It’s no secret who the members of this blog represent in their fandom. Baseball, football, and professional basketball are basically a crap shoot with our alliances ranging across this nation. From my own 49er and A’s bias to Smoothron’s Met’s love, we literally cover the map. But for college basketball we don’t range far from APIAS headquarters. It’s basically all Cats and Vols when it comes collegiate basketball season around here. With that in mind I scoured the homers and a frequent contributor, BobWicket, for their season predictions. TGC and 2SL will be representing the Tennessee Volunteers in this dialogue while Smoothron and BobWicket will talk everything Kentucky. Enjoy the discussion and add your own thoughts in the comments.
eDay: A lot of talk on message boards about player of the year in the SEC. Most people believe Tyler Smith has the most talent in the league, but you always have the UK fans who think Patrick Patterson is about to blow up. What do you think about your respective star’s chance at being the POY in the SEC?
2SL: No chance. First off, there aren’t enough basketballs to go around on that team. With Lofton gone no one player will fill that void. With the way they’ll play he won’t statistically be able to impress enough to be the player of the year. He’s also one of those guys built on potential. Scouts love him for his size and athleticism but he’s just not there yet with his game. SEC player of the year won’t be Patterson or Smith, look for Calathes or Jodie Meeks.
SmoothRon: First off, you’re not going really wrong with either of these guys. They’re both very good, but for argument’s sake, I’ll take PatPat’s side. I don’t get just handing over the POY trophy to Smith without much question. Smith does a lot of things pretty well, but what is his go-to? He’s not dominant in the post, only shoots 37% from 3 and doesn’t handle the ball exceptionally well. Patterson on the other hand is a great post player. UK will get him the ball 8 feet and in and he will score more often than not. He plays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much. Also, most people say that Tennessee is more talented top-to-bottom than the Cats, so won’t Smith’s stats hurt because of that? Patterson averaged 4 more PPG last year, why should we think it’s going to be any different? The bottom line for both these guys (and I know we’ll talk about this later) is that they rely on unproven guards to get them the ball. Neither of them will be bringing the basketball down the court, so a guy like Nick Calathes could definitely sneak in and steal the POY away from both of them if the Gators play well. One last point, NBADraft.net has Patterson going at #14 and Smith at #16 in next year’s draft.
TGC: I think this year is less about Tyler Smith for the Vols, and more about Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze. Both are more-than-proven at the previous level, but how will they adjust to the speed of the SEC game? Tyler Smith is a fantastic player, and NBA prospect. His number one contribution this year, however, ought to have nothing to do with points or rebounds. It needs to be leadership.
BobWicket: There is no doubt in my mind that Patrick Patterson will be a dominant force in the SEC this year, and I can’t really argue that Tyler Smith has a great deal of talent, but neither is my pick for this year’s POY. Too many people have forgotten about a certain #23 in the Bluegrass State. I am talking about one, Jodie Meeks. When this kid is healthy he is hard to stop on offense and almost as impossible to get by on defense. I understand if PatPatt doesn’t attract all that attention in the post, Meeks has an average year offensively, but given the situation he is going to get A LOT of open looks. According to a certain referee I know, he is not missing many of these. He may even have the stat book in his car to prove it. Meeks’ all around game will propel him to the top spot in POY voting. You heard it here first.
More QnA after the Jump…
eDay: Again, everyone knows Smith and Patterson are the real deal, but who is the x-factor on your team this year? Who will exceed expectations and be the guy to take pressure off #1?
2SL: I’m gonna go out on a limb here. Are you ready for it? Ronaldo Woolridge is the guy who’ll turn heads. Just on a whim, but look out for that cat.
SmoothRon: Both these teams are going to rely on highly touted freshmen and juco transfers to help them play as well as they would like. Scotty Hopson left the Bluegrass State to go down to Knoxville. Most people think this will be Hopson’s only year at UT and most Vol fans wouldn’t mind if Hopson played well enough to warrant himself only being there one year. Hopson is a true swing man: he’s freakishly athletic, can break anyone off the dribble and can shoot it just well enough to make people have to guard him. Tennessee is hoping to get Daniel West eligible before the season starts, but the situation is murky at best. The Vols will need both West and juco transfer, Bobby Maze to help run the point. I think everyone agrees that the JP Prince at PG experiment didn’t go so well. Kentucky will rely on DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller and Kevin Galloway to give their backcourt more depth than it has had in a couple years. All three are in the 6’5″-6’7″ range, giving Billy Gillispie the big guards that he likes. Liggins is a true pass-first point guard who has incredible court vision and is a great perimeter defender. Galloway is a big, long guard. Miller is Kentucky’s reigning Mr. Basketball who can do it all. He has a smooth stroke and kind of just glides around the court. He also has the ability to throw down with extreme power. UK also got Josh Harrelson, a big man juco transfer. He hasn’t been playing basketball for very long, but has a skill set much like European bigs. He gets physical in the post and can also step outside and shoot it. He gives much needed depth to the UK frontcourt.
