Previewing The SEC - Simpsons Style [College Basketball Conference Previews]
Midnight Madness. In many parts of the country, it is the glorious signal that college basketball season is near. In the Southeastern Conference, it's a signal that fans will soon be counting down the days until Spring Football Practice begins.
Big Ten Conference. Atlantic Coast Conference. Big East Conference. Conference USA. It's finally time for you guys to get some recognition - surely you don't want anymore recognition for your football exploits. (Yes, I'm kidding. Kind of.)
Yep, football is king in the south. That doesn't mean that we don't play basketball in the south. Seems to me that Florida won a couple of titles (back-to-back, no less). Also, the SEC is the only conference in the nation to have all of its teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for at least one week since the 1999-2000 season. While I'm not banking on another national championship this year, there are a few things to watch here in the SEC.
To spice it up a little bit, I thought I'd use some of the lovable characters from The Simpsons to break down the conference as the season begins. Enjoy!
12. Georgia Bulldogs (Barney Gumble)
Ah, Barney Gumble. The lovable loser. He's the guy that really should be better than he is, but he seems to be pretty happy with his lot in life. Hey, at least I backed off my original selection for the Dawgs. The Bulldogs seem to be pretty stationary in the SEC and I don't see much change this year. Yeah, the Bulldogs won the SEC Tournament last year and crashed the Big Dance. But I'm willing to bet that was more the exception than the rule. Dennis Felton bought himself some more time by making the Dance last year, but I figure we'll be hearing the same rumblings at the end of this season.
11. Arkansas Razorbacks (Otto the Bus Driver)
Sometimes the Razorbacks look like world beaters, just like Otto when he's rocking out to his tunes. Sometimes they look like Otto the slacker who has engaged in some "extracurricular" activities. Second-year Razorback head coach John Pelphrey will rely on junior Michael Washington and freshman Rotnei Clarke. If Washington can match his opening-game double-double (30-14) consistently throughout the year, Arkansas could catch a few teams off-guard. Like Georgia, it's not looking good for 2009.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks (Ned Flanders)
Man, this one was tough for me. As much as I hate to admit it, the Gamecocks are a lot like Ned Flanders. They can be annoying at times, but they're relatively harmless. With All-SEC guard Devan Downey returning, the Gamecocks should be able to hang in most games. However, their roster from a year ago has hardly changed. It will take some time for first-year coach Darrin Horn to build this team in his own image. Until that happens, expect the Gamecocks to battle hard. If all the pieces fall into place, it could happen this year. But dancing next year is a more realistic expectation.
9. Auburn Tigers (Ralph Wiggum)
Everyone loves Ralph, don't they? He's got great intentions and would never really cross anyone. But you know nothing big is ever going to come from Ralph. Yeah, that about sounds right. I think Jeff Lebo is an outstanding coach, maybe one of the better ones in the league. But for some reason it's just not sticking in Auburn. 58-63 in three years isn't all that much to write home about. Will this be the year it works for Lebo? If Quantez Robertson can improve his assists (4..07 apg) and steals (2.10 spg) this year, then the Tigers could have a much needed spark on offense. If not, well....let's not think about that. We like Jeff Lebo, right? Too bad he can't still suit up for the Tigers.
8. Mississippi State Bulldogs (Moe Szyslak)
There's something dirty about Moe, isn't there? He's kind of got an edge to him. He also gets fooled by little kids (Bart) often. I just don't know what to make with these Bulldogs. The Sporting News named coach Rick Stansbury the best recruiter in the conference. If that's true, then he must be one of the worst coaches in the conference, because they've only made the tournament once in the last three years. Jarvis Varnado will be counted on once again to anchor the Bulldog defense. Varnado had 157 blocks last season and averaged 7.8 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs definitely have the talent to dance again this year, but will they be outsmarted on the way to the ball?
