We, your esteemed voters on the SEC Hoops Power Poll, have elected to conduct a roundtable. Here are the rules: Questions were posted at Garnet and Black Attack, and we are to answer in the comments section. Other blogs that participate in the poll will post their answers at their sites and link in the comments. Garnet and Black Attack will compile the results soon.
1. The SEC was very weak last year. Most predicted that it would rebound this year. Has that happened? Why or why not?
I think it has rebounded about to where I had expected it to be this season. I'm sure there are a large number of folks whose expectations haven't been met, but I'm not sure how realistic those expectations were. The SEC has a number of budding stars with some real talent. Unfortunately with youth comes inconsistency and inexperience. Hopefully most of those future stars will stick around for a few seasons to help give some consistency to some of the teams that are struggling right now. Losing so many to premature professional careers really has taken its toll in this regard, and it's just unreasonable to expect these freshmen and sophomores to play with the consistency of the junior or senior they are replacing that left early.
2. The national buzz on the conference is definitely focused on Kentucky, who have lived up to their preseason billing as the conference's best team and a national contender. Do the 'Cats have what it takes to win a national title? Why or why not?
Absolutely Kentucky has the pieces to win a national title. The collection of talent on that roster is staggering. I would have to say that barring a few upsets they are on their way to a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. There just aren't that many teams capable of matching up to the Wildcats in terms of size, depth, and quickness. As such, the biggest threat to a Wildcats National Championship has little to do with their opponents and everything to do with themselves. As I mentioned in the first question, the inconsistency and inexperience of youth can bite a team at any time. The commonly-held belief is that a senior point guard is the biggest key to a championship (with a stout big man a close second). Kentucky has both a stud PG and C. Will their talent negate their lack of experience? If Patrick Patterson continues to have a somewhat passive offensive role, he must at least be the leader in mental strength that Kentucky is going to need in the postseason.
3. In addition to Kentucky, which other teams will make the NCAAs? Will we see any surprises here, i. e., will anyone--barring an SECT surprise--other than Kentucky, the Tennessee Volunteers, the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Florida Gators, the Mississippi Rebels, and the Mississippi St. Bulldogs make it?
I suppose my delay in answering these questions has made answering this a little easier. Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are in their own pool at this point. Next grouping: Mississippi State, Mississippi, then Florida. It really becomes slim pickings after that. The SEC's best shot for a team outside that group? South Carolina, though they would need to rattle off a bunch of wins (kenpom.com only predicts one game left on their schedule as a win: Alabama at home). Even then, they'd still probably need to win two or three in the SEC Tournament. Nobody else really has the resume to get serious consideration. My prediction at this point: SEC gets four teams, with Mississippi and Florida on the outside right now.
4. What is the biggest surprise so far this season? Why?
The biggest surprise has to be the Tyler Smith situation. I can't think of one other moment this season where I felt that the landscape had really shifted as much from one moment to the next. Along those lines, Tennessee's upset of #1 Kansas in just the Vols' second game back after the four players were suspended was so important to where Tennessee is right now. If they don't win that game, I really don't think they'd be in such good shape for an NCAA bid. Quite the coaching job by Bruce Pearl...
5. Who is the player of the year so far? Why?
If we're talking strictly about the player who is the most vital to his team's success, I would have to say Devan Downey. It seems though that players are sometimes overlooked if they aren't on one of the elite teams. If that's the case, you can make the case for John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Wayne Chism, and Jermaine Beal. Call me a homer, but if Vandy manages to beat Kentucky in Nashville and the Commodores can somehow finish the season without any letdowns, I could see the Senior PG for the Commodores edging the Kentucky freshmen. Beal has really elevated his game since the start of conference play. Head to head with Wall (conference games only): Beal leads scoring at 17.6 to 16.6, and Assist to Turnover Ratio at 1.8 to 1.3. In terms of hype, Beal is the anti-Wall. If it's strictly determined by stats, I'm not sure you can pick anyone but DeMarcus Cousins. He's averaging a double-double in conference play, and his per 40 minute numbers are through the roof. I'm glad I'm not in charge of making the choice.