In the past couple of weeks, I have been asked at least a million times - well, maybe 50 times - how I think Andy Kennedy's 13-0 hoops team will fare in their 16-game SEC schedule, which begins Wednesday at Tennessee, another highly-ranked squad.
As most of you are well aware, I gave up the prediction business a long time ago, except every once in a while when I get a feel for a particular game. Seasonal predictions? No way.
The SEC is just too unpredictable, balanced and volatile to make many predictions and keep any modicum of credibility.
Anyone in this conference, in just about any sport, can jump up and bite you on any given day. That has been proven through the years over and over and over again.
Take the football season, for instance. The West Division came out about as projected, but the East was all funky. Did anyone pick Tennessee to be in the conference championship game over defending National Champs Florida? If they did, give them an award. P.S. - Florida ended up being the third-best team on that side of the conference behind the Vols and Georgia.
You see examples like that all the time in this league. Houston Nutt's Arkansas squad rolling into Baton Rouge and beating the Tigers comes to mind quickly on "our" side of the league.
And SEC hoops is no different, except one factor that makes it even more difficult to predict. Winning on the road in Southeastern Conference basketball is as hard as times in 1929. I'd rather try Korean geometry than walk into any SEC venue in hoops "expecting" a win.
The home court advantage in men's basketball in the Southeastern Conference may be the most one-sided home advantage this side of using the White House to negotiate with foreign diplomats.
When you go on the road in this league, you seemingly have to beat everyone in the building who's not dressed in your colors. Fans right on top of you, opposing players pumped to defend their sacred and familiar turf, refs who can be intimidated, clock operators - everyone.
No, I'm not suggesting you have to defeat cheating or anything sinister on the road, but I am saying the environment is not conducive to getting a totally unbiased shake.
Having said that, I'll take my chances with AK's team. They can go on the road and beat anyone in the SEC - "can" being the important word in that statement. In the past three or four years, I have not felt that way. It's a good feeling to have.
Some will suggest the SEC is "down." I don't believe it. "Down," to me, implies "not very good." The SEC will never be that. I prefer "not as good as last year," which at this point seems to be more truthful than "down." I know that's splitting hairs, but the connotation of our league being lousy does not compute with me. Our conference will always be able to hold its own against anyone, from top to bottom.
So where do we fit in there? Upper echelon, for sure, but that still does not guarantee anything.
Our hoops team will have to fight, scratch and claw in every SEC game, home and away, and no win will be easy. And that can be said for virtually every team in the league.
That, in itself, makes predictions baseless and useless.
But here is what I do know. Opponents better bring their 'A' games when the Rebels roll into their town or when they come to Oxford.
I think the home court advantage we will have will allow our team to hold serve at Tad Smith, but a hiccup along the way would not totally shock me.
On the road? I believe our talent puts us in every game, but talent will not put us over the top in most road venues. We'll have to be poised, tough and focused.
I do not see the Rebels getting intimidated by anyone, but I can see them getting outplayed by a pumped home team before an energetic crowd. It will happen. . . .
Personnel-wise, I like that our frontcourt trio are all seniors - Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell. I like that our backcourt has gained enough experience to get rid of any case of nerves they may have had earlier in the year. I like that we have excellent, effective depth and that our 8th, 9th and 10th guys are not just minute-eaters, but productive basketball players who can make a difference and not just "hold their own." I like the confidence level they have entering SEC play.
I like our coaching staff's savvy and style. If I played for them, I'd be intensely relaxed and eager to produce.
In short, I like our chances to shine. I like our chances to repeat as SEC West Champs. I believe anything is possible and the sky is the limit for this squad.
But predictions? No way. It's impossible to make a serious prediction in a seriously unpredictable league.
What I will predict, however, is a whole lot of fun and "our share" of wins. I will predict an edge-of-your-seat brand of hoops.
I also believe our fans will make Tad Smith as close to unbearable for our SEC brethren as possible. This team is definitely worthy of an all-out effort by the fan base.
Hold on tight. A great ride for Rebel hoops' fans is about to begin. Don't get left out of the action. You will be sorry if you do.
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