By Ed Morgans @writered21 on August 22, 2014
Much of the hype in the SEC this season is going to go to the Kentucky Wildcats, and you can hardly blame experts for that. That, combined with the SEC coming off a very down season in 2013-14, and you'd think there might not be much to talk about when looking at contenders for the conference championship this season. But there are five teams that can make a run at it and here they are.
Missouri hasn't totally adjusted well to life in the SEC, but a 9-9 conference mark last season was probably about the expectation. Now with some experience under their belt, the Tigers ought to be more of a threat to finish more solidly among the top third of the SEC in 2014-15. They need to step up a little further to reach the top, but if it all falls into place, anything is possible.
You'd have trouble finding 10 people outside of the state of Georgia who would remember that the Bulldogs went 12-6 in the conference last season, tying mighty Kentucky for second place in the league. Georgia won four of the final five regular-season conference games, including wins over Missouri and at LSU, before falling to Kentucky in the second round of the SEC Tournament. If the Bulldogs keep improving, they will be a factor.
The Hogs went 22-12 overall and 10-8 SEC last season but turned in two of the league's most stunning victories -- an 87-85 overtime win at home vs. Kentucky on a putback slam dunk at the buzzer and a 71-67 overtime win in Lexington. Arkansas even batted undefeated conference champ Florida in the only meeting between the teams, losing 84-82 in OT. The UK win aside, Arkansas won just two other SEC road games last year, so that must improve.
It's really hard, and maybe a bit foolish, to pick against a Florida team that ran the table in the SEC last season and finished 36-3, losing to Connecticut in the Final Four. Florida beat UK three times last season, by 10 and 19 in the regular season, and by one in the SEC Tournament final. Few teams even gave the Gators a scare along the way, but it's really hard to repeat that kind of dominance without a superstar player.
The reason Kentucky gets the top spot here is that this Wildcats team is somewhat unlike any other that's been in place under head coach John Calipari. With the return of the Harrison twins, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, plus a tremendous freshman class (again), the Wildcats have a mix of talent and veteran leadership that should allow Kentucky not to experience so many drastic highs and lows and be a consistent winner all year.
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