There is no conference out there that has the depth that you’ll see in the Southeastern Conference. If you are looking for evidence you need to look no further than the most recent rankings which have all 13 teams ranked inside the top 60. This year appears to be a 4 team race between Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia, and Florida and I gave the nod to Ole Miss due to them being the only team of the group to return 3 of their top 4. Mississippi State gets the nod over Georgia and Florida due to a better bottom of the lineup; while Georgia and Florida are very similar in that they both have semi-strong top 4s but some unknowns at 5 and 6. Several teams will rely heavily on freshmen with Mississippi State expected to start at least 3 and maybe 4, Vanderbilt will start 3, and Georgia, Texas A&M, and Kentucky will start at least 2. One thing you’ll notice is that the SEC schools typically do not have the toughest out of conference schedules. This is due to the size of the conference and the level of competition they face each weekend in conference play. However both Kentucky and Texas A&M have scheduled rather aggressively as A&M plays 3 of the top 4 and Kentucky plays 5 inside the top 25. Without further ado here is your SEC Breakdown:
1. #13 Ole Miss – Billy Chadwick’s Rebels return 3 of their top 4 from a team that went 7-4 in conference and 15-9 overall. Nik Scholtz (So), Jonas Lutjen (Sr), and William Kallberg (So) who went 36-26 at 1, 3, and 4 are back along with Johan Backstrom (Jr) who split time between 5 & 6 and Adrian Skogeng (Sr) who saw some action at 6. The Rebels lost the Thiemann twins, Marcel & Chris, to graduation but have added Stefan Lindmark (Fr) who should contribute this year after going 4-3 in the fall. The Rebels also added Vinod Gowda to the roster in January but he won’t be eligible until next year. If Joe Rogers (So) can stay healthy he’ll be a contributor too after sitting out last spring with an injury. Ole Miss’s out of conference schedule includes visits by #33 Memphis and #15 Baylor and a trip down to Jackson to face #11 Mississippi State in the annual River Hills Cup.
2. #11 Mississippi State – Per Nilsson’s Bulldogs return 3 starters from a team that went 9-2 in conference and 20-7 overall. The returning starters are James Chaudry (Sr) who went 7-10 at 2, Malte Stropp (Jr) who went 12-6 at 3, and Zack White (Jr) who went 8-11 at 6. State lost 3 highly successful players in Artem Ilyushin who went 14-7 at 1, Louis Cant who went 14-2 at 4, and George Coupland who went 16-3 at 5. State welcomes in 4 highly touted freshmen in Romain Bogaerts, Jordan Angus, Stefan Vinti, and Pedro Dumont each who was ranked inside of the top 120 of the ITF Junior Rankings. Those 4 freshmen will have to play a major role for State to push for their 1st SEC Title since 1996. Bogaerts had a great fall going 13-4 including a Quarterfinal finish at the National Indoor Intercollegiates and will likely play at 1 or 2. MSU’s out of conference schedule includes a visit from #46 Middle Tennessee State along with a road trip to Houston to face #29 Texas Tech and #55 Rice. The Bulldogs also face SEC rival #13 Ole Miss twice during the year with the first meeting in Jackson not counting towards the conference record.
3. #6 Georgia – Manny Diaz’s Bulldogs return 3 starters from last year’s SEC Tournament Championship Team that went 10-1 in conference and 26-2 overall. The Bulldogs will have to replace 3 of their top 4 with Wil Spencer, Sadio Doumbia, and Ignacio Taboada all departing. Spencer went 11-9 at 1, Doumbia went 18-8 splitting time at 2 and 3, and Taboada went 19-4 at 4 so that’s going to be a lot of wins to make up. KU Singh (Sr) will take the top spot after going 22-3 last year including a 14-2 mark at 2, Nathan Pasha (So) will jump up to 2 after going 23-2 while splitting time at 5 and 6, and Hernus Pieters (Jr) will jump up to 3 after going 21-6 while splitting time between 5 and 6. Georgia has 4 incoming freshmen that will be ready to contribute with Ben Wagland expected to play the highest at 4. The other incoming freshmen in Marco Nunez, Austin Smith, and Nick Wood will compete for the 5 & 6 spots along with Garrett Brasseaux (Jr), Eric Diaz (RFr) and Casey Kay (So). How well these freshmen play will go a long ways towards determining Georgia’s success this year. Georgia’s out of conference schedule includes a visit from #60 Clemson and road trips to #4 Ohio State and #59 Georgia Tech.
