Originally Published: August 23, 2010

Five things to know this offseason

Andy Katz

1. The eligibility of Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter: Kentucky has a chance to challenge Florida for the SEC East title if Kanter can clear up amateur issues from playing in his native Turkey before coming to the United States to finish high school. Kanter can be that much of a difference-maker for the Wildcats. He wasn't cleared in time to travel with UK on its foreign trip to Canada earlier this month. The Wildcats have the top-rated class again this season, and a lot of that has to do with Kanter and Brandon Knight. Knight performed quite well on the trip by scoring and dishing out, while not committing turnovers. Kanter has time to get eligible, but the NCAA has been known to drag these cases out for quite some time. It could be a daily watch on whether he will be eligible in time for Kentucky's trip west to play at the University of Portland and in Maui.

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Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesIf Enes Kanter is eligible, he can be the difference-maker for Kentucky in the SEC East.

2. The status of Mississippi State guard Dee Bost: Bost declared for the NBA draft in the spring and then withdrew his name after the new NCAA deadline of May 8. According to Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, Bost told the staff that he was confused by another change in the rule: going unselected no longer allows a player to return to school. Bost is appealing the rule and the Bulldogs are awaiting the decision. If he is eligible, MSU has its starting point guard returning and a real chance to win the SEC West. The Bulldogs can still win the division if Bost isn't allowed to play, but it means there will be even more pressure on their newcomers -- JC point guard Brian Bryant and shooting guard Jalen Steele.

3. Florida's addition of freshman forward Patric Young: The Gators are the one team in the SEC that returns all five starters. But last season's team barely made the NCAA tournament and was out in the first round in a classic battle with BYU. Sure, they are still the pick in the SEC because of experience, but what pushes the Gators over the others is the addition of their newcomers, led by Young. Florida had to get better with its role players and its bench. Young should immediately deliver based on his play with USA Basketball over the summer. He was a huge hit according to coaches Jeff Capel and Paul Hewitt. Young was a scrappy, do-everything player who was the ultimate glue guy. He averaged 6.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in 16.8 minutes in five games as the American U-18 team earned the gold. If Young can board, finish on the offensive glass and become the hustle guy the Gators need, they'll be much better this season.

4. Summer injuries: The bottom-level programs could hardly afford more injuries, and yet Auburn and Arkansas got hit hard over the summer. Arkansas' Marshawn Powell, who played well at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James skills academies, will be counted on to produce like he did last season with nearly 15 points a game. But Powell broke his foot in a pickup game and he's out seven to eight weeks. The hope is that he'll be ready to go by the start of practice or, at the very least, the season. New Auburn coach Tony Barbee starts his gig without junior guard Frankie Sullivan (leading returning scorer at 12.7 points a game), who had knee surgery July 27. Starting forward Ty Armstrong is also out after knee surgery last week. The timetable for the returns of Sullivan and Armstrong is unknown. But not having either to start practice would be a major setback for Barbee. The good news is that he clearly will get a honeymoon period this season. The interest in the new Auburn Arena will take some of the sting out of limited bodies on the floor. Two other SEC teams lost players to issues: LSU no longer has Bo Spencer due to academics, and Georgia will not get recruit Cady Lalanne, who will now go to UMass instead.

5. Andy Kennedy's court case is over: Ole Miss gave Kennedy a contract extension through 2014. He is on target to pursue his third division title in five seasons, but he's still trying to get the Rebels into the NCAA tournament. Ole Miss has made the NIT Final Four twice in the past three seasons, but Kennedy needed to get past the distraction of his court case stemming from an incident with a cab driver and a valet in Cincinnati nearly two years ago. He can now move forward from an incident that was an obstacle in his pursuit to move the Rebels forward. He has done a solid job moving the program upward, dealing with defections, injuries and an early entrant into the NBA draft. Now he can move forward as well.

Fran Fraschilla's SEC predictions

Fran Fraschilla

SEC East

1. Kentucky: Could the Wildcats be as talented as last year's 35-3 team? No, but don't feel bad for John Calipari. His one-and-done freshman class has everything, including another great point guard in Brandon Knight.

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Stew Milne/US PresswireScotty Hopson will get his turn in the spotlight for Tennessee in 2010-11.

2. Tennessee: Even though graduation has taken its toll on the Vols, the talent is there to compete for an SEC title. Junior Scotty Hopson has the skills, but not the consistency (yet) to be the SEC Player of the Year. Freshman Tobias Harris is an animal.

