Buzz says SEC will be tough

With three of nine pre-conference games completed, Tennessee basketball coach Buzz Peterson knows his youthful Vols must continue to mature and improve as they prepare for what figures to be an imposing Southeastern Conference schedule.

The SEC East appears especially formidable, with Kentucky, Florida and Georgia capable of achieving top-25 rankings. Then there's South Carolina, which embarrassed the Vols twice last season. The West is probably stronger than last year, as well.

In short, the Big Orange has its work cut out for it when league play begins.

''This league is always strong,'' Peterson said. ''On paper, Alabama and Mississippi State look exceptionally good in the West. LSU, Auburn and Arkansas will all have improved teams. Ole Miss will dog you.

''In the East, Georgia is being tested early. Kentucky is always Kentucky. Florida is a ranked team. South Carolina and Vanderbilt also look good.''

The Vols were 5-4 in SEC play late last season but lost five of their last seven league games to finish 7-9 in the conference. They then beat Arkansas but lost big to Alabama in the SEC Tournament, finishing 15-16 overall.

UT's upcoming schedule is as follows:

Dec. 15 -- Georgia Tech (Chick-fil-A Classic)
Dec. 21 -- at West Virginia
Dec. 30 -- UT MARTIN
Jan. 4 -- NEW MEXICO

The Vols open SEC play Jan. 8 against visiting Kentucky. After road trips to Ole Miss (Jan. 11) and Florida (Jan. 15), the Vols host Vanderbilt Jan. 18.

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