7. Mississippi Rebels (Martin Prince)
This is another team I don't get. I went with Martin here because of the potential. Martin has dreams of being the best and most popular in his class, but there's always a foil. They have the potential of youth with head coach Andy Kennedy. They have Chris Warren and his 15.8 points per game returning. They also have a couple of recruits that I think are going to be absolutely outstanding. But I still see that foil looming in the distance for the Rebels this year. This could be the year that Kennedy brings Ole Miss back into the national spotlight, provided he can avoid the letdowns. Early games against South Alabama, West Virginia, and Louisville may tell us all we need to know.
6. Kentucky Wildcats (Homer Simpson)
What can I say? The Billy Gillespie era at Kentucky seems to have started with a big D'oh! Last year it was Gardner-Webb. This year it was VMI. While I'll grant that VMI has a pretty potent offense, they're still VMI. You're not supposed to lose those games. Ever. Also, much like Homer Simpson, all eyes always seem to be on Kentucky. They are the most famous member of the conference and their actions speak louder than any words that can come out of league headquarters in Birmingham. Can Ashley Judd and scoring machine Jodie Meeks carry the Wildcats to the Big Dance? I think we're in for a few more D'oh's. The real question is how many more letdowns can Gillespie survive?
5. Vanderbilt Commodores (Lisa Simpson)
Well, there's the obvious academic aspect of this pick. Lisa's the smartest in the family - probably the smartest in the town. But she's also the moral compass of her family. In a lot of ways, I think Vanderbilt fits this label. They probably won't ever be the most athletic or most followed team in the conference, but they'll likely always be a good representation of what a team should be. They don't have a terribly ambitious non-conference schedule, but I still think they'll be able to ride A.J. Ogilvy and his 17.0 ppg into the NCAA Tournament.
4. LSU Tigers (Mayor Quimby)
Much like Mayor Quimby, there's just something about LSU I don't trust. I don't know why it is, but there's just something. When they win, you kind of wonder how it happened. When they lose, you're not too upset. Is that fair? Probably not. Oh well. That being said, first-year coach Trent Johnson is sitting good with what he's inherited. He has the scoring of Marcus Thornton (19.6 ppg last year) and the defensive efforts of Chris Johnson (6.6 rpg and 2.64 bpg). I definitely see the Tigers dancing this year - maybe Johnson can even keep the Bayou Bengals dancing longer than one weekend.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide (Waylon Smithers)
Man, there's something odd about this pick. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If Ronald Steele comes back healthy for Alabama, then things could be good for Mark Gottfried's squad. If he doesn't regain form, there are still some incredible recruits to take on responsibility. Of course, depending on a player who is coming back from a major injury and freshman seems risky. If they have to rely on the younger wave of players, it could be a long season, as I've never been impressed with Gottfried's game management/coaching. I think Steele will be back and so will the Tide - in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Florida Gators (Bart Simpson)
Last year the Gators took their lumps after the back-to-back championships. They were young - very young - and they still had a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. I'm going with Bart here because I think the Gators will return to their form of a few years ago. They'll be fun to watch, much like Bart ruling the school yard. If Nick Calathes can run the floor like he did last year, expect the Gators to return to the attitude of "We're the Florida Gators. Who the hell are you?". Experienced Gators with Billy the Kid on the bench should equal an extended dance for Florida in March.
1. Tennessee Volunteers (Krusty the Clown)
OK, I know. Krusty? For the best team in the conference? But you have to consider that there are no real winners in Springfield, so why not Krusty? We've already seen Bruce Pearl with body paint. (Although I didn't see a superfluous third nipple like Krusty has) And when Bruce (and his team) are playing well, they are quite a sight to behold, also (kind of) like Krusty. The Vols are going to have to figure out how to replace Chris Lofton. Can Bobby Maze be the answer in the backcourt? Only time will tell. Tyler Smith is everyone's pick for player of the year and it's hard to argue. Tennessee should definitely be considered the favorites for the SEC title. Here's hoping for all the Vol fans out there that Bruce Pearl's run of good fortune lasts longer than Krusty's.
With so many Simpsons fans out there, let the discussion begin about my crappy choices. Oh yeah, feel free to discuss SEC basketball also. It may not always get a lot of national recognition, but this usually some good basketball played down south. After all, what else would we do while counting down for the Spring Football Game?