4. #12 Florida – Bryan Shelton’s Gators return 3 starters from a team that went 7-4 in conference and 16-10 overall. This will be a year of change in Gainesville as Bryan Shelton takes over for Andy Jackson who departed after 11 years at the helm of the Gators. With a new coach coming in the roster also saw a bit of an overhaul. Both Tripper Carleton and Andrew Butz left the program, Nassim Sliliam graduated, and Spencer Newman transferred to Michigan for the fall but just recently came back to Florida a few weeks ago. Newman will have to sit out the spring and will be eligible again next year. The returning starters are Bob van Overbeek (Sr) who went 11-12 last year playing at 1, Florent Diep (Jr) who went 13-8 playing at 4 and 5, and Michael Alford (Jr) who went 12-2 playing primarily at 6. Diep had a great fall going 16-5 and qualified for the National Indoor Championships by winning the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional. Diep and van Overbeek will hold down the top 2 spots. There will be at least 3 newcomers to the team this year with Stephane Piro (Jr), Gordon Watson (Fr), and Luke Johnson (Fr) all expecting to see plenty of action. Piro, a former top 5 ITF Junior, made his debut a few weeks back and will likely play at 3. Watson will likely play at 5 with Johnson competing with Billy Federhofer (Sr) for the 6 spot. Florida also signed another former top 5 ITF Junior in Diego Hidalgo though he won’t be eligible until the next year. Florida’s out of conference schedule includes visits from #65 Miami and #15 Baylor along with a road trip to #32 Florida State.
5. #9 Kentucky – Cedric Kauffmann’s Wildcats return 4 starters from last year’s SEC Regular Season Championship Team that went 11-0 in conference and 28-6 overall. Kauffmann takes over the program after Dennis Emery retired following a successful 30 year career as head coach of the Wildcats. Kentucky will have some big shoes to fill after losing their 2 big guns from last year in Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek who combined for a 37-8 dual match record at 1 and 2. The returning starters are Anthony Rossi (Sr) who went 21-3 last year at 3, Tom Jomby (Jr) who went 16-7 at 4, Alejandro Gomez (Jr) who went 12-8 at 5, and Grant Roberts (Jr) who went 11-3 at 6. Rossi and Jomby will slide up and play at 1 and 2 while Gomez and Roberts will likely move up at least 1 spot. There will be heavy competition to fill the remaining spots with 4 freshmen (Kai-Wen Lai, Juan Pablo Murra, Beck Pennington, Michael Binder) along with 4 returning depth players (Maks Gold (Jr), Brett Johnson (So), Panav Jha (Jr) and Ryuji Hirooka (Jr)) looking to contribute. Kentucky’s out of conference schedule includes visits by #8 Oklahoma, #30 Notre Dame and #4 Ohio State along with road trips to #22 Indiana, #16 Illinois, and #15 Baylor.
6. #19 Tennessee – Sam Winterbotham’s Volunteers return everyone from last year’s team that went 5-6 in conference and 15-14 overall. Returning for the Vols is Mikelis Libietis (So) who went 12-12 at 1 last year, Hunter Reese (RSo) who went 14-12 splitting time at 2 and 3, Brandon Fickey (So) who went 10-14 splitting time at 2 and 3, Jarryd Chaplin (Jr) who went 12-12 at 4, Ed Jones (Sr) who went 13-11 at 5, and Taylor Patrick (RSr) who went 3-11 at 6. UT’s Achilles heel last year was #3 doubles and #6 singles which produced a poor 1-10 and 2-9 record in conference duals. To help solve the depth problem the Vols welcomed in Maryland transfer John Collins (Sr) who played primarily at 5 in singles and 1 in doubles last year and freshmen Sebastian Yllera. Collins will make an immediate impact in both singles and doubles and I think he’ll be able to help Tennessee pick up at least 2 or 3 more wins this year. UT’s out of conference schedule includes road trips to #16 Illinois, #5 Duke, #66 Wake Forest, and #59 Georgia Tech. No ranked opponents come to Knoxville.
