Which SEC School is a National Contender?
ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes talks Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Alabama.
by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
The SEC has featured many highly competitive matchups this season, and with the conference tournament down to the final four, it’s a perfect time to break down the teams that might have a shot at making some major noise this month. And who better to give us insights then a man who’s been breathing SEC basketball for the past four years. Jimmy Dykes, a 12-year veteran as an ESPN college basketball analyst, has been covering the Southeastern Conference full-time for the past four seasons. A well seasoned basketball mind, Dykes played college ball at Arkansas from 1981 to 1985 under coach Eddie Sutton. Upon graduation, he joined the Razorbacks’ coaching staff as an assistant for the ’85-’86 season. He then joined Sutton’s staff as an assistant at Kentucky, as well as at Oklahoma State. Dykes also had a stint with the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics as a scout before landing his TV gig with ESPN.
SLAM: Who would you say are the favorites to win the SEC Championship?
Jimmy Dykes: I think Florida and Kentucky are playing the best basketball. And they finished first and second in the SEC this year. Florida was picked to win the league and they held up against the pressure and got it done. Kentucky started three freshmen this year and they found a way to finish second in the SEC and get the number two seed. I think those two teams are playing the best basketball and you always want to be playing your best basketball at this time of the year.
SLAM: Who would you say is the SEC’s dark horse?
JD: I think a dark horse in this league might be Vanderbilt. Because they are in the SEC East, they’ve been tested all year long. They play a style that I feel is built to win on a neutral floor. They don’t rely on just one aspect of their game. They have a pretty good balance on how they play. They have size. So I think if there is any team that could beat Kentucky or Florida, it would be Vanderbilt.
SLAM: How many SEC teams do you expect in the NCAA Tournament?
JD: I think there might be five teams for sure – and they could get six. Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Alabama are in great shape. I think Georgia will get serious consideration.
SLAM: Can you give us a scouting report on Florida and what they need to do heading into the NCAA Tournament?
JD: Their guard play has kind of determined how well they’ve played this year. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker have played really good basketball the last month. They’re not turning the ball over at a high rate. They are taking good shots and they are taking care of the ball. Florida has a very good front line – a lot of touches. So I think that’s a real big key for Florida, not only in the SEC Tournament but in the NCAA tourney as well – how well their guard play is.
SLAM: What do you see in Kentucky?
JD: For Kentucky, I think is all about staying healthy. They only have six guys that they really play in their rotation. Three of those guys are true freshmen. And so basically, if they stay healthy, they’ll have as good of six guys as anybody else may have in this tournament. The problem is they have no depth. So Kentucky can’t afford to be in foul trouble or have a serious injury to one of their six guys. Other than that, they really rebound the ball well. They shoot a high percentage from the three-point line. They play terrific defense. They’re just a very talented team.
SLAM: You mentioned Alabama might have a good chance at going to the Big Dance. How would you describe their game?
JD: Alabama is a very interesting team because they are one of the best defensive teams in the country. They lead the nation in allowing about .86 points per possession. That’s tie for first in the country. That tells you how good their defense is. They don’t score a lot of points. They rely on their defense to win ball games. They get about 60% of their points from inside the three-point line. So they don’t make threes. They only make about four three-point shots per game. They are very good at getting the ball inside and scoring around the rim. They play solid defense. It’s a hard team to beat; they don’t beat themselves.
SLAM: Lets talk about the Tennessee Volunteers, who many might be sleeping on.
JD: Tennessee has proven that they could beat any team in the country. They have wins against Pittsburgh and Villanova. They have depth. They just have been inconsistent in how they play. I don’t think they’ve put together a solid forty minutes of basketball since probably December. And now here we are in March. So they’re going to have to string together 40 good minutes of play in order to win. But they have talent. Scotty Hopson is a big guard. He’s a 6-6 guard that can really play and shoot the ball. They have size and I think they have a good defensive scheme. But they just have not been a consistent ball club at all. I think they’ve been very inconsistent at the point guard position. And that doesn’t normally create a lot of wins in March.
SLAM: You mentioned Vanderbilt as the dark horse. What do you see in them?
JD: Vanderbilt is just an older and veteran team. Good depth, good offensive coach in Kevin Stallings. He gets his guys good open shots. They are a solid defensive team. They don’t really wow you in any one area. But they are just really good in about every aspect of the game. They get to the free throw line a lot. They have a lot of size and are built for a neutral floor.
SLAM: In your opinion, who is the most valuable player in the Southeastern Conference?
JD: Chandler Parsons. I think he’s been the most important guy on the best team. He is one of their top scorers. He leads them in assists. He leads them in rebounds. He’s a 6-10 three-man that just makes a lot of important plays. And I think he’s the best player in this league.
SLAM: Who do you think will get SEC Coach of the Year?
JD: Billy Donavan. He was picked to win the league and he did win the league. It’s almost shocking that he’s the guy that won back-to-back championships in the last four years and this will be his first time to be coach of the year. He’s done a terrific job with a lot of pressure on him to winning every game. And he did an outstanding job this year.
(Photos courtesy of SEC and ESPN)