It’s SEC season

By Steve LeMaster

After a short holiday break, it won’t take the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team long to get into the SEC portion of the 2004-05 schedule. The Wildcats are scheduled to open SEC play on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at home against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. The UK-South Carolina game will be telecast by Jefferson-Pilot. After opening SEC play against South Carolina, Kentucky will host fellow national men’s basketball power Kansas on Sunday, Jan. 9. And after the Kansas game, Kentucky will get right back into SEC action with games against Vanderbilt (Wednesday, Jan. 12), Georgia (Saturday, Jan. 15), Ole Miss (Wednesday, Jan. 19), LSU (Saturday, Jan. 22), Tennessee (Tuesday, Jan. 25) and Arkansas (Saturday, Jan. 29) in the month of January, alone.

The month of February will offer up for the UK men’s team even more tall tests against SEC competition, including a road game at Florida. In the pre-season, Kentucky was tabbed to repeat as SEC Champion.

Kentucky took an 8-1 record into Wednesday night’s home game against Campbell. Much like Coach Tubby Smith noted in the pre-season, UK’s has had several players step up while playing in various five-player groups.

“I play different combinations,” Smith said in a pre-season interview. “If they play well and grade out as one of the top players in their performances in practice, that’s when they’ll get a lot of playing time.”

Kentucky’s lone loss of the season came on the road on the first Saturday in December against North Carolina.

Now, the Cats focus on SEC play.

A breakdown of the SEC competition follows.

SEC East

Florida—Former UK assistant coach Billy Donavan has the Gators back and vying for top honors, making noise both in the SEC and the national scene. All five starters from last season’s team—Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, David Lee, Adrian Moss and Lee Humphrey return for Florida.

Tennessee—A Kentucky-Tennessee game is a battle in any sport. The Volunteers, coached by Buzz Peterson, also return five starters, including senior forward Brandon Crump, who averaged nearly 15 points and seven rebounds last season.

Vanderbilt—Coach Kevin Stallings guided the Commodores to a 23-10 record one season ago. The lone starter lost from that team was Matt Freije. Returning starters for the Commodores include Corey Smith, Mario Moore, Jason Holwerda and Dawid Przybyszewski.

South Carolina—Although positing an 8-8 record in SEC play, South Carolina also put together a 23-10 record during the 2003-04 season. Returning starters for head coach Dave Odom and the Gamecocks include Josh Gonner, Carlos Powell and Tarence Kinsey. Last season, Powell averaged 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Georgia—The Bulldogs are looking to improve from last season’s 16-14 record. Head coach Dennis Felton and his coaching staff return four starters from a team that made some noise last season.

SEC West

Mississippi State—Mississippi State is looking to improve on a stellar 26-4 season it put together during the 2003-04 campaign. The Bulldogs return senior Lawrence Roberts. One of the nation’s top players, Roberts averaged a double-double of 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds last season.

Alabama—The Tide rolled to a 20-13 record during the 2003-04 season, losing to UConn in the NCAA Tournament. Four returning starters—Jermareo Davidson, Chuck Davis, Earnest Shelton and Kennedy Winston—are the heart and soul of this Alabama basketball team.

LSU—The Tigers finished last season 18-11, and once SEC play begins this season, will put a great deal of responsibility on guard Antonio Hudson. As a junior, Hudson averaged 10.2 points per game.

Arkansas—In Coach Stan Heath’s second season, the Razorbacks struggled to a 12-16 showing. But four starters are back for an Arkansas team that continuously pushes and tests opposing teams.

Ole Miss—Ole Miss will look to improve on a 13-15 season that included a five-game SEC losing streak near the end of the campaign. Three starters return, including senior forward/center Tommie Eddie.

Auburn—The Auburn men’s basketball team has had its ups and downs over the last few seasons including a 14-14 worksheet one year ago. Coach Jeff Lebo will enter SEC play with three new starters in comparison to the team he sent into battle during the 2003-04 campaign. n