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November 1, 2006
SEC Preview: Loaded with returning talent
Preseason Top 25
Preseason All-SEC Team
The College Basketball Wire
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The Southeastern Conference's top players used to treat college basketball as little more than a one- or two-year apprenticeship for the NBA.
The SEC welcomes back most of its best underclassmen after sending two teams to the Final Four and producing an NIT champion last year.
Florida returns all five starters from last year's national championship team. Reigning SEC player of the year Glen Davis came back to school after leading LSU to the Final Four. Alabama brings back a pair of All-America candidates in point guard Ronald Steele and post player Jermareo Davidson.
All that experienced talent gives the SEC reason to believe it enters the 2006-07 season as the nation's toughest conference.
"You look at last year,'' said South Carolina coach Dave Odom, whose team won its second consecutive NIT title last year. "Florida wins the national championship. LSU is right there to win it. We were close to getting to the NCAA, didn't and went on to do pretty well in that other tournament. You tell me a league that's done better than that."
The SEC will try to deliver an encore performance this season by relying on the nation's best collection of frontcourt players.
"There are some outstanding forwards in this league this year," LSU coach John Brady said. "It should be fun to see the game within six or eight feet of the goal.''
The league features so much talent this year that Kentucky typically a near-unanimous pick as the preseason favorite enters this season as a virtual afterthought. Florida, Alabama and LSU instead enter the season as the SEC's highest-ranked teams.
Kentucky struggled through a 9-7 record in conference play last year while Florida and LSU advanced to the Final Four. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith acknowledges the Wildcats are using the success of their rivals as incentive.
"I think it motivates everyone that you better get your act together and better get better," Smith said. "Certainly the run that LSU and Florida got on is special for the SEC, special for their programs. It sends a message that if we can play with those teams and win, then that could be something that could happen for us.''
Nearly every team in the conference enters the season with equally high expectations.