Ten Decisions Will Key SEC Hoops 2009-10

This past season was a difficult one for SEC Basketball. The league spent the entire season ranked last among the "BCS" conferences in power rankings and ended the year with just three NCAA Tournament teams, two of which lost in the first round. Next season will be better, and could be a lot better. It all comes down to 10 key decisions.

There are a group of SEC players who are considering the end of their amateur career for either NBA or overseas opportunities. What those twelve guys decide will combine with the late recruiting period to set the table for what kind of conference the SEC will be next season.

David Huertas ----- The former Gator is the first guy on this list only because he is the only one who has made a firm decision. Huertas has dropped out of school at Ole Miss, taking with him 18.1 points and 4.5 rebounds. With the return of Eniel Polynice and Chris Warren the Rebels will be fine on the perimeter, but Huertas leaving on the heels of Malcom White's transfer takes away two of the team's top three rebounders.

Nick Calathes ----- The Florida sophomore is viewed by some as a late first round/early second round NBA pick, but most view him as a second rounder at best. If he takes his 17.2/5.3/6.4 assists) to pro ball Florida will struggle to break even in the SEC. If he returns they should be ranked all year.

Devan Downey ----- Here's a guy who is considering playing overseas to make money for his family since he is probably not going to get picked by the NBA. Still with his speed (2.9 steals, 4.5 assists) and scoring ability (19.8) he can definitely make money somewhere. With Carolina already losing Zam Frederick having Downey move on would be devastating.

A.J. Ogilvy ----- The big Aussie is reportedly considering pro ball in his native country as opposed to a return to Nashville. Vandy would be a legit NCAA contender if he returns with his 15.4/7.1 play in the post.

Tyler Smith ----- Maybe the most talent athlete in the SEC, Smith would not be assured of being a first round pick, but with his all around talents he'll make a team. Bruce Pearl has recruited well and the Vols roster is in good shape, but replacing Smith's productivity (17.4/5.8, 3.4 assists) is not something he's looking forward to.

Patrick Patterson ----- Based on the variety of NBA draft-oriented sites I've seen Patterson would likely be the first SEC player drafted no matter who comes out. New coach John Calipari will have to convince Patterson that he can develop a quality big guy as well as he has perimeter players. Even if the Cats add DeMarcus Cousins and hold on to Daniel Orton, they'll be much better if Patterson (17.9/9.3) returns for his junior year.

Jodie Meeks ----- The high scoring Meeks would be a certain first rounder if his ball skills and defense matched his scoring ability. But they don't. Still, losing 23.7 points a game would be devastating for any program.

Michael Washington ----- Washington is an NBA tweener, not big and strong enough for power forward, not quick enough to be a small forward. He should return to school to improve on his performance (15.5/9.8) and his pro-tential. We'll see if he does.

Jarvis Varnado ----- This is the one guy on this list who I think is as good as he's going to be. The top shot blocker in the country, Varnado plays much taller than his 6-9 due to phenomenal instincts and incredibly long arms – neither of which is likely to change. He added to his offensive game this year, but his future will depend more on his 4.7 blocked shots than his 12.9 points a game.

Tasmin Mitchell ----- After missing last season with an injury, Mitchell came back strong this year (16.3/7.2) and helped LSU win the SEC. There are not many top flight fifth-year seniors in college basketball and Mitchell may not want another year at this level.

If at least seven of those guys return, the SEC will be dramatically better next year. However if the majority of them move on it'll be another season of talking about how "the SEC isn't down, it's just young."

As far as I'm concerned three straight years of a conference being "young" is the definition of "down". That's why the next two months will determine whether or not SEC basketball takes a step towards the top conferences in the NCAA or stays at the bottom looking up.


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