Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Southeastern Conference preview

By Rusty Hampton
The Louisville Courier-Journal

        Teams listed in predicted order of finish, according to the preseason poll.

     Eastern Division


     Coach: Billy Donovan (102-56, fifth year; 137-76, seventh overall)

     Key player: Could it be someone who is gone? Florida lost guard Teddy Dupay to a gambling investigation. His experience and toughness could be missed.

     Outlook: Injuries cramped Donovan's style last season, and although the loss of Dupay cuts into the Gators' depth and experience, Donovan has enough horses remaining to press and run and gun again. Forward Udonis Haslem and point guard Brett Nelson could have jumped to the pros but stayed. Guard Justin Hamilton is back from knee surgery. Matt Bonner is one of the more underrated players in the league.

     South Carolina

     Coach: Dave Odom (first year; 278-174, 16th overall)

     Key player: Sophomore forward Rolando Howell, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, is one of the most talented players in the league.

     Outlook: Odom takes over a team that returns all five starters. The Gamecocks are big inside and experienced in the backcourt with seniors Aaron Lucas and Jamel Bradley. They also should get a boost from the return of swingman Chuck Eidson, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.


     Coach: Buzz Peterson (first year; 150-105, sixth overall)

     Key player: Ron Slay, the Vols' star forward, has a stress fracture that will sideline him for at least a month.

     Outlook: Jerry Green's underachieving teams landed him in the unemployment line. Now Peterson will try to replicate the success he has had, including a National Invitation Tournament title at Tulsa last season.

     He'll have to overcome some setbacks to do it, though. Besides Slay, center Marcus Haislip is ineligible until the second semester, and freshman center Brandon Crump has a severely sprained ankle. The Volunteers were down to seven scholarship players three weeks into practice, which made Peterson work that much harder.


     Coach: Kevin Stallings (34-26, third year; 157-89,

     ninth overall)

     Key player: Inexperienced 7-footer Darius Coulibaly will start at center. If he could develop into a factor, it could make it easier on everyone else.

     Outlook: Stallings started three freshmen at times last season. There is a little more experience this time around, but the team is also a bit smaller. The tallest starter with much playing time under his belt is 6-9 sophomore forward Matt Freije.

     The Commodores also must overcome Billy Richmond's dismissal and a knee injury that will sideline leading returning scorer Chuck Moore for three to six weeks.


     Coach: Jim Harrick (26-35, third year; 449-217, 22nd


     Key players: Jarvis and Jonas Hayes, twins who transferred from Western Carolina. Jonas was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year in 1999-2000.

     Outlook: Three years into his rebuilding project, Harrick is just about starting over. Only two starters return, and several top recruits won't be eligible for at least one semester. Guards Ezra Williams and Rashad Wright are back. Sophomore forwards Chris Daniels and Steve Thomas will be counted on for significant minutes, as will .

     Western Division


     Coach: Rod Barnes (66-35, fourth year; same overall)

     Key player: 5-foot-5 senior point guard Jason Harrison. Last year, Harrison split time at the position, helping the Rebels win a school-record 27 games and reach the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time. He dropped four 3-pointers and 16 points on UK in a 66-55 victory over the Cats in Oxford.

     Outlook: Coming off the greatest year in school history, Barnes is putting the fate of his team in the hands of his smallest player, ''I really believe our league and team are going to see a lot better Jason Harrison,'' Barnes said. ''He's ready to do whatever it takes to be successful.'' Barnes is hoping Harrison's leadership and the scoring of Justin Reed, Aaron Harper, David Sanders and Emmanuel Wade will help overcome the loss of leading scorer Rahim Lockhart.


     Coach: Mark Gottfried (55-42, fourth; 123-66 seventh overall)

     Key player: Rod Grizzard, a spindly 6-foot-8 guard, was the second-leading scorer in the league last season and he may get more shots after Gerald Wallace jumped to the pros.

     Outlook: Gottfried also has a big talent in Erwin Dudley, a powerful 6-8 forward, the SEC's leading rebounder.

     ''There's no question Alabama's the most talented team in the West,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. ''They've got probably the best player in the league in Grizzard.''


     Coach: Nolan Richardson (376-155, 17th year; 495-192 22nd overall)

     Key player: All the guards.

     Outlook: The Razorbacks would be strong in a 6-4-and-under league, but until Richardson's big men come through, this team will have question marks. Senior guards T.J. Cleveland, Brandon Dean, Teddy Gipson and Jannero Pargo give the Hogs perimeter punch and a positive outlook despite a lack of proven performers inside.


     Coach: Cliff Ellis (138-83, eighth year; 486-295, 27th overall)

     Key player: 6-7, 250-pound forward Mack McGadney is back. He averaged 15 points and eight rebounds through eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

     Outlook: Jamison Brewer's surprise leap to the pros caught Ellis off guard, but the Tigers are deep enough to recover if they can find a point guard. Among the candidates are Lincoln Glass and newcomer Dwayne Mitchell.

     Mississippi State

     Coach: Rick Stansbury (52-42, fourth year; same overall)

     Key player: Mario Austin, a highly regarded recruit who nearly turned pro after high school. But he proved college a good choice, averaging 7.9 points and 2.6 rebounds.

     Outlook: Stansbury expects Austin, a sophomore forward, to be much better prepared this season. For openers, the 6-foot-8 Austin has dropped 35 pounds and is now 250.

     Louisiana State

     Coach: John Brady (62-55, fifth year; 151-132, 11th overall).

     Key player:Forward Ronald Dupree, the SEC's leading returning scorer. Dupree averages 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds.

     Outlook: Barnes' team is slowly getting over the effects of scholarship sanctions imposed because of NCAA rule violations committed by the previous staff. The Tigers also have two-year starter Torris Bright at point guard and forwards Collis Temple and Jermaine Williams.


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