With every SEC team having played eight games, we submit our midseason SEC Power Poll and take part in the roundtable discussion with our other voters. Garnet and Black Attack hosts this edition of the roundtable, where you can find their answers to the questions, and the roundtable roundup later this week.
RTT's midseason ballot, with roundtable questions and answers after the jump:
1. Kentucky Wildcats (22-1, 7-1)
2. Vanderbilt Commodores (17-5, 6-2)
3. Tennessee Volunteers (18-4, 6-2)
4. Florida Gators (17-6, 6-3)
5. Mississippi St. Bulldogs (16-7, 4-4)
6. Arkansas Razorbacks (12-11, 5-3)
7. Mississippi Rebels (17-6, 5-4)
8. South Carolina Gamecocks (13-9, 4-4)
9. Alabama Crimson Tide (13-10, 3-6)
10. Georgia Bulldogs (10-11, 2-6)
11. Auburn Tigers (11-12, 2-6)
12. LSU Tigers (9-14, 0-9)
We invite your answers and comments on these questions as well...
1. The SEC was very weak last year. Most predicted that it would rebound this year. Has that happened? Why or why not?
The conference almost couldn't help but rebound after such a down year in 2008-09, but there are several factors at play in 2009-10 that have moved the conference back towards the front of the line. Obviously Kentucky's return to the nation's elite has been huge, but several other teams - most notably Vanderbilt and Florida - are more experienced and are also getting great play from freshmen, while Tennessee has been the constant. Last year I feel like the SEC had eight decent teams but no great ones. This season, the conference has seen a handful of teams move from decent to good, while maintaining a separate handful of teams that are still decent. There are only two bad teams in this league.
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?
Kentucky could have the most talented group of players in college basketball...but I don't think they're the best team. That's not to say they won't make the Final Four, but at the highest level of competition, I would favor a team with more experience. A group like Kansas, or even a team like Purdue, that has enough talent to compete with UK but has a significant advantage in experience, seems more likely to cut down the nets. What happens to UK's guys when they're down five in the last eight minutes of a regional final, and the players you have to count on have never ever been there before?
Plus, and this isn't Kentucky's fault, but the non-conference teams UK beat have turned out to be much worse than we thought at the time: Stanford is 10-13, North Carolina and UConn are in tailspins, and it's a down year for Indiana and Louisville. To go 5-0 against that group would've looked incredibly impressive in October (or when UK scheduled those teams)...and it's still impressive in February, but not in a way that makes me think that Kentucky is so much better than any of the other elite teams in college basketball.
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 think four teams are very safe bets, and they're all in the East: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee should all be safely in, and Florida has a win over Michigan State and six SEC wins already, so it shouldn't take much more for them to get in. I'd put the state of Mississippi on the bubble - can both of those teams get in? Ole Miss played the necessary schedule and beat Kansas State, but they've got to quit screwing around against the other teams in their division. Mississippi State's best non-conf win is Old Dominion.
I think if only one of them gets to 9 SEC wins, that team will go...if both get there, it'll be interesting. I don't think Arkansas is capable of being more than a thorn in anyone's side, because they're going to need something like a 7-1 finish to make the selection committee forget about the 11 losses they already have, Courtney Fortson or not. But if the Razorbacks win the West, will the selection committee leave them out but take either of the Mississippi schools behind them?
4. What is the biggest surprise so far this season? Why?
Homer alert: it's Tennessee since January 1.
Vol fans got somewhat frustrated with this team before Saturday's emphatic win over South Carolina, because of losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia and close wins over Florida and LSU. But when those four players were arrested, most projected Tennessee would fall out of the polls and be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives.
Instead, the Vols have gone 8-2, beat #1 Kansas along the way, and watched Wayne Chism turn into one of the SEC's best players and Scotty Hopson move closer to joining him. Just when we thought Bruce Pearl had run out of ways to surprise us, he's turned in one of his best coaching performances yet. Vol fans would've happily taken 8-8 in the SEC and 19 or 20 wins at the end of the season. Now heading to Nashville and Lexington, the Vols already have 18 wins and have stayed alive in the conference championship race. Even if Vanderbilt and Kentucky knock them out of that race this week, Pearl has put the Vols in position to have a very successful season given the circumstances, and once again displayed the overall strength of the Tennessee Basketball program under his watch.
5. Who is the player of the year so far? Why?
But is it possible that DeMarcus Cousins is actually the best player in this league?
He averages a double-double at 16.4-10.0, and that's the same scoring average Wall has. He's currently at six straight double-doubles and fifteen straight double figure scoring games. He is incredibly efficient and incredibly consistent. He's become a better free throw shooter in SEC play. It's gotten to the point that a game like he had against Ole Miss - 18 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks in 29 minutes - is becoming so common it's less appreciated.
He won't stay at Kentucky forever, but to be this good this soon, he'd have a chance to become one of their most storied players of all-time if he hung around. For now, he'll have to settle for being overlooked and possibly somewhat underappreciated (though perhaps not by UK people)...but if I had to pick one guy right now for player of the year, I'd go with Cousins.