3. Florida: Billy Donovan has his deepest Gators team in some time as five starters return to go with a cadre of top recruits. The offense will likely go through 6-foot-9 senior Chandler Parsons, but sophomore guard Kenny Boynton can carry the offense as well.

4. Georgia: Year 2 of the Mark Fox era should mark continued improvement for the Bulldogs. Six-foot-9 junior Trey Thompkins gained confidence this summer competing against NBA stars for the USA Select Team, and Travis Leslie undoubtedly has a few more highlight dunks in his bag of tricks.

5. Vanderbilt: I hate putting the Commodores this low because few coaches have done better jobs in the SEC recently than Kevin Stallings. An NCAA bid is a strong possibility because of a potentially explosive perimeter tandem of Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins.

6. South Carolina: Darrin Horn's rebuilding process is quietly going well, despite this projection in a brutally tough division. Hopefully, Gamecock fans are taking notice. Five-foot-10 freshman Bruce Ellington will get first crack at replacing the prodigious Devan Downey.

SEC West

1. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs' season will likely rest on point guard Dee Bost's eligibility. After declaring for the NBA draft, he went undrafted and is hoping for reinstatement from the NCAA. Sharpshooter Ravern Johnson is one of the country's most underrated players.

2. Ole Miss: Coach Andy Kennedy returns one of the SEC's deepest and most experienced backcourts. Senior Chris Warren shoots it as well as anyone, while Indiana transfer Nick Williams will add depth and talent at the guard position.

3. Arkansas: This is an important season for Hogs coach John Pelphrey, and a postseason appearance is a strong possibility. Sophomore Marshawn Powell and junior Rotnei Clarke are a nice inside-out tandem, and Iowa transfer Jeff Peterson should help immediately.

4. Alabama: Coach Anthony Grant will get the job done in Tuscaloosa. It is just a question of when, not if. There are many holes to fill, but if talented junior JaMychal Green becomes a junkyard dog, it will speed up the rebuilding process.

5. LSU: Losing senior guard Bo Spencer (transferred to Nebraska after academic troubles) hurts, but Ole Miss transfer Malcolm White has a chance to be a big factor early.

6. Auburn: The hiring of Tony Barbee, along with the opening of a new basketball arena, should have Auburn fans excited. However, injuries, especially to lone returning starter Frankie Sullivan, have already dampened expectations. Academic issues have sidelined two key recruits as well.

10 key players around the league

Andy Katz

Erving Walker, Florida: While leading scorer Kenny Boynton had more hype, and Chandler Parsons certainly has been key in late-game situations, Walker's long-distance range for his size makes him as disruptive as any other Gator. He was a 35 percent 3-point shooter last season and can squeeze through a defense and find deep range. If he's on his game, it changes the way opposing teams defend him. Walker could end up being as big a key to the Gators' chances to win the SEC East.

Trey Thompkins, Georgia: Thompkins has been a hit on the national scene since he blossomed with USA Basketball two summers ago. He averaged nearly 18 points a game last season and gives the Bulldogs a major inside presence. With Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins now in the NBA, Thompkins should be the best big man in the SEC. He is considered the SEC's top returning player and is likely headed to the NBA after this season.

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Mark Zerof/US PresswireTrey Thompkins, who might be the SEC's best big man, gives Georgia a major inside presence.

Travis Leslie, Georgia: Leslie is a tremendous athlete who can finish with a flurry on the break and flush with the best in the country. Leslie doubled his scoring and rebounding from one year to the next and gives the Bulldogs quite a 1-2 punch. If Georgia gets quality point-guard play, then it has the ingredients to mount a serious campaign in the SEC.

Enes Kanter, Kentucky: If Kanter is eligible, he immediately becomes one of the top big men in the SEC, if not the country. He's a lock for NBA first-round status if he decides to leave after this season. Kanter has already proved that he can produce, and now, like DeMarcus Cousins a year ago, he has to show he can handle the rigors of a long season.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky: Knight is not John Wall. Let's stop with those comparisons right now. He's a true point who can get the Wildcats into their dribble-drive-motion offense, but don't expect Knight to be the quickest guard who runs past opposing guards. The Canada trip was a bit of a misnomer for what should happen against elite college teams.

Tobias Harris, Tennessee: The Vols were desperate to come up with a major recruiting coup last spring and landed one in Harris. He should come in immediately and be one of the best players on the floor. He was a top-10 signee and has been cleared to play after a foot injury forced him to miss playing with USA Basketball in the summer. Harris should be the beginning of the Vols' offense.

