SEC well-stocked with big men

Thursday, October 26th 2006, 12:44 pm
By: News On 6

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ The Southeastern Conference is loaded with big men _ and one Big Baby. Lanky shot-blockers. Hard-to-budge bruisers. Graceful gliders.

Sorry, Ron Steele. This might just be a big man's league this year.

``I think we have six, eight, maybe 10 big guys that have legit chances to be first-round draft choices,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days. ``I don't know if there's another league in the country that could say that. I don't know if there was another time when our league could say that.''

There won't be too many breaks in the paint this SEC season.

The league has the big stars, like Florida's ever-so-smooth 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah, and the slimmed-down but still formidable 6-9, 289-pound Glen ``Big Baby'' Davis of LSU. Kentucky will rely heavily on 6-11 Randolph Morris and Alabama has 6-10 Jermareo Davidson to complement point guard Steele.

And the man who will be busy deflecting shots while those guys rack up points will be 7-footer Steven Hill at Arkansas. He swatted away 91 of them last year, including 10 against Texas State.

``Everywhere you go, there's a big man,'' Hill said. ``It seems like night in and night out, there's a different style of big man. You've got your athletic big men. You've got your power big men. You've just kind of got to adapt night in and night out.''

It's no coincidence the teams with the top big men were picked to do well in the conference. Florida was picked by league media to win the SEC and the Eastern Division Thursday. Alabama was picked to edge LSU in the West, while LSU (five) and Alabama (3) were the only teams besides the Gators (21) to receive votes for the overall title. Arkansas was picked third in the West.

The only non-post player to receive votes in the player of the year balloting was Steele, who received three. Noah got 14, Davis 11 and Morris one.

Georgia coach Dennis Felton said the predominance of experienced big men in the SEC is notable these days partly because they haven't already headed to the NBA.

``Ten years ago, our collection of post players wouldn't have been a big deal,'' Felton said. ``Today it is because guys that size tend to bolt pretty quickly to the NBA.''

Davis returned despite leading LSU to the Final Four. Noah and teammate Al Horford came back even though they claimed the national title.

Davis averaged 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds. Noah was the Final Four MVP and set an NCAA tournament record with 29 blocked shots, including six in the title game against UCLA.

Morris led Kentucky in scoring while Davidson averaged 14.3 points and 8.9 boards.

``Every team seems like they've got dominant big men,'' Georgia forward Steve Newman said. Georgia's main strategy for defending them is to ``not let them touch the ball.''

Making that more difficult is that teams like Alabama, Arkansas and Florida don't just stop at one good big man. The Tide's Richard Hendrix averaged 8.0 rebounds as a freshman. Florida's Horford grabbed nearly that many and was a double-figure scorer.

Darian Townes is only a couple of inches shorter than his teammate Hill and scored 9.5 points a game.

Morris figures the wealth of big men will only help them all get better.

``If you're put in that position to play against that type of competition night in and night out, it's a great experience,'' he said. ``It's going to be a tough challenge, and I'm looking forward to it.''