Believe it or not, we're at the halfway mark of the season as conference play gets underway tomorrow. Before that happens, let's catch up with our preseason conference predictions and update those predictions based on what we've seen so far.
My preseason predictions had Florida winning the East with Ole Miss in the West. DJC and Bobby, as usual, were smarter and picked Kentucky in the East. Bobby also picked Ole Miss in the West. DJC picked Mississippi State, which had to have been difficult for him given his disdain for the program. The general consensus was the SEC would send 4-5 teams to the tournament. The three of us had Alabama finishing between 3rd and 4th in the division.
Obviously at this point it's too early to point and laugh at those predictions, but I think it's safe to say that Vandy has been a little better than we thought, the SEC West is worse than any of us could have imagined and who knows what the hell Tennessee will do going forward.
So here are my own updated SEC predictions.
1] Kentucky - UK has been much better than I thought they would be without Enes Kanter. Terrence Jennings has been a beast for this team, and Josh Harrellson has been the X-factor with his play. While this Kentucky team isn't as dominant as last year, they still appear to be the team to beat going forward.
2] Vanderbilt - The Commodores have been a bit of a surprise so far. We all knew Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins would be productive, but Festus Ezeli has been the real surprise. Coming into the season, one of the questions Vandy faced was could they replace Ogilvey. Ezeli might not have the scoring touch of Ogilvey, but he's much tougher and he's a far better rebounder and defender.. This is not the soft Vandy teams we've seen in recent years. Unfortunately, their lack of a true point guard may catch up to them at some point.
3] Florida - I was almost ready to write the Gators off after a home loss to Jacksonville, but they have been playing much better in recent weeks. Macklin has been pretty good in the middle, but their perimeter trio of Boynton, Walker and Parsons continues to be erratic. Their freshman class also hasn't been as productive as I thought they would be. Nevertheless, this team should easily notch 10-11 wins in this year's edition of the SEC.
4] Tennessee - Much better than they looked for much of December, but also difficult to know how they will finish due to those struggles. They rocked Memphis the other night, but Memphis is overrated. I guess we will find out what this team is made of in the next eight games as Pearl serves his suspension.
5] Georgia - I thought about placing them a slot higher, but who have they beaten? They didn't look too good in Orlando earlier in the season. We'll have a better idea on Saturday as Kentucky visits Athens.
6] South Carolina - This team is better than they appear, though a lifeless effort at home against Boston College was not a good sign. If they were playing in the West division, I would be tempted to pick them to win it. Alas, they play in the good division. Sorry, guys.
I'm not projecting anyone in the West because it's too damn hard. Ole Miss has shown a pulse, but hasn't beaten anyone of note with the possible exception of Murray State. Mississippi State should be better with their top three players back, but who knows what the chemistry will be like for that team? Arkansas is a lot like Bama: good against mediocre to bad competition; terrible against good teams. To their credit, they did beat Seton Hall on a neutral floor, though Seton Hall didn't have their best player. Auburn has been terrible all year, but they notched the best non-conference victory for the division by beating Florida State last week. Frankie Sullivan returning from injury has been good for that team. And, finally, LSU has done nothing of note.
All in all, it's been a rather unforgettable start to the season for the West division. With no true favorite, any team could win the division right now. Yes, even Alabama.
As far as the postseason goes: Right now I only see four teams (Kentucky, Vandy, Florida and Tennessee) as being tournament-caliber teams. And, again, who knows what Tennessee will do? A team like Georgia certainly could play itself into position. Right now, I see no teams from the West that look like tournament teams. Ole Miss could be a possibility.