Scotty Hopson, Tennessee: Hopson came in as the Vols' primary 3-point threat, but early in his career he deferred to players like Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince too much. But now it's Hopson's turn under the spotlight. He averaged 12 points a game last season but will be expected to produce a bit more, and he should.

Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State: Sidney has to sit the first nine games after missing his entire freshman year while the NCAA looked into his amateur status. If She returns to his form as a dominating high school forward, the Bulldogs will get one of the top big men in the country. Sidney has the ability, if he's in shape, to be a force inside. But he has to use November and December wisely while he sits out.

Chris Warren, Ole Miss: Warren made a remarkable comeback from an ACL injury from the previous year. He averaged 17.2 points a game last season and should be the top guard in the league. As a senior, he has a chance to break several school records, including most 3-pointers (he has 239 and the record is 278). He can get into the lane to create his own shot and is a threat to nail the long ball.

John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: Jenkins came in as a celebrated recruit and hasn't disappointed. He shot 48.3 percent on 3s last season, which ranks third in school history and 11th in SEC lore. He also set a Vandy freshman single-season record for 3s made with 72. If Jenkins can elevate the point production to more than the 11 ppg he produced last season, the Commodores should have a stud to feature throughout the year.

10 freshmen we can't wait to see

Michael LaPlante
ESPN Recruiting

Enes Kanter, PF/C, Kentucky: The Big Blue faithful are excited about Kanter's arrival in Lexington. He will be called upon to fill the scoring -- and rebounding -- void left by DeMarcus Cousins but may have to be patient as the NCAA sorts through his eligibility issues. The European import is highly skilled, plays with a mean streak and could be the top player in Kentucky's vaunted class.

Tobias Harris, PF, Tennessee: The hybrid 4 brings a multidimensional skill set that should be a perfect fit in Bruce Pearl's system. After suffering an injury during the McDonald's All-American week, Harris has worked hard to get back on the floor stronger and better than ever. UT fans will love his old-school game and work ethic, while opponents will hate trying to figure out how to match up with him.

Renardo Sidney, PF/C, Mississippi State: Sidney toughed it out, sticking around after missing last season to deal with the NCAA. He wound up as a redshirt. The former McDonald's All-American, who is loaded with talent, is champing at the bit for the opportunity to show what he can do and should impact the Bulldogs' lineup immediately as one of the top newcomers in the league.

Chris WIlliams/Icon SMIMississippi State's Renardo Sidney isn't eligible for the first nine games, but he could be one of the top newcomers in the league.

Patric Young, PF/C, Florida: Billy Donovan needed some beef inside to help shore up the Gators' front line, and he found the real deal in Young. The McDonald's All-American should provide instant help on the boards and be a defensive presence in the paint. As his offensive skills continue to develop, he should evolve into another one of Florida's all-conference performers.

Dundrecous Nelson, PG, Ole Miss: After a serious injury during his junior season, Nelson may have been operating under the radar nationally. However, it shouldn't take long for him to grab attention as one of the top incoming freshmen in the SEC. Ole Miss is high on this young guard's potential, and it won't take long for the rest of the league to see why.

Trevor Releford, PG, Alabama: Bama was in need of a leader to run Anthony Grant's up-tempo system. The Crimson Tide were able to attract one of the top point guards in the country, as well as one of the quickest in Releford. He should be effective forcing the action defensively, while also operating the offense at high speeds.

Marcus Thornton, PF, Georgia: After a coaching change at Clemson, Thornton opened up his recruitment and changed allegiances to the in-state Bulldogs. The active, face-up 4 is aggressive on the glass and has developed his game offensively. He should provide a welcomed upgrade to Georgia's overall talent pool. He'll be an important piece to Mark Fox's rebuilding project.

Matt Derenbecker, SF, LSU Derenbecker is a home-grown product who should be a natural fit for Trent Johnson's program and a fan favorite with the locals. His feel for the game, along with his ability to shoot the ball consistently from behind the arc, should help create opportunities for teammates, while helping the Tigers climb back up the ladder within the SEC West.

Damontre Harris, PF/C, South Carolina: The SEC has had its share of outstanding shot-blockers, and Harris has the potential to be the next great one. He is still developing as a consistent offensive threat, but his timing, length and athleticism will change the way opponents attack the interior versus the Gamecocks.