7. #21 Auburn – Eric Shore’s Tigers return 5 starters from last year’s team that went 5-6 in conference and 18-10 overall. The lone departure was Alex Stamchev who played at 2 last year and posted a team best 19-7 record. Andreas Mies (Sr) will be back at #1 after posting a 15-7 record last year. The others returning from a year ago are Daniel Cochrane (Jr) who went 6-11 at 3, Lukas Ollert (So) who went 17-9 splitting time between 4, 5, and 6, Lucas Lopasso (Sr) who went 16-7 including 9-5 at 5, Dennis Lengsfeld (Jr) who went 2-8 at 4, and Michael Wardell (Sr) who went 5-3 at 6. Auburn welcomes 2 newcomers in Tulsa transfer Lucian Gheorghe (So) and freshmen Joseph Van Dooren. Auburn’s out of conference schedule includes visits from #59 Georgia Tech and #60 Clemson along with a road trip to Fresno to take on #50 Fresno State and #67 San Diego State.
8. #23 Texas A&M – Steve Denton’s Aggies make their debut this year as the newest member of the SEC. The Aggies return 3 starters from last year’s team that went 14-15 overall. The returners are Junior Ore (Jr) who went 11-15 while spending the most time at 3, Jeremy Efferding (So) who went 10-11 while spending the most time at 4, and Niall Angus (Sr) who went 7-5 at 6. The Aggies will have to replace departed seniors Alexis Klegou, Colin Hoover, and John Lewis who went a combined 42-28 in dual match play. Side note: the rest of the team only had 44 combined dual match wins. A&M welcomes in 2 highly touted freshmen in Shane Vinsant and Harrison Adams who should both see plenty of action this year in the starting 6. Alberto Bautista (Jr), who missed most of last year with an injury, returns and expects to be in the mix along with Jordan Szabo (So) and Jackson Withrow (So). Improving on 14 wins may be a tall order for this young squad. Texas A&M’s out of conference schedule is a really tough one with visits to College Station by #4 Ohio State, #17 Tulsa, #8 Oklahoma, and #1 Virginia along with road trips to #2 USC and #55
9. #37 Vanderbilt - Ian Duvenhage’s Commodores return 3 starters from a team that went 2-9 in conference and 8-16 overall. The returning starters are Gonzales Austin (So) who went 13-9 at 2, Jeff Offerdahl (So) who went 14-8 playing primarily at 4, and Anton Kovrigin(So) who went 6-16 playing primarily at 5. The Dores will have to replace Charlie Jones who went 14-9 at 1, Blake Bazarnik who went 4-12 at 3, and Joe Dorn who went 6-15 splitting time between 5 and 6. Jones graduated while Bazarnik transferred to Illinois and Dorn transferred to D3 Claremont-Mudd Scripps. Vandy welcomes back Ryan Lipman (RJr) who sat out last year with an injury after going 15-7 at 1 the year prior. The Dores also welcome in a trio of freshmen with Rhys Johnson, Marc Van Der Merwe, and Kris Yee all expected to see significant playing time in the starting lineup. Vandy lost 8 matches by a 4-3 score last year and with the upgrade in talent at just about every spot in the lineup I expect to see Vandy win another 3 to 5 matches this year as long as everyone stays healthy. Vandy’s out of conference schedule includes visits by #52 Michigan St, #22 Indiana, #33 Memphis, and #46 Middle Tennessee State along with a road trip to Chicago to face #41 Northwestern and #28 Harvard.
10. #24 LSU – Jeff Brown’s Tigers return 3 starters from a team that went 5-6 in conference and 15-11 overall. The returning starters are Olivier Borsos (Sr) who went 12-12 last year at 1, Chris Simpson (So)who went 14-8 at 3, and Stefan SzacinskI (Sr) who went 8-13 splitting time between 4 and 5. LSU will have to replace Neal Skupski who went 16-8 at 2, Tom Knights who went 15-9 splitting time between 4 and 5, and James Turbervill who went 7-9 at 4, 5, and 6. The Bayou Bengals also return Roger Anderson (Sr) and Mark Bowtell (Sr) and welcome in several freshmen that should compete for playing time. Tam Trinh and Boris Arias are the 2 freshmen expected to contribute the most though Harrison Kennedy and Joe Hill will help provide depth. LSU’s out of conference schedule includes visits by #55 Rice, #29 Texas Tech, and #20 Michigan along with a road trip to Columbus to face #4 Ohio State.
