Friday, November 02, 2001

UK men, Lady Vols picked to win SEC

League media predict Gators behind Cats

By David Jones
Florida Today

        BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — If you're a Southeastern Conference men's basketball fan, circle Jan.29 and March 2 on your calendar. Those are the two dates when Kentucky and Florida play. If the media are right, those games could be a preview of not only the league title but a possible national championship game.

        “Am I sick of hearing about Florida?” said Ken tucky guard Keith Bogans. “Oh, yes.”

        Better get used to it.

        The Wildcats and the Gators were picked by SEC media to finish 1-2 in both the Eastern Division and overall league title chase in voting conducted Thursday at the annual media gathering for the league. UK received 20 of a possible 23 votes to win both the SEC and division titles. UF got the other three selections.

        Athlon, The Sporting News, Street and Smith's, Basketball News, Lindy's and all have picked Kentucky and Florida in their preseason top-five rankings.

        “It's always good to have that perception, that people think highly of you at this point and time,” UK coach Tubby Smith said. “But I always say that polls and rankings don't mean anything.”

        Reigning SEC player of the year Tayshaun Prince, the preseason media pick to win it again, and Bogans turned down potential NBA millions for the chance to play another year for the Wildcats. They joined Florida's Brett Nelson and Udonis Haslem on the preseason all-conference team, along with Alabama's Rod Grizzard.

        “My personal feeling is that Kentucky is the best team in the country,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “I think they have great depth, they've got size, and they've got two great players in Bogans and Prince. They really understand how to play and how to win and have been in a lot of big basketball games.”

        In the Eastern Division, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt followed the two favorites, in that order. Alabama was the favorite in the Western Division with 15 first-place votes, followed by Arkansas, Mississippi, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State.

        In the women's selec tions, Tennessee edged out Vanderbilt as the favorite. The Lady Vols got eight of 15 first-place votes, with Vanderbilt getting the other seven. Georgia was picked to finish third, followed by Florida, LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Kentucky.

        “This is like a new era,” UT coach Pat Summitt said. “We are in a new era in terms of new faces and new challenges. Nobody on this team has a championship ring, which is a new look for us. No All-Americans returning. I think they realize they have to pull together and rely on each other.”


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