No Respect

Last year Alabama was an unexpected winner of the Southeastern Conference baseball championship. If the Crimson Tide of Coach Jim Wells is able to repeat this year, it will be another surprise, at least to the coaches of the SEC baseball teams.

Alabama and Kentucky battled down the stretch for the 2006 SEC baseball championship with the Tide and Wildcats managing 20-10 records to win the divisions and earn the regular season co-championship.

The Crimson Tide was picked to finish fourth in the SEC Western Division last season, but instead claimed a share of its league-leading 14th SEC Championship.

Bama doesn't get much respect from the league's coaches, who pick the Crimson Tide to finish third in the Western Division. But Kentucky gets even less, predicted to finish fourth in the SEC East.

LSU and Mississippi State have battled with Alabama for supremacy in the Western Division in most years, but the Bengal Tigers are picked fourth and the Bulldogs are sixth in the pre-season selections.

The South Carolina Gamecocks are predicted to win the 2007 SEC baseball championship, as voted by the league's 12 baseball coaches in the 16th annual preseason SEC poll.

The Gamecocks, ranked number three nationally in preseason polls, seek to capture their third SEC Championship, having also won the title in 2000 and 2002. South Carolina returns six position starters and 10 pitchers from the 2006 squad which advanced to the the final game of Super Regional play.

Since 1996, the SEC has named a regular season champion as well as a tournament champion. Prior to 1996, the tournament champion was considered the SEC Champion.

In the overall SEC Champion vote, South Carolina received seven of the 12 championship votes in the poll. Arkansas received three votes while Vanderbilt received two.

In addition to picking a preseason SEC champion, the league's head coaches voted a predicted order of finish in the SEC Eastern and Western Divisions. In the Eastern Division, South Carolina was the clear favorite with 63 of a possible 66 points. Vanderbilt came in second with 54 points and Tennessee third with 39 points. Arkansas was the unanimous predicted winner in the Western Division with a total of 66 points. Ole Miss, last season's SEC Tournament champion, was second with 53, while Alabama finished third with 47.

Points were compiled on a 6-5-4-3-2-1 basis for each division. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams. Each coach also voted for one team as an overall conference champion.

The 2007 season gets underway this weekend with Arkansas at Louisiana Tech and Tennessee traveling to Florida State in a pair of three-game series. Alabama opens its season the following weekend, hosting Georgia State in games February 9-11.

The conference schedule is set to begin the weekend of March 16-18.

The 2007 SEC Tournament will be held May 23-27 at the newly refurbished Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The SEC Tournament has drawn over 100,000 fans four of the last five years. Over 1.6 million fans attended games in the SEC last season, an all-time NCAA record and the fifth year in a row the SEC has topped the one million mark in attendance, leading the nation once again in that category.

Here are the predicted SEC finishes with the teams first place votes in parenthesis, total points, last year's SEC record and 2006 SEC division finish:

Western Division

1. Arkansas (11) 66 18-12 / 2nd

2. Ole Miss (1) 53 17-13 / 3rd

3. Alabama 47 20-10 / 1st

4. LSU 33 13-17 / 4th

5. Auburn 24 9-21/ 6th

6. Mississippi State 23 12-17 / 5th

Eastern Division

1. South Carolina (9) 63 15-15 / 4th

2. Vanderbilt (3) 54 16-14 / 3rd

3. Tennessee 39 11-18 / 5th

4. Kentucky 31 20-10 / 1st

5. Georgia 30 18-12 / 2nd

6. Florida 29 10-20 / 6th

SEC Champion: South Carolina (7); Arkansas (3); Vanderbilt (2)

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