Parity the key word for SEC West basketball
By By Tony Krausz/assistant sports editor
July 19, 2003
It's the same verse just a different year for the Southeastern Conference men's basketball Western Division.
The field of six teams that has taken parity to new heights over the years is at it again.
Mississippi State University, which finished on top of the division in 2002-03 with a 9-7 conference mark (21-10 overall), was decimated by graduations and the NBA draft.
Alabama, the top dog in 2001-02, is coming off a miserable season (17-12, 7-9 SEC) and trying to rebuild with the departures of 2002 SEC Player of the Year Erwin Dudley and point guard Maurice "Mo" Williams.
LSU (21-11, 8-8 SEC) lost six seniors from last season's team, and Auburn (21-11, 8-8 SEC), the team picked to finish in the cellar last season, appears to be the favorite to win the division this year.
So once again, the West will be wild in the SEC.
Ole Miss may be in the best position to be the latest in a long line of surprise division champions.
The Rebels return two of the top seniors in the SEC in forward Justin Reed and guard Aaron Harper, and head coach Rod Barnes has replenished his staff with numerous junior college transfers to make a strong run in 2003-04.
The Eastern Division isn't as volatile as the West, but the teams on the other side of the SEC will be singing a familiar tune as well in 2003-04.
Once again, squads will be trying to figure out how to keep up with Kentucky.
The Wildcats ripped through the SEC last year to a perfect 16-0 conference record (29-3 overall), and the squad will be the target for many teams entering this year.
The perineal SEC and national powerhouse lost a number of quality players from the team that entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 1 and had a 26-game winning streak, but Wildcats head coach Tubby Smith reloaded with a vengeance.
For the first time in Kentucky basketball history, the Wildcats will have two 7-footers on their roster. The Wildcats signed 7-foot-2 Shagari Alleyne out of Rice High School in New York and 7-foot-1 Lukasz Obrzut from Gliwice, Poland, in May.
Plus Kentucky returns a number of players from last year's squad that will be expected to take on a bigger role this year.
There could be one surprise in the East in 2003-04.
Vanderbilt, much like Ole Miss in the West, is returning with a strong crop of conference veterans.
The Commodores brought in just one new player for next year's squad, and 6-foot-9 forward Matt Freije returns to the fray in hopes of turning around the team's 11-18 overall mark (3-13 SEC) from last year.
The West will be wide open and the East will be chasing the Wildcats, even in midsummer the coaches of the SEC are looking forward to another strong season on the hardwood.