Rod Odom, SF, Vanderbilt: Odom's offensive versatility and intelligence should translate quickly within Vanderbilt's system. His combination of size, athleticism and skill level will allow him to find a role early on. He has the talent to be an all-conference freshman, and he'll have an impact on how far the Commodores will go in the postseason.

Nonconference games to watch

Andy Katz

UNC Asheville at Auburn, Nov. 12: You're probably wondering why. This game will mark the debut of the sparkling, $85 million Auburn Arena. The Tigers can no longer complain about facilities in their attempt to become a major player in the SEC. By the way, had Auburn not fired North Carolina alumnus Jeff Lebo, then instead of Asheville it would have been UNC Chapel Hill opening the arena.

Ohio State at Florida, Nov. 16: The Gators are the pick in the SEC East. Ohio State is a serious candidate to challenge Purdue and Michigan State for the Big Ten title. This will be heralded freshman Jared Sullinger's first major test on a national stage and will be a game that could resonate in March for seeding purposes.

Murray State at Ole Miss, Nov. 17: The Racers are the pick in the OVC, a second-round NCAA tournament entrant a year ago, and have a chance to be a Top 25 team at some point during the season. If the Rebels win this game, it should be viewed as a quality win on their résumé come March.

Kentucky in the Maui Invitational, Nov. 22-24: Assuming the Wildcats get past rebuilding Oklahoma in the first round, the Wildcats are likely headed for a matchup against Pac-10 favorite Washington in the second round with the possibility of Big Ten co-favorite Michigan State in the title game. There are plenty of challenges in this field for the reloaded Wildcats.

Tennessee in the NIT in New York, Nov. 24, 26: The Volunteers should get out of their grouping and advance to the Big Apple. The NIT did the Vols a favor and put them in the bracket with Wake Forest. The tougher semifinal is UCLA vs. Villanova. So Tennessee could get to a final against either and improve itself and its power rating by Dec. 1.

Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 25: The Bulldogs, a trendy pick in the SEC East, may have one of the toughest first-round games in these November tournaments. Both teams are potentially NCAA-bound with the Irish looking to see Purdue transfer Scott Martin blossom while the Bulldogs put Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie on display.

Kentucky at North Carolina, Dec. 4: This is a game every season that NBA scouts circle -- the usual talent on the floor is worthy of a stop. It's also a good indicator. Two years ago, UNC squashed Kentucky in Chapel Hill and the Tar Heels were a title contender while Kentucky floundered. Last year, Kentucky won at home, and the reverse occurred. This season both teams will have a different look and the destination of each come March is less predictable.

Vanderbilt at Missouri, Dec. 8: The Commodores will face a brutal slate in the SEC East. If Vandy fancies itself an NCAA team, then picking up a few nonconference wins will be critical. The Mizzou game should be a good barometer. Vanderbilt is also in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic against Nebraska with a chance to play West Virginia in the second round. The organizers did Vandy a favor putting it in a bracket opposite of Minnesota-North Carolina.

Tennessee vs. Pitt, SEC-Big East Invitational in Pittsburgh, Dec. 11: Pitt is the favorite in the Big East and will be the home team at the Penguins' new arena. Tennessee has done a great job of rising up and winning big-time nonconference games lately. This will be a tall task, however, to take out Pitt on the road.

Florida vs. Kansas State in Sunrise, Fla., Dec. 18: K-State coach Frank Martin returns to his Miami-area roots for a high-level game. By this time the Wildcats will have figured out who replaces Denis Clemente in the backcourt next to Jacob Pullen. This could potentially be a top-10 clash in mid-December. It could end up being one of the best nonconference schedules the Gators have played since their championship run since it also includes games at rival Florida State and at Xavier, two likely NCAA teams.

Mississippi State vs. Virginia Tech, Bahamas, Dec. 18: This game matches two teams that feel they're NCAA worthy but will have to prove themselves prior to conference play. Renardo Sidney will be eligible by this time after sitting out the first nine games. The Bulldogs may not have the experienced guard play to handle the Hokies but Virginia Tech may have a hard time with Sidney in the post.

Mississippi State vs. Washington State, Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, first round, Dec. 22: Yes, you're reading this correctly: The Bulldogs are going from the Bahamas to Honolulu. It's quite the dream vacation for the program. But it won't turn out to be memorable if Mississippi State doesn't handle its business. The Cougars are a sleeper pick in the Pac-10 and this game will test the Bulldogs' defense in trying to contain Wazzu's big three in Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto. Winner likely gets Baylor in the second round.


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