11. #39 South Carolina – Josh Goffi’s Gamecocks return 4 starters from a team that went 2-9 in conference and 15-12 overall. The returning starters are Andrew Adams (So) who went 20-6 last year splitting time between 2 and 3, Thiago Pinheiro (So) who went 12-7 playing at 4 and 5, Chip Cox (Jr) who went 12-12 playing at 4 and 5, Kyle Koch (So) who went 14-8 playing at 5 and 6. South Carolina will have to replace Ivan Machado who went 10-14 last year playing primarily at 1 and Nick Jones who went 3-17 playing at 1 and 2. The Gamecocks welcome in Oklahoma transfer Tsvetan Mihov (Jr) who played at 3 last year though will likely assume the top spot this year. Harry Menzies (Sr) and Ben Barnette (So) also return from last year and will need to contribute since the roster is a little lean with just 7 players on it. South Carolina’s out of conference schedule includes visits from #59 Georgia Tech, #60 Clemson, #66 Wake Forest and #40 NC State along with a road trip to #31 VCU.
12. #47 Alabama – George Husack ‘s Crimson Tide return 3 starters from a team that went 2-9 in conference and 10-15 overall. Husack, who was an associate head coach at USC for the last 3 years, takes over for Billy Pate who left to take over at Princeton. The returning starters are Jarryd Botha (Sr) who went 5-18 last year playing at 1 and 2, Danill Proskura (Jr) who went 8-8 playing at 3 and 4, and David Vieyra (So) who went 7-8 at 5. Bama will have to replace Ricky Doverspike who went 12-10 at 1 and 2, Vikram Reddy who went 7-13 at 3 and 4, and Michael Thompson who went 6-8 at 6. Philippe Tsangarides (So), Stuart Kenyon (So), Harris Barnard (Sr), Rens van der Vis (So), and Carlos Taborga (Jr) also return from last year’s squad though as a group they only saw action in 2 conference matches last year. The Tide welcome in freshmen Becker O’Shaughnessey who posted a team high 13 wins in the fall and will likely play in the top 3. Alabama’s out of conference schedule is pretty light with just a trip to #60 Clemson of note.
13. #56 Arkansas – Robert Cox’s Razorbacks return 4 starters from a team that went 1-10 in conference and 13-13 overall. The returning starters are Gregoire Lehmann (Sr) who went 10-13 last year at 1 and 2, Manfred Jeske (Jr) who went 5-10 at 4, Mike Ward (Sr) who went 11-10 playing primarily at 5, and Mike Nott (Jr) who went 6-5 seeing action at 4, 5, and 6. Jovan Parlic (So), Victor Hoang (So), and Hall Fess (RJr) also return from a year ago. The Hogs will have to replace Nikolas Zogaj who went 9-11 at 1 and 2 and Matt Walters who went 9-12 playing primarily at 3. Among the newcomers to the team this year are Pete Thomason (RJr), Santiago Munoz (Fr), Austin Robles (Fr), and Christian Lee (RFr). Munoz had a solid fall posting a 7-3 record and will likely play in the upper half of the lineup. Arkansas’s out of conference schedule includes visits by #35 Minnesota and #17 Tulsa along with road trips to #61 New Mexico and #71 Oregon
Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky will host a regional during the ITA Kick-Off weekend which is this coming weekend in hopes of qualifying for the 2013 National Indoors which gets started in Seattle on February 15th. The other 7 schools in the conference participating will have to hit the road to qualify. Vanderbilt has to go to Athens and must beat #6 Georgia and either #31 VCU or #35 Minnesota, Texas A&M goes to Palo Alto and will have to get past #10 Stanford and #29 Texas Tech, Arkansas has to go to Charlottesville and beat #63 Georgia State and #1 Virginia, South Carolina goes to Lexington and will have to beat #23 Texas and #9 Kentucky, Auburn goes to Starkville and will have to beat #22 Indiana and #11 Mississippi State, LSU also will be in Starkville and will have to beat #11 Mississippi State and either Auburn or Indiana, and Tennessee will go to Champaign and will have to beat #16 Illinois and either #17 Tulsa or #18 North Carolina. Ole Miss will need wins over Columbia and either NC State or Louisville, Georgia will need wins over Vanderbilt and either VCU or Minnesota, and Florida will to beat St. John’s and either UNC Wilmington or South Alabama. I predict that Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee will qualify and make it to Seattle.
I expect this year to be as competitive as always with a slew of good matches coming down to the wire and several determined by third set tiebreakers. The conference champion will be crowned in mid-April as everyone descends upon Oxford for the conference tournament. Will the rowdy crowd be enough to carry Ole Miss to the top as I predicted or will someone else rise to the occasion and take the trophy back to their house?
CTO Correspondent, Bobby Knight.
You can follow me on Twitter @B_Knight77.
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