Basketball on rise in SEC

Clearly, the Southeastern Conference isn't just a football league anymore. Three of its member teams - Tennessee, Florida and Vanderbilt - made the NCAA basketball tournament's Sweet 16 this year.

The SEC should be powerful again in 2007-08, based on ratings compiled by Jeff Goodman. In a piece entitled "NCAA Hoops - An Early Look," Goodman lists four conference teams in his preseason top 25 for next winter. These are Arkansas at No. 8, Tennessee at No. 12, Alabama at No. 18 and two-time defending national champ Florida at No. 22.

Here's what Goodman has to say about the four ranked SEC programs:

8. Arkansas

The Razorbacks return everyone. That could be scary for the SEC. Shooting guard Patrick Beverley says he won't transfer — and that's terrific news for whomever their coach ends up being, because he'll also have point guard Gary Ervin, wing Sonny Weems and plenty of talent up front with Steven Hill, Charles Thomas, Darian Townes and Michael Washington.

12. Tennessee

Bruce Pearl will lose the heart and soul of his team, hard-nosed senior Dane Bradshaw, but there's still plenty in the cupboard. Chris Lofton, the nation's top shooter, should be back for his senior season and Pearl will also have guards JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith back in the fold. Duke Crews and Wayne Chism, a pair of freshmen who saw plenty of playing time, will only get better.

18. Alabama

We're going to give this another shot with the Crimson Tide. Senior big man Jermareo Davidson may be gone, but as long as point guard Ron Steele is healthy, Mark Gottfried's team should be a fixture near the top of the SEC. Steele is joined by hard-nosed power forward Richard Hendrix, Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley as starters returning for 'Bama.

22. Florida

Billy Donovan's club will lose senior Lee Humphrey and is likely to lose Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer. However, if point guard Taurean Green comes back for his senior season, the Gators will still be a Top 25-caliber club. Freshmen Nick Calathes, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus will come right in and make an impact — and guys like Walter Hodge, Marreese Speights and Dan Werner will watch their roles expand significantly. Donovan still has a chance to land the nation's top unsigned player — forward Patrick Patterson — as well.

Incidentally, here is Goodman's projected top 10 for 2007-08:

1. Georgetown, 2. UCLA, 3. Kansas, 4. Memphis, 5. North Carolina, 6. Ohio State, 7. Michigan State, 8. Arkansas, 9. Southern Cal, 10. Washington State.

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