Over the course of this week, we will spend a few minutes catching you up on how some of the best conferences in the country currently look. With conference play starting up, its time to get into the basketball spirit.
Well, this is obvious, isn’t it? Kentucky might be the most talented team in the country. If it wasn’t for a no-show performance from Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis in Bloomington — or if Christian Watford hadn’t hit the shot of the year to date — the Wildcats would still be undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country. There isn’t much I can tell you here that you don’t already know. Marquis Teague’s ability to shoot and protect the ball is the key. Anthony Davis is a freak. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is freakin’ awesome (hard-hitting analysis, that’s why you read me).
Biggest Surprise: LSU
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t expect much of anything out of the Tigers this season. In fact, I had them last in the SEC in the preseason, but Trent Johnson’s team has made me look silly with that pick. After a couple of ugly losses early in the season, the Tigers have found their identity. This is a tough, gritty team that is going to win when they can grind out a victory. Just as Marquette, who went down to Baton Rouge and got tripped up after blowing a 13 point lead, sending them on the downward spiral they have been on. LSU has also won at Rutgers (where Florida lost) and at Houston. Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton has anchored the front line, Anthony Hickey has been disruptive as an on-ball defender and LSU’s role players — Storm Warren, Ralston Turner — are talented enough to make this team an upset threat in league play.
Biggest Disappointment: Vanderbilt
If anyone can figure out what is going on with the Commodores, feel free to let me know. Vandy struggled through the early part of the season, losing to the likes of Indiana State and Cleveland State while offering up disappointing performances down the stretch against Louisville and Xavier. It was enough that I was far from the only person ready to write this team off when they decided to go and absolutely embarrass Marquette in Milwaukee. The ‘Dores have plenty of talent — there are three first round picks on their roster — and if they can put it all together, they’ll be a contender in this league. They have that much potential.
– And-1: Alabama was a top 15 team in the preseason, and they still have the pieces to be that good. But for all the defense that the Crimson Tide plays, there are times where they really struggle to score. At no time was that more evident than when the Tide lost three of four games earlier in the season. But with JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell sharing the front court and a talented group of youngsters on the perimeter, Alabama has plenty of talent to go along with their defense. The key? Hitting threes. The Tide is shooting 27.2% from deep this year.
Something left to prove: Florida
There are a lot of people out there that believe Florida is a Final Four contender. I disagree. Why? Well, its certainly not due to a lack of talent. The Gators have arguably the best perimeter attack in the country and one of the most physically imposing big men in the country in Patric Young. The issue is that they don’t take advantage of Young enough. Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are plenty capable of putting up big scoring numbers, but far too often they settle for shooting tough, contested threes than dumping the ball into the post. Frankly, I just don’t think that Walker and Boynton are going to be consistent enough to give Billy Donovan four straight great games, which is what they need to do to make a run to the Final Four.
– And-1: I am very high on Mississippi State. In fact, I think they are the second best team in the conference on paper. Arnett Moultrie has been terrific this season while Dee Bost continues to be one of the most underrated point guards in the country. Renardo Sidney is finally starting to buy in, and he is very effective as a complimentary big man. Rodney Hood and Brian Bryant are quality role players. My issue? Coaching. I don’t have much faith in Rick Stansbury as an in-game tactioner. Case in point: the way he botched the final possession against Baylor.
Player of the Year: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
MKG has been the best player on Kentucky this season. How many people saw that coming? He is a hard worker, he defends, he rebounds and he can score in a variety of different ways. He sets a tone for this team, providing the kind of junkyard dog mentality that every team needs. Its not often that a blue-collar player is the best player on a team, but that is MKG to a T.
POY: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
G: Kenny Boynton, Florida
G: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
F: Tony Mitchell, Alabama
F: Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State
C: Anthony Davis, Kentucky
3. Mississippi State
10. Ole Miss
12. South Carolina
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.