When the Lexington Herald-Leader reminded him of those comments last week, Smith was quick to amend his comments.
"I think every team is the team to beat in the SEC," Smith said. "I'm sure every coach would say that or they probably shouldn't be playing in the SEC, to put that in perspective."
In reality, there really isn't one team to beat in the SEC this season.
And if there was, that team would be
Even then, the Gators are human.
They proved that last season by finishing 10-6 in the SEC, and they've shown it
once again this season by losing to
"I think the first thing is once
you move into January, everybody's starting from scratch,"
"Everything that took place in November and December was hopefully to get you prepared for what you're about to see the next 9-10 weeks in the SEC," said Donovan.
That said, here's a rundown (in no particular order) of the teams to beat in the SEC this season:
"No disrespect to Billy," first-year Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "They're still the standard-bearer in the Southeastern Conference. To have the opportunity to open with them at home to start off SEC play is something that has our guys excited."
"I know this: Because of expectations in Big Blue Nation, at times, they don't appreciate what they've got," Kennedy said. "I think Coach Smith is a great coach. I think he has really good players. And I think they do the things that they need to do to be successful. How good this team is going to be in relative terms to the past is still yet to be determined."
"We're all certainly aware of
Still, the Gators have a lot to
prove, even at 14-2. Their scheduled is ranked 192nd by collegeRPI.com, and
they've spent a lot of time in the non-conference season loading up on too many
Stetsons, Prairie View A&Ms and
"We've had some good tests,"
Donovan said. "We've had a chance to go on the road.
"You try to set the non-conference schedule up to prepare you for conference play," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said, "and to try to get the things exposed that you need exposed early on before you get exposed in January."
Then again, as
On the plus side, the Vols are 16th in the RPI and 26th in strength of schedule rating.
Now all they have to do is ratchet their game up a few more notches for the SEC season.
"The purpose and the way it was set
up, we're trying to get our basketball program to be a national program,"
"I don't think we've played nearly
as well as we can yet,"
Players such as Alonzo Gee, Richard Hendrix and Mykal Riley have done their part to keep the Crimson Tide from
falling apart. However, less than a week after beating
"It's all disturbing," Gottfried said. "We weren't very good. We can go through about 12-15 parts of the game and we were pretty crappy at all of them."
LSU: Sure, the Tigers miss Tyrus Thomas, but who wouldn't? Yet, despite Thomas' decision to enter the 2006 NBA Draft following his freshman season, the Tigers are still 11-3 after an impressive 66-49 victory over No. 18 UConn on Saturday.
The Tigers will lost their SEC
opener on Tuesday at
"We beat a good team coached by a great coach," LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell said after the Tigers beat UConn last weekend. "I think we're prepared to start playing in the SEC."
For all Thomas brought to the team, the player the Tigers truly miss is guard Darrel Mitchell, who brought a steady leadership to the team before completing his eligibility.
Tack Minor has the talent to be an outstanding point guard, but his inconsistency and lack of self-discipline has often forced coach John Brady to go with wing Garrett Temple and backup Ben Voogd at the point.
That may have changed in the UConn game. Brady isn't about to turn the reins of this team over to the unpredictable Minor, but Minor did provide a driving force in the win over the Huskies.
That said, this is still Glen Davis' team. The Tigers have other weapons in Dameon Mason, Tasmin Mitchell and
"LSU's been front and center on
ESPN all day long," Brady said. "To cap that off with a lopsided win was great.
Hopefully, all our fans saw something they like, and they should expect the same
effort in SEC play. I would rather
"The defense was outstanding," Heath said. "We got the game going up and down the court, which was good for us and fed off our defense. Twenty-five assists and seven turnovers is outstanding. Their starting five is as good as you are going to find in college basketball."
The Razorbacks never let Steele take control of the game and held Davidson and Hendrix, who had been averaging a combined 30 points, to a total of 12 points.
"I don't think we've faced athletes like that who played so hard," Steele said.
Still, it's only one win. And as
any experienced SEC coach will tell you, there's a lot of basketball left to be
played in the conference season and a lot of chapters still to be written.
As for the rest of the SEC: South Carolina should have a chance at a
third consecutive NIT title, for what it's worth, while Georgia and Ole Miss
have improved and should be more competitive in a tough conference. Vanderbilt
Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.