We continue our look at some potential surprise teams in college basketball in 2010-11. Today, the focus is on the SEC and Big East.
When everyone is tabbing you as a surprise team, can you really be that big of a surprise? Who knows. But we do know that Georgia has the talent to be a factor in the wide-open SEC East after winning only five league games in Mark Fox’s first season in Athens. The Bulldogs return two potential first-team All-SEC players in guard Travis Leslie and forward Trey Thompkins, and they gain the services of combo guard Gerald Robinson Jr., a transfer from Tennessee State. Thompkins, a preseason SEC Player of the Year, is a highly skilled power forward who can score from all over the court. Leslie is a high-flyer who emerged as one of the most improved players in the SEC last season. And Robinson averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore at Tennessee State two years ago. His challenge will be fitting in with two other primary offensive options after being the No. 1 scoring threat at TSU for two seasons.
It might be tough for the Bulldogs to make too big of a move in the SEC East standings, but there is no doubt that this team will improve in the win column. Our prediction is a fifth-place finish in the East and an at-large invite to the NCAA Tournament.
Seton Hall Pirates
We picked Seton Hall 11th in the Big East in the preseason magazine, but that prediction was made before power forward Herb Pope (heart issues) was cleared to play. Pope, who averaged a double-double in his first season after transferring from New Mexico State, will team with shooting guard Jeremy Hazell to form one of the league’s top inside-out tandems. Hazell is a high-volume shooter — he led the Big East with 9.5 attempted threes per game last season — who might be asked to score less in Kevin Willard’s first season as head coach. The Pirates also return forward Jeff Robinson, a former Memphis Tiger who averaged 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, and they will add former Ole Miss swingman Eniel Polynice to the rotation. Polynice did a little bit of everything for the Rebels last season, averaging 8.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
So how much does Pope’s presence in the lineup change our preseason forecast? It’s a tough call, but I am tempted to bump the Pirates up from No. 11 to No. 9 in the Big East, ahead of both Notre Dame and Louisville.