SEC offers plenty of fascination

Originally Published: August 12, 2011
ESPN.com

Our writers go around the country to answer some of the biggest questions about the college basketball landscape.

1. What one thing intrigues you the most about the upcoming season in the SEC?

[+] EnlargeMike Anderson
AP Photo/Beth HallArkansas coach Mike Anderson hopes to have the Hogs moving up this season.

I'm most intrigued by Arkansas. Mike Anderson was far from perfect in his tenure at Missouri, but one thing he did well was utilize his up-tempo system to lessen the gap between his and his opponents' talent. If Arkansas expects to compete in Anderson's first year, he'll have to do something similar. The Razorbacks have some intriguing freshmen arriving on campus this fall. Will they be ready to immediately take the reigns? Can they handle the rigors of 40 Minutes of Hell? The Hogs aren't a conference title contender, but they could be an intriguing team -- or at least one with a few upsets up its sleeve.

-- Eamonn Brennan

I'm sold on Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida as being three elite teams this season, and I'm waiting on Alabama to prove more in the nonconference. But I have to admit I'm drawn to Mississippi State yet again. There's something about this soap opera that has me hooked. The Bulldogs got a steal in UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie. I remember seeing him at the USA Basketball trials two years ago and knew he had pro potential. Meanwhile, Renardo Sidney skipped out on the European tour to spend more time working out with John Lucas. While Sidney allegedly is getting his body into shape, Moultrie is putting up double-doubles in Europe. If the two can coexist, assuming they do play together, then the Bulldogs suddenly have quite a formidable tandem this winter. Pair these two with an experienced point guard in Dee Bost and Mississippi State will be an intriguing team to watch.

-- Andy Katz

I'd have said the same thing last year, but Kentucky's freshman class is the main story in the SEC. You hear so much about these guys and watch them here and there in all-star games and on YouTube clips, and now we'll get to see what happens under the bright lights. The buzz about Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer only heightens the anticipation of their arrival. How will they do in the dribble-drive? Who are the one-and-dones in the group? It's time to find out.

-- Diamond Leung

There are plenty of interesting storylines in the SEC this year. Can Alabama live up to its preseason hype? Can John Calipari do the impossible again -- turn a practically brand-new team into one that of championship caliber? Is this the year that Kevin Stallings gets his due with a trip to the Final Four?

But when I think intriguing, I think of the enigma wrapped in a riddle stuffed inside the puzzle box that is Renardo Sidney and Mississippi State. In his brief college career, Sidney has been nothing but a headline -- from his delayed eligibility to his weight issues to his fight with a teammate in the stands. And that was just in his first year.

Now this season starts with Sidney making news again for all the wrong reasons -- he opted to not accompany his team on its European trip this summer, preferring instead to work out with John Lucas. Rick Stansbury made the unorthodox decision to allow Sidney to stay home, appearing to yet again mollycoddle his star player with rules that only apply to Sidney.

The question: Will the risk pay off for Mississippi State? Can Sidney, once a prized recruit, use his time with Lucas appropriately and get both his mind and his body in shape?

Or will this just be another in a long line of missteps?

-- Dana O'Neil

2. Name one player who is ready for a major breakout

Indiana's Christian Watford. Thanks to the Hoosiers' glaring lack of a true big man in Watford's first two seasons -- and thanks to Watford's own learning curve -- the versatile small forward has been stuck playing out of position throughout his IU career. That will change this season with the arrival of highly touted forward Cody Zeller. For all his flaws, Watford was one of the country's most sneakily efficient scorers last season. Combine his natural improvement with a more comfortable, basket-facing role in Indiana's offense, and he could emerge as a surprise Big Ten star.

-- Eamonn Brennan

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lamb
David Butler II/US PresswireJeremy Lamb should be the go-to scorer for UConn this season.

Jeremy Lamb is the first name that comes to mind. The UConn sophomore wing showed he could put up major numbers when he scored 35 in a game for the USA under-19 team in Latvia. The Huskies will give him ample opportunities to score in the absence of Kemba Walker. Lamb doesn't have the leadership capabilities, let alone the demonstrative persona to be a presence. But he does have the skill set to be a major scorer. He'll have to be if the Huskies want to legitimately challenge Syracuse and Louisville, among others, for the Big East title.

