HOOVER, Ala. (AP) - Florida's Billy Donovan knows why his Gators
are the preseason favorites in the Southeastern Conference. He just
has a different take.
Yes, the Gators have all five starters returning from a team
that snapped a two-year NCAA tournament drought. But, Donovan
points out, Georgia has two preseason all-conference picks,
including player of the year favorite Trey Thompkins, Tennessee is
tall and deep, and two-time defending champion Kentucky has another
bumper crop of recruits.
So why is Florida so highly regarded?
"Because we have five starters coming back from a team that
made the NCAA tournament," Donovan said Thursday at SEC media day
in suburban Birmingham. "Nothing more, nothing less. I don't think
our players are the best team in the league because we don't have
any players on the first-team all-league. It can't be because of
"We've got a good core nucleus of guys, that's what we have."
The Gators did return to the NCAA tournament for the first time
since winning back-to-back national titles, but they lost in the
first round to BYU in double overtime.
So the team to beat in the SEC depends on who you ask.
John Calipari and the Wildcats took ownership of the SEC last
season with a 35-3 record and three NCAA tournament wins behind
one-and-out freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and
Daniel Orton. That team lost the most talent by a landslide, with
five NBA first-round draft picks.
Now comes preseason first-team All-SEC point guard Brandon
Knight and another impressive group of newcomers. Tennessee coach
Bruce Pearl also cited the Kentucky returnees who could play larger
roles, like guard Darius Miller.
"I think that's going to be one of the biggest stories this
year," Pearl said. "Yes, they've got some tremendously talented
new players and they'll make a big impact. But watch for a couple
of those returning guys to make a big, big difference."
Three teams in the East were ranked in the preseason ESPN-USA
Today Top 25 released Thursday - No. 10 Kentucky, No. 11 Florida
and No. 20 Tennessee. Vanderbilt, Georgia and Western Division
favorite Mississippi State also got votes.
Calipari called the East logjam "ridiculous."
"I think Florida's outstanding, I think Billy's a great
coach," Calipari said. "But don't be going to sleep on Georgia.
Mark Fox is a terrific coach, but they also have two really good
players, maybe two of the best in the division.
"Kevin (Stallings' Vanderbilt) teams are always going to be the
same, well coached and coming at you. They're never going to beat
themselves, ever. Tennessee, you know what Tennessee's going to do
and how they're going to play and they're going to be right there.
Mississippi State may be one of the top five teams in the country
when they get everybody back."
Neither Kentucky nor Mississippi State are assured of being at
full-strength for a while.
Bulldogs point guard Dee Bost will miss the first 14 games,
coach Rick Stansbury said. The NCAA suspended him for nine games
for failing to remove his name from the NBA draft in time, and he's
academically ineligible for fall semester.
Renardo Sidney will serve a nine-game suspension and must repay
extra benefits he received as a high school player in Los Angeles.
Kentucky is awaiting word from the NCAA on the status of
6-foot-11 signee Enes Kanter, who played for a professional club in
his native country of Turkey.
"Depending on what happens with Kanter, Kentucky certainly
probably moves ahead of everybody," Donovan said. "Bruce has got
a deep team. He's got one of the best players in the league back in
Scotty Hopson. All this talk about Florida is great, but it's not
all reality. A lot of it is perception."
Donovan said this group of players hasn't always handled
prosperity well after creeping back into the rankings. His team
will start this season trying to manage the attention.
"No matter what we're ranked, we've got to stay humble, we've
got to stay hungry," forward Chandler Parsons said. "Rankings
really don't mean anything until you go out there and play. There's
a lot to be proven. We've been there before. We're a mature team."
There might also be a little more hoops hype on campus with
Florida's football team struggling lately.
"You'll hear some people talking. People write crazy stuff
about the football team on Twitter and Facebook," said Parsons, a
friend of quarterback John Brantley. "Our football team is not
used to that and people will walk by and be like, 'We can't wait
for basketball season."'