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October 21, 2006

No. 18: Tubby's seat is heating up

Life without Adam Morrison
Preseason Top 25
The College Basketball Wire

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Rivals.com selected the top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 18 storyline focuses on how hot Kentucky coach Tubby Smith's seat is this season.

There have long been whispers about Tubby Smith's job security. Seven years of failing to get to the Final Four at a school like Kentucky will create that kind of talk.

But until last season, the whispers didn't seem to have any validity. During the 20005-06 season, the program started to show some real cracks - the type that started giving credence to all those rumors.

It began with a 73-46 drubbing at then-No. 22 Kansas on Jan. 7, the worst loss in Tubby's nine-year tenure. The Wildcats were embarrassed, didn't look like they belonged with one of the game's elite programs and fell out of the top 25 for the first time since 2001.

Three days later, the Wildcats lost to Vanderbilt at home for the first time since 1974. The Commodores spoiled the return of center Randolph Morris, who played his first game of the season after serving an NCAA-imposed 14-game suspension.

The Commodores, who reached the NIT, ended up sweeping the two-game series against the Wildcats for the first time since that 1973-74 season.

The Wildcats were picked to win the league, but finished third in the SEC East. UK had won the division every year of the Smith era, and had to play on the opening day of the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1979.

Kentucky made a late charge in the NCAA Tournament, beating off UAB in the first round and nearly knocking off top-seeded Connecticut in the second round.

But for most of the season, the team lacked chemistry and an identity. Smith used 12 different starting lineups, and former five-star recruits Rajon Rondo and Joe Crawford didn't play up to their potential. Rondo left early for the NBA and was taken with the 21st pick despite scoring in double figures just twice in his last 12 games.

Throw in recent recruiting difficulties the Wildcats missed out on a handful of big names in the classes of 2005 and '06 and it looks like Smith may be on the hot seat.

Unfortunately for Smith, this is the wrong year to be coaching for your job in the SEC.

After sending six teams to the 2006 NCAA Tournament, the league looks like it might be stronger and deeper this season.

Defending national champion Florida, which swept the Wildcats last season, returns all five starters.

LSU has the SEC's reigning player of the year, Glen Davis. The Tigers have enough talent to return to the Final Four. So does Alabama with point guard Ronald Steele and power forward Jermareo Davidson.

Tennessee reeled in a top-10 recruiting class after going 22-8 in coach Bruce Pearl's first season.

The Wildcats remain one of the league's most talented teams, thanks to the addition of four-star guards Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks - who are expected to contribute immediately.

But the team also has question marks. Who will replace Rondo at the point? Junior guard Ramel Bradley is getting a shot, but he has played on the wing his entire career and is known for being a shooter, not a playmaker.

There's also Morris, a highly-touted recruit who was expected to be a lottery pick by this time when he came out of high school. Can he give the Wildcats the inside presence they need? Should they keep running the offense through the big man?

If Smith and his staff can't come up with good answers to these questions, they could all be coaching elsewhere in 2007-08.

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