The SEC holds its basketball media day Thursday in Birmingham, Ala., featuring all 12 men's coaches and one player from each team. Five story lines as the season approaches:.
ALL ABOUT KENTUCKY AND COACH CAL
From the moment John Calipari accepted the Kentucky job, it was clear the Wildcats would be the focal point of the SEC entering the 2009-10 season.
Then the former Memphis coach collected a handful of big-time recruits, and Kentucky became a big national story, too.
The most ballyhooed new player is freshman John Wall. The point guard received votes for preseason player of the year. The 6-foot-4 Wall draws comparisons to Derrick Rose, the reigning NBA rookie of the year, who led Calipari's Memphis team to the 2008 NCAA championship game.
That title-game appearance has been ordered vacated by the NCAA, the latest in the swirl of questions that follow Calipari. But rabid Kentucky fans don't care, because their team begins the season as the favorite in the SEC and a Final Four contender.
INFLUX OF TALENT
Wall isn't the only highly touted newcomer, on his team or in the league.
Kentucky freshman power forward DeMarcus Cousins was the second-ranked recruit in the country, according to Rivals.com. The Wildcats also boast center Daniel Orton and guard Eric Bledsoe (22nd and 23rd, respectively, according to Rivals) and junior-college prospect Darnell Dodson.
Florida guard Kenny Boynton and Vanderbilt shooting guard John Jenkins were consensus top-20 players. Boynton will be asked to replace Nick Calathes, who bolted for Greece, while Jenkins might be key to a Vanderbilt resurgence.
Mississippi State center Renardo Sidney has a chance to be great - if he plays; the freshman is caught in an eligibility showdown with the NCAA.
South Carolina's Lakeem Jackson, Arkansas' Marshawn Powell and Tennessee's Kenny Hall are among the next tier of freshmen that should make an immediate impact.
GETTING BACK THE NCAA MOJO
It was a low point for the SEC in March when only three teams made the NCAA tournament. And it would have been two if Mississippi State had not won the league tournament.
But the feeling now is that it was a one-year blip, thanks to offseason developments. Not only did SEC teams recruit well, but nearly all the players who considered entering the NBA draft pulled out, including USC's Devan Downey and Dominique Archie.
If Kentucky is as good as anticipated, it could have the domino effect of improving the rest of the league.
THE RUGGED EAST
The Eastern Division historically has been better than the West, and there might be more imbalance this season.
Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida will start the season with a realistic chance of making the NCAAs. But only Mississippi, Mississippi State and perhaps LSU in the West are regarded as having a chance.
The competition might cause headaches for Eastern teams, but it also should boost each club's resume for the NCAA tournament. USC missed the tournament last season despite sharing the division title. The Gamecocks could finish fourth this season and make it.
THE OTHER NEW COACHES
Calipari will be watched closely, but a pair of other new coaches will try to inject life into moribund programs.
Anthony Grant, a former longtime assistant at Florida, is back in the league as the coach at Alabama. He was one of the hottest young names in coaching the past two years, and he takes over a Crimson Tide team with a decent amount of talent.
Will Grant and his trapping, up-tempo style of play give Alabama the same lift that new coaches at LSU and South Carolina enjoyed last season?
There is more of a long-term approach for Mark Fox, who previously spent five seasons at Nevada and takes over a Georgia team that has been nearly gutted. Underrated forward Trey Thompkins returns, but Fox's squad will be hard-pressed to win four SEC games this season.