Rating offseason success

Since the tease to Luke Winn's Inside College Basketball column at sportsillustrated.com said: "Five offseason winners, five losers," I quickly clicked on the link, figuring Tennessee would be among the winners.

Two Southeastern Conference programs were among the five, but they were Kentucky (at No. 2) and Florida (at No. 4). Tennessee was nowhere to be found.

I realize that all rankings are subjective. Still, I'm struggling to understand how the Kentucky and Florida basketball programs have had better offseasons than Tennessee.

Here's what has happened in the Valley of the Vols since March:

- Head coach Bruce Pearl spurned feelers from the University of Iowa to return for the 2007-08 season.

- All-America guard Chris Lofton spurned the NBA Draft to return for the 2007-08 season.

- Third-team All-Big Ten forward Tyler Smith transferred from Iowa to Tennessee and was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.

That sounds like a pretty impressive offseason to me ... especially when compared to Florida's. The Gators lost three outstanding juniors who were expected to opt for the NBA Draft (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Cory Brewer) but also one who wasn't (Taurean Green). In addition, they briefly lost head coach Billy Donovan to the NBA's Orlando Magic, only to see him return within a week.

And Kentucky's offseason hardly qualifies as great. Sure, the Wildcats hired heralded Billy Gillispie as their new coach but they lost Tubby Smith, who led them to a national title and three Elite Eight appearances. Tubby was so sick of Lexington that he angrily walked away from a reported $2.45 million-per-year contract. Losing your head coach to the Minnesota Gophers qualifies as a great offseason?

Two of Winn's other picks appear equally puzzling. He says Georgetown has had the NCAA's best offseason, even though the Hoyas lost underclassman Jeff Green to the NBA Draft. Moreover, Winn says Kansas had the fifth-best offseason because Brandon Rush blew out an ACL and, in the process, blew his chances of turning pro early. I never knew a torn ACL qualified as a positive development.

Regardless, here are Winn's comments on Kentucky's and Florida's offseasons:

2. Kentucky

No other program altered its momentum in the offseason like the Wildcats did. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart made the year's best hire by luring Billy Gillispie away from Texas A&M. Gillispie, in turn, lured two elite recruits, shooting guard Alex Legion and power forward Patrick Patterson, to UK. The Wildcats will be SEC contenders in Gillispie's first season, which should be the beginning of a long and prosperous new era in Lexington.

4. Florida

The Gators lost five starters, including three lottery picks (Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah) and a fourth possible first-rounder (Taurean Green), but those were foregone departures. Seeing that in one crazy weekend at the beginning of June, Florida also appeared to be losing both its head coach and some of its top-ranked recruiting class, it emerged from the offseason in excellent shape. Billy Donovan's flip-flop after taking the Orlando Magic job wasn't a good PR move, but the result of it is that he's entrenched in Gainesville for at least the next five years. That's more than enough time for Donovan to build another contender.


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