Early look at SEC hoops 2004-05: East Division

The SEC East should be as tough as ever in men's basketball in 2004-05... but which team, at this early date, has the horses to take the division? Here's an evaluation of each SEC East team, including returnees, incoming recruits, and an "early-early" prediction of finish for 2004-05. (Part 2 of 2)

SEC East

VandyMania "early-early" prediction of finish for 2004-05: (1) Florida; (2) Kentucky; (3) Vanderbilt; (4) Tennessee; (5) South Carolina; (6) Georgia.

Note: All rankings of recruits mentioned below come from the winter edition of PrepStar's Recruiters Handbook.

1. FLORIDA (20-11 in 2003-04, 18-9 in the SEC) -- The Gators seemed to underachieve last season, but nevertheless should be the best team in the East next year. Only 6-9 Bonell Colas finished his eligibility. Returning are the three stars, 6-1 Anthony Roberson, 6-6 Matt Walsh and 6-9 David Lee, plus 6-9 Adrian Moss and 6-2 Lee Humphrey (who started after Christian Drejer defected). Two underclassmen, 6-3 Rasheed Al-Kaleem and 6-3 Ryan Appleby, will evidently not be back. But two talented reserves are back who may bloom: 6-8 Chris Richard and 6-10 Mohamed Abukar. Some observers overlooked the fact that Florida had a very young team in 2003-04. As usual, Coach Billy Donovan has signed some good recruits. 6-7 Corey Brewer (#32) was a McDonald's All-American, although he was not a standout in the game. 6-10 Joakim Noah (#47), 6-9 Al Horford (#65), and 6-0 Taurean Green (#136) are worthy newcomers.

2. KENTUCKY (27-5, 13-3) -- The Wildcats will have the pieces to have another good team despite the loss of three senior starters (6-3 Gerald Fitch, 6-1 Cliff Hawkins, and 6-8 Erik Daniels) and their sixth man, 6-5 Antoine Barbour. 6-6 Chuck Hayes and 6-5 Kelenna Azibuike are solid starters who come back. 6-1 Patrick Sparks, a transfer from Western Kentucky, is expected to move right into the starting lineup at point guard. There are many returnees who saw limited action last year including 6-7 Bobby Perry, 6-7 Sheray Thomas, 6-2 Ravi Moss, 6-5 Josh Carrier, 5-9 Brandon Stockton and 6-9 Bernard Cote. Last year's freshman, 7-1 Lukasz Obrzut and 7-3 Shagari Alleyne, will need to improve if Kentucky's inside game isn't to continue to be weak. Incoming freshmen 6-4 Joe Crawford (#24) and 6-2 Rajon Rondo (#109) were both McDonald's All-Americans, although neither stood out in the game. 6-3 Ramel Bradley (#105) and 6-4 Adam Williams (unranked) are two other newcomers. On past performance, it is only reasonable to expect Coach Tubby Smith to make a strong team out of these players.

3. VANDERBILT (23-10, 8-8) -- The Commodores lost their all-time leading scorer (6-10 Matt Freije) and three other seniors (6-2 Russell Lakey, 6-5 Scott Hundley, 6-10 Martin Schnedlitz). They retain a number of experienced players, including three starters (5-11 Mario Moore, 7-1 David Przybyszewski, 6-6 Corey Smith) and reserves 6-9 Julian Terrell, 6-5 Jason Holwerda, 6-5 Dan Cage, 6-11 Ted Skuchas, and 6-3 Adam Payton. Terrell is likely to move into the starting lineup along with 6-6 freshman Shan Foster (#49) or Holwerda, with Foster likely to get the edge unless Holwerda suddenly becomes more assertive as a scorer. Three other newcomers are 5-11 Alex Gordon (#188), 6-8 DeMarre' Carroll (unranked), and 6-2 Derek Feussner (unranked). Getting enough firepower on the floor, and getting his big men to rebound up to their size, is likely to be the primary concern for Coach Kevin Stallings. If there is solid improvement from some of the returning players, the Commodores should finish third in the East.

4. TENNESSEE (15-14, 7-9) -- The Vols suffered a mediocre season, the team being weak defensively and without a great deal of experience. Almost everyone should be back, however, including mainstays 6-10 Brandon Crump, 6-2 C.J. Watson, and 6-5 Scooter McFadgon (the leading scorer). 6-8 Jamere Hendrix, 6-10 Major Wingate, 6-3 John Winchester, 6-5 Stanley Asumnu, and 6-3 Dane Bradshaw all got considerable experience, and 6-10 Boomer Herndon and 6-6 Justin Albrecht saw some action. (The Tennessean reported last week that Herndon would not return next season.) 6-3 Jordan Howell missed the season with an injury, but should be ready to play. 6-10 Jackie Butler (#34) and 6-9 Damion Harris (#187) will be newcomers. Tennessee should be solid down the middle, and normal improvement from last season's youthful performers could make them much tougher next season. The team must get better on defense to rise to the hopes of Vol fans.

5. SOUTH CAROLINA (23-11, 8-8) -- The Gamecocks surprised everyone with a solid year, after looking like a disaster in the making before the season started. USC even made a brief appearance in the NCAA tournament. 6-9 Rolando Howell, 6-2 Michael Boynton, and 6-8 Kerbrell Brown will be gone from the team, although Howell missed much of his senior year anyway. 6-7 Carlos Powell was the team's leading player and will be back along with another starter, 6-1 Josh Gonner. 6-0 Tre Kelley is likely to start at the point and 6-6 Terance Kinsey and 6-7 Renaldo Balkman should also move into the starting lineup. 6-9 Brandon Wallace, a solid reserve, plus a pair of 6-10 deep reserves, John Chappell and Paulus Joneliunas, also return. That is enough for the makings of another successful team, but more depth will be needed. 6-6 Dwayne Day (#124) is a freshman who may help, but Coach Dave Odom may have to make another successful raid into the JUCO ranks if the Gamecocks are to maintain their success.

6. GEORGIA (16-13, 7-9) -- With a minimal number of scholarship players, but most of those having a lot of experience, new coach Dennis Felton guided the Bulldogs to a respectable season. However, four players who accounted for most of the team's minutes and points scored are gone, namely 6-7 Chris Daniels, 6-3 Rashad Wright, 6-7 Damien Wilkins, and 6-8 Jonas Hayes. Only three scholarship players return, and they will all be sophomores: 6-1 Levi Stukes, 6-8 Steve Newman, and 6-6 Marcus Sikes. Stukes was one of the best freshmen in the conference and started all year, but that is a very weak base upon which to build a team. The only newcomers who can be presently identified are 6-4 Channing Toney (#83) and 6-2 Sundiata Gaines (#129), and Felton is going to have to strike gold to avoid a disastrous season. Georgia produced two McDonald's All-Americans this year, both 6-11 (Dwight Howard and Randolph Morris), but Felton won't get either of them. It looks as though the services of walk-ons 6-4 Buzz Wehunt and 7-0 Joey Waldrop will be urgently needed again.

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