Ridaught: SEC hoops should be competitive

UF men's basketball coach Todd Golden
UF men's basketball coach Todd Golden starts his first season with the Gators. (Courtesy of University Athletics Assocation)

The Florida football team is off on Saturday, so why not dive into Southeastern Conference (SEC) hoops season? It starts sooner than you think.

The 2022–23 NCAA Division I men’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 7. That’s two weeks from Monday.

SEC basketball continues to take steps forward in becoming one of the elite conferences in the country.

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The league is coming off a breakthrough regular season.

But in the postseason, the SEC struggled.

And thanks to “Big Blue” Kentucky, which carried the league for so many years, the SEC took a punch to the gut when the No. 2 seed Wildcats were upset in the first round by No. 15 St. Peters.

During SEC Basketball Media Days in Birmingham on Wednesday, Kentucky coach John Calipari said, ‘I wish it was best of three.

Arkansas did represent the conference well by making its second straight Elite Eight run. The Razorbacks lost to Duke in a highly anticipated SEC vs. ACC showdown.

Tennessee and Auburn were SEC champions, as Auburn won the regular season title and Tennessee won the conference tournament.

But both teams took earlier than expected exits too, falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

The Vols were upset by Michigan, while the Tigers were waxed by Miami.

Last year’s regular season champions are ranked in the preseason AP poll for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

Auburn is 15th, behind No. 4 Kentucky, No. 10 Arkansas, and No. 11 Tennessee. 

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl equated the grind of the SEC regular season with that of SEC football, noting that there are no weekends off.

“There aren’t many off in SEC basketball,” Pearl said. “There are other Power Five leagues, there are a couple of weekends off.”

Alabama is ranked 20th to give the SEC five teams in the AP Top 25. That’s tied for the most of any league.

But what about the middle of the pack and the bottom of the league? A true representation of how good a conference is can be based on the league as a whole, from top to bottom.

The Gators were picked to finish seventh out of 14 teams. Florida coach Todd Golden is one of six new coaches in the SEC.

“The coaching in this league has really taken off over the last seven to eight years,” Golden said. “I feel Florida is one of the better jobs in the league and I feel really fortunate to be here.”

He’ll have a First-Team All-SEC player to work with in Colin Castleton, who averaged 17.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in SEC play last season.

“I think he should be a preseason All-American,” Golden said at SEC Media Day. “He gives us a great building block to be able to play off of in the low post but we can also play off of him at the elbow or the top of the key. He’s like the ultimate pressure release for our offense.”

And don’t forget, although they’re near the bottom of the SEC predictions at No. 13, Mike White enters his first season as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. Here’s everything White said at SEC Media Day.

I still think White will win at Georgia. Again, the bar is not very high as the ‘Dogs have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2015. 

They’re also seeking their first regular season conference championship since 1990.

At least one coach has faith in him.

“First of all, he’s a terrific coach,” Calipari said. “His teams will compete. They’re smart. All the stuff that you want in a coach, and he’s a terrific person. In the league, you know, you have guys that you just enjoy being around, and he’s one of them for me.”

We’re not far away from the start of the college basketball season.

Tennessee, which is picked to finish third behind Kentucky and Arkansas, will host Michigan State in a closed-door scrimmage in Knoxville this Sunday and they and will play Gonzaga in an open exhibition game on Oct. 28 in Frisco, Texas.

The Gators will host an Orange & Blue Scrimmage on Nov. 1.

Auburn’s Jabari Smith is gone but Kentucky returns reigning national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe, who was selected by the media for SEC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year.

Lots of storylines, including teams seeking redemption, should make for an interesting SEC hoops season in 2022-23.

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