TGC: Scotty Hopson has to be able to hit the three. Cam Tatum and Josh Tabb have shown sparks of it in the relatively short PT they’ve had in the past, but UT needs a gunner to open up the lanes for slashers like JP Prince, Tatum, and even T Smith. Scotty Hopson can be that with his height and ability to get open without help.
BobWicket: See #1. If I had to pick another guy let me say…..Josh Harrellson. This guy and Patty in the post are going to be a big problem for most teams in the SEC.
eDay: Speaking of players, both teams have lost some serious talent talent at guard (the Smiths and C. Lo for UT, Crawford and Bradley for UK ). How will Billy G or Bruce Pearl shift strategy this year to compensate for the key losses?
2SL: I think they’ll become more defensively agressive. With all the great things Lofton brought on offense he was a defensive liability with his slow lateral speed. You may see them press more often and you’ll see more athletic guards that are his style of player in the backcourt this year.
SmoothRon: Kentucky lost two great guards from last year’s squad. Crawford is a former McDonald’s All-American and Bradley shined under the tutelage of Gillispie. I’m not saying the guys coming in are better than those two right now, but the fact that there are so many guys coming in for the Cats makes it easier for Gillispie I believe. He’s an old school coach; his practices are intense and he loves defense. UK loses two great players, but brings in four guys all with great potential. The depth will enable the Cats to run more if they want and won’t be crippled when they need to go to the bench. Jodie Meeks’ health will make or break the season.
TGC: By spreading the floor with the big men. The knock on T Smith last year was his lack of outside shooting, which he worked on all summer. Wayne Chism (center) has always been an above average outside shooter, so look for that to continue this year. When you’re 2’s and 3’s are all over 6′ 6″, there are plenty of mismatches to be had. Pearl will spread the floor, utilize the new, deeper 3 point line, and create passing and driving lanes for his big swingmen more often than in previous years.
BobWicket: I think you are going to see even more emphasis on feeding the post from Clyde and the boys. A lot of high low with two guys that can hit the 15 footer will be a welcome change from the days of Mark Coury and Perry Stevenson firing it up from the elbow. Collapsing defenders will have to leave the likes of Meeks, Porter (an improved shot, allegedly), and apparently some kid from Paintsville that can light it up.
eDay: There are some big games this year out of conference, Kentucky plays UNC and UT plays Kansas , but how will your team do in SEC play? Can you run the table? Who will be the major team standing in the way of your team’s ability to win the regular season?
2SL: Nobody is running the table in the SEC. Go to Kentucky, go to Florida, just won’t happen. It’s a 3 team race in the East, obviously, and none of them have a heads up on the other. It’s a crap shoot with 3 good coaches and 3 athletic teams. Don’t sleep on my doppleganger down at Arkansas in the West.
SmoothRon: I doubt any team in the SEC will run the table this year. First off, most teams in the West are bad so they’re out of the question. Florida is still pretty young, so I will count them out as well. And, for the Vols and Cats, they both have to play at each other’s home gyms, so they won’t either. UT hasn’t swept UK since I’ve been alive, and they’ve split every year since Pearl’s been in Knoxville. Plus, both have to play at Memorial Gym in Nashville which (no matter how bad Vandy is) is a damn tough place to play. Who wants to coach from the baseline?
TGC: I think Tennessee and Kentucky have about the same shot to win the East. There are too many questions about both squad’s young’uns to pick a favorite yet, though I don’t think either runs the table. And I think we all agree, these two schools are a cut above anyone in the West. As far as who stands in the way, you find me a team that can win at that joke of a gym in Nashville , I’ll show you the SEC Champion.
BobWicket: Running the table in the SEC does not look easy. I can remember the days of going on the road and not worrying about the opponent, but now the talent is more evenly spread around the league and most of the coaches are not slouches. There are no Wade Houstons anymore. Every game could go either way. Plus, they might as well give Vandy eight wins and all the visiting teams can just save their travel money. Of course, I have to admit that Florida and Tennessee scare me for the regular season title. I really think the Cats third place finish prediction in the east is not accurate, but I would not be surprised if it happened. Still i think cats go 13-3 and win the East/SEC outright. Does this qualify as Blatant Homerism?
eDay: Conference play is some serious business but players really get up for the postseason. How do you feel about your team’s ability to win 3 (or 4) games to get the automatic bid out of the SEC? How important is that bye in the first round this year? Would you have the depth to pull out the dreaded 4-day weekend?
