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Posted February 06, 2009 - 02:40 AM

It's a down year in the SEC for the conference as a whole in 2008-2009. Last year they were able to put in six teams, but that number could possibly be cut in half as right now they are projected to get in just three. The conference is definitely the weakest it's been in some time, but several bright prospects still remain. While there may only be three teams in the NCAA tournament, there will be many more players representing the conference come the 2009 NBA draft. Here's a closer look at some of the SEC's best:

Stock Up

Patrick Patterson 6'9 Power Forward (Kentucky)
With the way that Oklahoma's Blake Griffin has played this season and Tyler Hansbrough's incredible career at North Carolina coming to an end, Patrick Patterson's dominant play has gone a bit under the radar this season. In just his second season at Kentucky Patterson has exceeded what was a significant amount of hype, putting up 19 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two blocks a game.

Patterson is simply too strong for most of the players in the country to match up with. He made one of the best freshmen in the country, Samardo Samuels of Louisville, look like he didn't belong in their recent matchup. There are some questions about just how well his game will translate because it's based so much on his unmatchable strength at the collegiate level, but Patterson's skill will help him be a successful player in the NBA.

Projection: Lottery.

Jarvis Varnado 6'9 Power Forward (Mississippi State)
With Charles Rhodes and Jamont Gordon gone Jarvis Varnado has grown from a defensive-specialist to the Bulldogs leading scorer. Jarvis has upped his scoring average five points from last year, but this year Jarvis is someone the Bulldogs go to with regularity inside the paint. Last year it was mainly Rhodes, while Jarvis' points came mostly on cleanup duty.

Jarvis is really similar to the New Jersey Nets' Sean Williams, except Jarvis is less of a headache. Jarvis has made some real strides from his sophomore to junior year to the point where the NBA draft is a legitimate possibility for the 6'9 forward. Should he stay for another year at Mississippi State he's got the chance to develop into a top 10 pick, but with his stock soaring he may just strike while the iron is hot.

Projection: Mid-late 1st round.

Michael Washington 6'9 Power Forward (Arkansas)
As he emerges as one of the top prospects in college basketball
Michael Washington will always look back to the summer of 2008 as the time when he became a man. Washington was only good for four points and four rebounds a game last year. This season he's increased his averages at a ridiculous rate, putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds per contest.

A lot of credit is due to the Arkansas coaching staff for bringing him along slowly and letting him develop at his own pace. Washington
wasn't ready for the 30 minutes a game he's getting now the past two seasons, but thanks to the work he's put in he's now one of the most unstoppable forces in the country. Washington's the textbook definition of a late-bloomer, and has put himself in a really nice position to maybe make the jump this year.

Projection: Lottery.

Nick Calathes 6'6 Guard (Florida)
It's hard to blame Jai Lucas for wanting to transfer to Texas after watching Nick Calathes play the position to nearly perfection in his sophomore season. After a standout freshman season Calathes has picked back up right where he left off, although questions remain about how well his game will translate in the NBA.

Like former Gonzaga Bulldog Adam Morrison Calathes knows how to play the game at an extremely high level. However, he's restrained somewhat by limited explosiveness and quickness as was Morrison. Being 6'6 certainly helps because he has the length to make up for his deficiencies some, but Calathes has probably peaked in terms of NBA stock.

Projection: Late 1st round.

Courtney Fortson 5'11 Point Guard (Arkansas)
While Courtney Fortson wasn't one of the top rated players in the 2008 recruiting class, few freshmen in the country are playing at a higher level than Fortson is. Arkansas has put themselves in the national spotlight and emerged as a contender in the SEC thanks to the incredible play of their freshman point guard who is averaging 15 points, seven assists, and nearly six rebounds a game.

Fortson is listed at a generous 5'11 but as his rebounds indicate he plays a lot bigger. Fortson is a solid defender thanks to his impressive athletic ability, but there are a couple of flaws to his game right now. Fortson shoots an unacceptable 57% from the free throw line and turns the ball over at an also dismal rate: four times a game. These are both easily improvable, making Fortson an up and coming prospect.

Projection: Late 1st round.

Stock Neutral

Tyler Smith 6'7 Small Forward (Tennessee)
Now the leader of this Tennessee Volunteer squad with JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton gone Smith has certainly shown some signs of missing the senior guards who made things so much easier for him last year. Smith's is averaging four more points per game this season, but has seen his shooting percentages drop significantly.

Smith's versatility makes up for his lack of shooting touch this year though. He's recorded a triple-double already and is only going to continue putting up big numbers for Bruce Pearl as the leader of this team. Smith is ready to contribute in the NBA, but there are some questions about how much he'll improve once he gets there.

Projection: Mid-late 1st round.

Stock Down

A.J. Ogilvy 6'11 Center (Vanderbilt)
The big center from Australia has continued to make his impact felt in year two for the Commodores. However, scouts haven't seen the improvement from his freshman to sophomore season that they were hoping to. They don't get much smoother and polished at 6'11 than Ogilvy, who reliable outside jumper is his biggest weapon. In order for Ogilvy to see his stock rise though he needed to do a better job on the boards, and he hasn't up to this point.

It may not be until Ogilvy gets into the NBA and is allowed to dedicate himself to improving his strength that we will see him be a bigger force on the boards. He's an intriguing prospect because he's so skilled, but right now Ogilvy is not much better than he was last season.

Projection: Late 1st round.

Patrick Beverley 6'1 Point Guard (Arkansas)
After seeing his stock really skyrocket after his senior year in high school things have slowed down significantly for Patrick Beverley. In his first two years at Arkansas he saw his numbers slip from his freshman to sophomore year. Limited to being a point guard at the next level because of his size, Beverley showed little improvement in his creating ability and his shot was beginning to escape him.

Expectations were high going into his junior season due to hopes that he would finally turn the corner and develop into the prospect that many thought he would once be, but Beverley was ruled academically ineligible for the 2008-2009 season. With the emergence of Courtney Fortson as a star at the point guard position for the Razorbacks it may be time for a transfer.

Projection: Undrafted.

Scotty Hopson 6'7 Shooting Guard (Tennessee)
Right now Scotty Hopson is one of many members of the 2008 recruiting class that is failing to live up to expectations. Hopson is a mainstay in the Volunteer starting lineup; however Bruce Pearl is taking his time in bringing him along. Hopson is scoring just eight points a game, and his production in other categories are not exactly overwhelming either.

What's really hurting Hopson the most right now is the limited opportunities he's getting on this talented Volunteer team. Hopson is shooting 47% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc, but has only gotten double figure shot attempts twice this season. The hype that built up around Hopson as he dragged his recruitment out to the late signing period has died down, and the best thing for him at this point is to stay at Tennessee.

Projection: Late 1st round.


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