Improving Gators will win the East

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

I know the morning after the BCS National Championship game might be the time to read about whether Utah is better than the last night’s winner. (By the way, I write this column not knowing the outcome of the game.) However, it is time to turn to basketball – yep, that little round ball sport that no one cares about until now.

The reason why is that conference play starts across the nation. The SEC comes in with a pretty strong slate of teams. Nine of the 12 teams have 10 wins or more. No one has a losing record. It should be a pretty good year for the conference.

Here’s the way I see the SEC’s Eastern Division this year (predictions for the West will run next week):

1. Florida. The Gators have quietly been getting better through the first half of this season. Their schedule hasn’t been the toughest, but they may have one of the breakout stars of the season in Nick Calethes, who is averaging 17 points per game. Look for the Gators to rise to the top by the end of the conference season.

2. Tennessee. Things have been a little rocky for the Volunteers. They are one of the three teams not to have 10 wins now, but that’s because their schedule has been challenging. Now, the battle-tested Volunteers should be able to compete for the East title, but I think they’ll come up just a little short.

3. Kentucky. The Wildcats should be much improved this season. They have played their usual brutal schedule and fared pretty well, though they do come into this week with a tough loss to Louisville. Someone beyond Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson has to step up and become the third offensive option for the offense.

4. Vanderbilt. The Commodores are still a good team even if they come in fourth in the East. This is one of the more difficult division in the conference.

5. South Carolina. New coach Darrin Horn has helped the Gamecocks to a good record to start the season, but they really haven’t been tested yet. I expect South Carolina to struggle in conference play.

6. Georgia. The Bulldogs’ struggles should continue this season even though Georgia got a surprising berth in the NCAA tournament after they stormed to the 2008 SEC Tournament title. This could be Dennis Felton’s last season in Athens if his team doesn’t have a good season.