2SL: If you know you’re already in the NCAA tourney, the SEC is tough to get motivated for. If I’m 26-4 it’s not everything like it is for other teams. The day off is crucial though that late in the year. Legs get tired, it’s a long season and you want to rest your legs as much as possible late in the year. Especially with a mediocre opponent in the first round.
SmoothRon: I don’t put a lot of stock in the SEC Tournament. Is it great to win? Absolutely. But, what would you rather your team do, win the conference tournament or go to the Final Four? Everyone would say Final Four. The SEC Tournament has been like the National League in the last couple years, whoever gets hot late ends up winning it. I have been trying to think of who won it this year… maybe Georgia? Arkansas? No clue, see it doesn’t matter.
TGC: Impossible. Tennessee hasn’t seen a Saturday since, oh, ever… And screw you for asking that question.
BobWicket: I don’t see any team winning four games in the SEC postseason this year. Last year was great for the fighting Feltons, but it won’t happen again. The first round bye is key. Obviously, I feel the CATS can win the tourney and I believe with all of my being they will be the best conditioned team come tournament time. Depth may be an issue, especially if Billy Boot Camp results in more sports hernias, fractured pelvisi, or stress fractures. However, with all of the TV timeouts, 20 timeouts allotted to each team, and expected levels of conditioning the CATS will be fine.
eDay: So the season wound down, the conference tournament is over, now it’s time for the Big Dance. How far will your boys go? Will Bruce take the Vols past the Sweet Sixteen and into the Final Four? Will Billy G be able to push the Cats past a second round exit?
2SL: Tennessee stays stuck at the sweet sixteen. They don’t have a “here’s the ball, I need a bucket, it’s the sweet sixteen, 2 points, plays don’t matter, sets down’t matter, can you score? type guy.”
SmoothRon: This is the most talented Kentucky team since 2005-06, when they had Rondo and Morris. They have depth and talent, which they have lacked both in the last two years. Without Patterson for the stretch run, it was a miracle the Cats made it as far as they did. This year’s team will go to the Sweet 16 and will begin the rejuvenation in the greatest basketball program in college basketball.
TGC: I gotta believe, if it’s going to happen, this is the year. I’ll take the Vols to the Elite Eight in my preseason bracket. Where they’ll lose to Wichita State . Again.
BobWicket: I would be surprised if the CATS don’t make the Sweet Sixteen this year and would not be surprised to see them in the Elite Eight. I don’t know how closely you watched this team last year, but with some major components missing, it won 12 games in the SEC. You can attribute that to leadership, defense, experience, or many other things, but what it boils down to is that it has an excellent coach and the players believe in each other. I would argue that given the same situations and talent level that Billy G dealt with last season, other teams would have folded their tents and called it a weekend. He got the most out of his players and found a way to win ballgames. This guy is good, really good, and it will be evident this year.
eDay: Alright, we’ve got your predicitions on players, season play, and the tournament. The only thing left is to ask what will surprise you this year? What will be the one thing you don’t see coming out of this year’s team?
2SL: Everybody talks about Hopson, but he won’t even be the most productive freshman on the team. It’s all about the Wool baby.
SmoothRon: I think people will be surprised at how cohesive the Cats are. There was a lot of grumbling last year at the beginning of the year and how guys didn’t like Coach Gillispie. When watching Midnight Madness, all twenty-one (21!!!) players on this year’s team seem to really like each other and are buying into what is going on. It should be a great year of hoops and shit talking.
TGC: Proof of Kevin Stalling’s testicles.
BobWicket: Predicting a surprise is kind of like Googling Google. You don’t know what to expect, but you will probably get exactly what you expected so did you really accomplish anything? (Sidenote: type “find Chuck Norris” in Google without parentheses and hit the I’m Feeling Lucky button) So here goes. This year’s surprise will be Michael Porter being a formidable point guard in the SEC. His numbers won’t be gaudy, but he will be a dependable floor general and not someone the opponent will leave open from the outside. He will be one of those guys who collects stats you don’t find in the box score and will do the little things to help this team win.
So there you have it. Jodie Meeks, if healthy, will be the surprise player in the SEC this year. No one is running the table and who could give a shit less about the SEC tournament? Kevin Stallings is still a piece of trash and all is right with the world. Enjoy the basketball season folks, and here’s to the Cats or Vols making a surprise run to Detroit Rock City.
And also, BobWicket wins for 2nd greatest google search of all time. The best was the old New York City to London, England google maps Easter egg search that appears to have disappeared.