Observations: With rest of SEC rebuilding, Kentucky pulling away

Remember when Kentucky and Florida were the class of the SEC on a regular basis?

That seems like a long time ago.

The Gators were always Kentucky’s top challenger in the SEC when Billy Donovan was in Gainesville, but Florida hasn’t played in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments and while Mike White’s team has a chance in 2017, nothing is guaranteed.

The same can be said for the rest of the league as well.

Vanderbilt will be in complete rebuilding mode under first-year coach Bryce Drew after losing both Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones to the NBA. Texas A&M has quality young talent in its program, but loses four proud veterans in Anthony Collins, Alex Caruso, Danuel House, and Jalen Jones.

LSU, South Carolina, and Ole Miss both suffered significant personnel defections while Mississippi State and Auburn are probably a year away from really contending for a spot at the top of the SEC standings.

It will be a major shock if someone pushes Kentucky next year for the SEC regular season title.

Oregon is at the mercy of the new NBA Draft rules

Raise your hand if you like these new rules.

I don’t either.

I totally understand that the changes that have been made to benefit players who want to go through the NBA Draft process and find out their overall standing, but it also presents a less than advantageous situation for programs trying to put things in place for next year.

Oregon is a perfect example.

The Ducks have two of their best players — Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks — entering the draft without an agent, which means they have the right to return to school after the NBA Draft combine.

Both players should return to school, but Dana Altman and his staff can’t put a contingency plan in place to replace these players after they leave until Dorsey and Brooks make a final decision on what they’re going to do next season.

That means that Oregon can’t recruit a graduate transfer at guard to replace Dorsey until it knows he’s gone for sure and who knows what will be left on the market at that time considering that decision will probably occur in mid to late May.

Another thing to remember about the Ducks: they’re still awaiting word from the NCAA on whether or not Dylan Ennis will receive a sixth year of eligibility after he missed most of last season with a broken foot.

If Dorsey and Ennis are playing for Oregon on the perimeter next year with Casey Benson and freshman Payton Pritchard then this team will be loaded.

If Dorsey goes to the NBA and Ennis doesn’t receive a waiver then Altman has a major headache on his hands — in the middle of May.

The level of coaching in the American Athletic Conference has gone up a notch

This league has been vastly underrated in terms of its caliber of coaches over the past few years and that narrative should probably stop now.

The American Conference currently has three coaches who have won a national title — Larry Brown (SMU), Kevin Ollie (UConn), Tubby Smith (Memphis) — as well as another that’s led a program to a Final Four in Houston’s Kelvin Sampson when he was at Oklahoma in 2002.

Add two others in Mick Cronin (Cincinnati) and Johnny Dawkins (UCF) that have taken to the teams to the Sweet 16 during their career and Mike Dunleavy Sr. (Tulane), who’s coached four NBA teams and you’ve got a heck of a league from a coaching perspective. Tulsa’s Frank Haith was also National Coach of the Year in 2012 at Missouri and Temple’s Fran Dunphy is now the winningest coach of the history of the Big 5 in Philadelphia.

The American Conference had four teams in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Don’t be surprised if that number becomes a more consistent theme moving forward thanks to the caliber of the guys pulling strings from the sideline in this league.

This and That

Florida will play all of its non-conference games on a neutral court due to renovations at the O’Connell Center. The Gators went 21-15 overall last season, but should return everyone of significance.

Villanova will host Virginia on Jan. 29, 2017, sources told CBS Sports. This is the return game of a home-and-home series and the timing of the game shouldn’t be a shock. Jay Wright has said before that he liked the idea of a strong non-conference game in the middle of Big East play similar to how it was last season when the Wildcats went on the road to take on Big 5 rival Temple in February.

Memphis grad transfer Avery Woodson told CBS Sports he plans to visit Ole Miss this week. He recently visited both VCU and Butler. The 6-2 guard averaged 9.6 points last season and shot 43.0 percent from 3-point range. He is immediately eligible to play next year.

USC will begin a home-and-home series with SMU next season at the Galen Center, sources told CBS Sports. There will be a return game in Dallas during the 17-18 season.

Looking for an under-the-radar transfer for next season? Try Colorado’s Derrick White. The 6-5 guard was a Division II All-American at UC Colorado Springs and averaged 25.8 points during the 2014-15 season. He’ll join a strong perimeter nucleus for the Buffaloes that already features Josh Fortune, George King, and Xavier Johnson.

Isaiah Briscoe will be a key player for Kentucky if he decides to return. (USATSI)
Isaiah Briscoe will be a key player for Kentucky if he decides to return. (USATSI)


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