has won everywhere he has been, and he'll win at Arkansas.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think three leagues - ACC, Pac-12 and SEC - will be better, and I think each of the other three Big Six conferences - Big East, Big Ten and Big 12 - will slip a bit. I think the SEC will make the biggest jump. The league received five NCAA bids this season, with each bid going to an East Division school. The West will close the gap next season, to the point that 2010-11 league bottom-feeders Auburn and LSU are going to have legit postseason aspirations (NIT, not NCAA) heading into the season. Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama should be strong. Mississippi State, assuming the players can get along with each other and the coach, will be good, too. Tennessee should have smoother sailing without the Bruce Pearl distraction. Arkansas should improve. Indeed, the only team that for sure will take a step back is Georgia, and when a 12-team league is going to have just one team that will be markedly worse, that's a good sign.

Jason King's answer:
The SEC often is regarded as one of the worst Big Six leagues in the country. Next season, though, it could be one of the best. It's not as if the conference was weak last season, with Kentucky advancing to the Final Four and Florida reaching the Elite Eight. But the SEC could be even better in 2011-12. Kentucky will open the year ranked in the top five of virtually every preseason poll thanks to a recruiting class featuring players such as Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Marquis Teague. Florida is losing some of its top players in Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin. But the Gators also return standouts such as Erving Walker, Patric Young and Kenny Boynton - and they're added Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario and freshman Bradley Beal. Vanderbilt's combination of talent and experience will make the Commodores a threat to win the league. John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli return for Kevin Stallings' squad. Alabama missed the NCAA tournament last season, but the Crimson Tide still finished strong with a 25-12 record - including a 12-4 mark in league play - and a second-place finish in the NIT. Leading scorer and rebounder JaMychal Green will be back, along with emerging point guard Trevor Releford. The sleeper could be Mississippi State, which features one of the country's biggest enigmas in Renardo Sidney. Toward the end of this past season, Sidney was showing signs of becoming the NBA-caliber player so many people predicted he would be coming out of high school. If Sidney improves his conditioning and becomes a better teammate, the Bulldogs could be a top-25 mainstay. Mississippi State also will feature one of the SEC's top guards in Dee Bost, as well as UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I think the SEC could take a big step forward next season, particularly if Vanderbilt's underclassmen decide to stay in school. Georgia clearly will take a step backward without Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, and Tennessee could struggle if Tobias Harris stays in the draft. But many more teams in the conference have reason to believe they'll improve. The arrival of the nation's top-ranked recruiting class should make Kentucky a top-five team even if Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones enter the draft. The return of starting guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton should assure Florida remains a top-25 type of team even without Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus. Vanderbilt has a chance to put together a special season if Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins stay in school. And the likely resurgence of Alabama and Mississippi State in the West suggest the league finally could have balance between the divisions next season. Alabama reached the NIT final this season and should make the NCAA field next season. Chemistry often is a concern at Mississippi State, but the return of Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney plus the arrival of UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie could give Rick Stansbury's team a formidable lineup.


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