-- Andy Katz

Washington guard Terrence Ross might have been known as "the other Terrence" after having attended the same high school as Terrence Jones, but he now appears ready to grab the spotlight. The Huskies lost their top scorer when Isaiah Thomas left for the NBA draft, and Ross figures to be relied upon to fill the void after showing flashes of potential while scoring eight points per game in primarily a reserve role. He scored 19 in Washington's season-ending loss in the NCAA tournament and has impressed in offseason workouts.

-- Diamond Leung

Florida's Patric Young has had the sort of character-building, career-changing summer that both players and coaches dream about. Something of a malcontent for Billy Donovan during his freshman season, the McDonald's All-American let his mouth, not his play, do the talking. He averaged just 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds, far below the bar set for him.

Now, Young's play is doing the talking -- and it's saying a mouthful. He led the USA U-19 team in rebounding (6.8 rpg) while averaging 9.7 points this summer in Latvia. He returns to Florida with plenty of expectations but even more opportunity. The Gators are deep in the backcourt but woefully thin in the frontcourt now that Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus have moved on.

And so the job falls to Young. This time he seems ready for it.

-- Dana O'Neil

3. Name one coach who is poised to garner the recognition he deserves this season

[+] EnlargeCalipari
Richard Mackson/US PresswireJohn Calipari can showcase his coaching chops with a young crew this season.

Kentucky's John Calipari. OK, so if there's any coach in the country who doesn't need more name recognition, it's Big Blue Nation's favorite adopted son. But stay with me here. Calipari, for all the publicity he receives, is still frequently criticized for his actual coaching ability. Many fans think he's a recruiting maestro who lacks coaching chops. They assume he just rolls the balls out on the floor and lets his talented stars go to work. In some ways, that's true. In others, it's totally false. (For example: Few coaches in the country field teams as consistently stingy as Calipari. That he does so with so much roster turnover each year is doubly impressive.) If Calipari can take what might be his best recruiting class ever -- and that's saying something -- all the way to a national championship, the naysayers will be forced to recognize the coaching ability that has underpinned his controversial rise to the top of his profession.

-- Eamonn Brennan

I could easily go with Missouri's Frank Haith or Texas A&M's Billy Kennedy since they both walked into loaded teams and should challenge for the Big 12 title. But I have a sneaky suspicion that Oregon is going to be a handful in the new Pac-12. The addition of two big men -- former Wake Forest center Tony Woods and Louisiana Tech forward Olu Ashaolu -- will immediately make the Ducks a force inside. If both of these players play up to their potential, Oregon will be a tough out in the Pac-12. Dana Altman was always looked at as a serious coach at Creighton, one who consistently was able to maximize his talent. But he didn't garner the national recognition he deserved. If he's able to take the Ducks from the bottom of the Pac-12 and to a top-four finish and a possible NCAA berth in Year 2, then he should be praised on both coasts.

-- Andy Katz

Dana Altman has an opportunity to crack into the upper half of the Pac-12 and make a run at an NCAA tournament bid. The Ducks overachieved in Altman's first year, winning the CBI title even after numerous players transferred in wake of Ernie Kent's firing and left him short-handed. Altman missed the NCAA tournament in his final three seasons at Creighton after building up the Bluejays as a top mid-major program. Now he'll have a chance to experience March Madness again as Oregon welcomes top-100 freshman Jabari Brown and impact transfers Ashaolu and Woods.

-- Diamond Leung

Rick Byrd has been at Belmont for 25 years, shepherding the Bruins from NAIA to Division I, and winning more than 600 games in the process. Well-respected, Byrd earned some attention last season when Belmont racked up a 30-win season and made its fourth NCAA tournament appearance in the past six years. But the Bruins were summarily bounced by Wisconsin in the first round and the national attention faded.

This year, Belmont returns nine of 11 players and four starters from the team that lost but one game in the Atlantic Sun. Heavy with seniors and experience, Byrd could have the sort of Cinderella darling that makes NCAA tourney noise and earns well-deserving coaches their overdue praise.

-- Dana O'Neil