Last time around, I gave pre-season rankings for the SEC East squads. This time, it's the West, which, unless they surprise us, will likely be the weaker division. The West does feature some tough teams, though, so don't be surprised if someone surprises us.
The Tigers underachieved last year under former coach John Brady, but they return four starters from last year's team and new coach Trent Johnson should have these guys playing more effectively than Brady. The easy non-conference slate should have them playing with lots of confidence come beginning of conference season.
Mark Gottfried's bunch get talented guard Ronald Steele back this year and bring in super-frosh forward JaMychal Green. That shouldn't be enough to make them a national contender, but it should give them enough to do better than they did last year, when they faded during conference play and ended up at 17.16 and at home for the post-season.
3. Ole Miss
Coach Andy Kennedy has done a great job getting Ole Miss to where it is today, and this year, he might have a chance to make a serious run at the SEC title. The Rebels had a good year last year, although a mid-season slump kept them out of the NCAAs. This year, they return an experienced back-court and, while they lose some big guys, Kennedy brought in some talented youngsters that should make an impact. This is a team to watch.
The Razorbacks lose almost all of the members of last year's team. Luckily, this will give 2nd-year coach John Pelphrey an opportunity to remake this team in his own image. Pelphrey has brought in some talented freshmen, so look for Arkansas to be a threat, although they're probably a couple of years away from realizing their true potential under the talented Pelphrey.
5. Mississippi State
State looked primed for a solid run this year until Jamont Gordon left early for the NBA and Ben Hansbrough transferred to Notre Dame. Combined with the loss of Paul Rhodes to graduation, these defections leave State with a young, unproven team. Super-defender Jarvis Varnado returns to shore up the front line, but other than him, State returns very little, so unless their freshman are better than we think they are, it may be a long year for the Bulldogs.
Jeff Lebo's team does return some decent players, but those players didn't do much last year, so it will likely be the case that they won't do a whole lot this year. At best, this team may contend for an NIT bid, but I doubt they do much more and even the NIT may be a bit of a stretch.