VETTEL: Odd Start to SEC Season

Every team in the SEC has played three games in conference play, except for LSU and Kentucky (2 each). Still there are some remarkable things happening in the league. First off, prediction that the SEC is in a down year, while refuted by all coaches seems to be on target. Conference teams accumulated a collection of miserable losses, and far too few notable wins in noon-conference play. Yet, this time of year is all about getting it down in the league, and that's where eyebrows are being raised.

It Starts in Gainesville and Oxford

That's where the only 3-and-0 teams reside. Florida's perfect conference start, on the heels of a 13-and-0 run in non-conference play is stunning to the rest of the league. Nobody expected the Gators to do this after a 12-and-4 season last year led to the departures of David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Yet there the Gators are with three wins by an average of 15 points each and all by double digits.

But if Florida's great start is surprising; Ole Miss being 3-and-0 is a mind-numbing shocker. The Rebels were 4-and-12 in the SEC last year and return just one starter in forward Londrick Nolen. That has turned out to be a good thing. The Rebels lost their second game of the season to New Mexico by a humiliating 95-42 score. Yet they lead the SEC West. Sophomore big man Dwayne Curtis has become eligible after transferring from Auburn and leads the Rebs with 14.6 points and 7.5 rebounds. The rest of the team has played solid ball in earning wins over Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi St.

Another pleasant surprise has to be Alabama, which seemed to be in trouble after losing pre-season player of the year candidate Chuck Davis (13.9/6.8) and then dropping the league opener to Mississippi. They bounced back with a win at Auburn and then, on Sunday beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena behind a career effort from center Jermareo Davidson.

Big Blue Big Disappointment

You have to go back to 1989-90 to find the last time that Kentucky opened the SEC race with two losses. But at least those losses were on the road (Georgia, Vanderbilt) in Rick Pitino's first season. This Kentucky team, in Tubby Smith's ninth season opens up the league with two straight losses at Rupp Arena (Vandy, Bama). If you were wondering when was the last time Kentucky lost its first two SEC home games? Try the 1966-67 seasons when Kentucky lost to Florida (78-75) in December and then Vanderbilt (91-89) in January.

The Wildcats are literally the gang that can't shoot straight. Kentucky is shooting just 42 percent from the floor, worst in the SEC and they're ninth at the free throw line (66 %). Oh they'll guard your tail, and they compete on the boards, but 67.5 points a game won't get it done. Of course, in their two SEC games, the scoring average dips to 58. Randolph Morris' return has helped (14.5/6.5) but Kentucky's future lies in the perimeter guys making shots. Right now Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley and Patrick Sparks have really struggled, as has Joe Crawford. The only plus has been Ravi Moss who is 6-for-13 outside the arc.

Still, discounting the Wildcats would be foolish. They are too well coached, too talented and too tradition-laden to fade.

Gamecocks Disaster Looming?

While Kentucky Basketball fans (the greatest in all sports) are justifiably concerned about their team's play, folks in Columbia, South Carolina have greater concerns. They are off to a 0-and-3 start in year five under Dave Odom, lowering his mark against SEC teams to 26-and-42. The Gamecocks are 9-and-7 overall, but aren't likely to be above the 500-mark much longer.

South Carolina plays five of its next six games on the road in a sadistic and unfair piece of scheduling. Why, you may ask? Because the circus is booked into their arena, but nobody bothered to tell the SEC office before the schedule was made. Thus they had to move a couple of game and the end result is a brutal stretch. They play @ Vanderbilt, @ Kentucky, Florida, @ Tennessee, @ Arkansas and @ Florida. That's just nasty. Look for the Gamecocks to win one of the five at most, leaving the team 1-and-8 and the classy Mr. Odom on the hot seat.

I asked Florida Coach Billy Donovan for his thoughts on the first returns in the SEC this season:

Coach Donovan: I'm not the best guy to ask for an assessment. It's crazy. Alabama loses at home to Ole Miss and then goes on the road without Chuck Davis and gets two great wins. You look at the fact that Vanderbilt goes into Rupp and plays a great, great game and Arkansas goes to Mississippi State and loses and then Arkansas beats Vandy. It just goes to show you that on any given night anybody in our league can beat anybody. I keep hearing people say that the league is down, I don't agree that the league's down. I really don't believe it. There are some really good teams. I look at Auburn on Saturday; in terms of quickness, athleticism, shooting, speed, rebounding, how hard they play and their toughness. Hard to believe these guys are all freshmen; they're pretty good. For whatever reason our league doesn't get the kind of respect it should because national people think it's a football conference.

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