SEC Hoops Preview: Rocky Season On Rocky Top?

Knoxville, Tenn.--A general theme across the SEC basketball landscape this season is that there is a lot of rebuilding going on. Tennessee's Buzz Peterson doesn't deny that is the case with his program as he begins his third year as head coach of the Volunteers.

Peterson must tackle the 2003-2004 schedule without the SEC Player of the Year Ron Slay and two other starters from a team that finished 17-12 after losing to Auburn in the SEC Tournament and to Georgetown in the opening round of the NIT after just missing a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Buzz Peterson

The coach must also face the schedule without a single senior on his roster. However, he is taking the approach that the glass is half full instead of empty. "It is a positive that you are going to have this group for two years," he says. "I also think they have a chance to make something good happen this year."

To make good things happen, the Vols will need strong seasons from 6-10, 255-pound forward Brandon Crump and 6-2 guard C.J. Watson. Crump averaged 11 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season while Watson was very solid with averages of 5.5 assists and 9.1 points.

"Crump has been a leader for us and you know who else has been a leader--Justin Albrecht (6-6, 215 junior forward). He has got some of the makeup to be a leader for us. C.J. has been a leader, too, just like his tatoo says, "Quiet Storm." You can see him behind the scenes patting people on the arm and trying to encourage them to do well."

Albrecht averaged just two points per game last year, and there are not many returnees with better numbers. One of those is 6-5 sophomore guard/forward Stanley Asumnu, who averaged 2.9 points per game last year. This is obviously a great opportunity for the five newcomers to see early playing time.

The new Vols include 6-10 center Major Wingate (17 ppg, 9 rebounds) from Georgia's North Gwinett High and Florence, S.C., 6-6 forward Lou Wright (17 ppg, 7 rebounds) from SW Tennessee Community College and 6-3 guard Dane Bradshaw (10 ppg, 4.3 assists) from White Station High in Memphis. Jemere Hendrix is a 6-8 sophomore forward transfer, who averaged 2.4 points per game at Clemson. Scooter McFadgon is a 6-5 transfer guard who averaged 9.9 points and 4.1 rebounds at Memphis.

Peterson has put together a soft preconference schedule in hopes of building confidence and the win column for his retooled team. Looking at the SEC race, Peterson says, "I can't tell you what to expect in the West. It looks pretty balanced. I know that Mississippi State has gained a lot by adding forward Lawrence Roberts from Baylor. On our side it looks like Florida and Kentucky are a little bit ahead of everybody else talent-wise, but Vanderbilt returns everybody and probably has the best player in the league (Dan Frieje).

"I know this league was the No. 1 RPI league most of the year last season," says Peterson, a former University of North Carolina player. "Will it be as good as the ACC, the Big 10 and the Big 12? It may be below them by January because they have more experienced players returning in their leagues.

Key Losses: 6-8 forward Ron Slay (21.2 ppg, 7.8 rebounds), 6-3 guard Jon Higgins (8.9 points, 2.9 assists, 6-0 guard Thaydeus Holden (8.8 ppg, 2.5 rebounds), Keys to Success: UT is picked to finish third in the SEC East behind Kentucky and Florida by the media, but will need lots of help from the newcomers to do that.

More on the Vols: Peterson says that he is not sure that he likes divisional play in SEC basketball and says the conference might be better served to go to a single 12-team division like the women play. He says that wouldn't penalize a team that is playing in a divisional that is significantly stronger than the other division in any season. Teams play divisional opponents twice each season and have just one meeting vs. teams from the other division.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of previews of the 2003-2004 Southeastern Conference basketball season.

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