I spoke with Joe yesterday prior to his call of the South Carolina-Florida basketball game at SC, which he broadcasted for the SEC Network. Joe's a veteran and knows this conference and the country very well. We talked about a variety of things in the college basketball world, mainly NCAA tourney stuff and the conference in general; who is looking good at this point for March. By the way, South Carolina defeated Fl., 77-71, behind Devan Downey's 24 and Brandis Raley-Ross's 20.The Gamecocks moved to 14-9 overall and, more importantly, 5-4 in conference play. Florida dropped to 17-7, 6-4.
Auburn got back in the win column behind Lucas Hargrove's 24 points and 11 boards to defeat Georgia, 82-63. The Tigers moved to 12-12 overall and 3-6 in conference. Arkansas defeated LSU 87-52, behind Courtney Fortson's 17.
Joe talked about what it takes to prepare for a broadcast.
"It's not as hard as you think it is because I love keeping up with it anyway. I love SEC basketball, I grew up in it (Joe Dean Sr was a color analyst for SEC games for many years). I look over the profile information of every player, go over the coaches and the stats. I get into the city the day before and spend time at the shootaround for both teams and go over each coach's strengths and weaknesses in his particular team. I'll always visit with the coaches at the shootaround. I saw Billy Donavan today and asked him how his family was. He told me his oldest son, Billy, was going to play at Catholic College in Washington D.C. next year. That was a nugget for the broadcast right there."
I asked Joe who he thought were the NCAA teams out of the SEC right now.
"I like the top four in the East; Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida.South Carolina, it depends on how they finish. They've got some work to do. In the west, Ole Miss and Miss. State have a shot. Miss. State plays both Kentucky and Florida in Starkville coming up so that gives them a chance to pad their resume. Arkansas has a weak RPI and their strength of schedule is not strong enough to get them in."
I asked Joe who he thought are the top four teams in the country at this point.
"I would say their is a clear top four: Kansas, Syracuse, Villanova and Kentucky. Those four should be the top four seeds and have the best chance of reaching the Final Four. Kentucky might lose one more time at Vandy or Mississippi State, but they're looking pretty good."
I asked him the toughest question: Who he thought is the best team in the country and has the best shot at winning the national championship.
"If you put a gun to my head, I would say Kansas."
There are some other teams who are pretty close to those four and playing good ball right now. Georgetown crushed Nova at home last week and can play physical on both ends of the floor, has a lot of athletic ability and can shoot well most of the time. West Virginia is another, as is Purdue, Illinois has gotten hot, Michigan State is always in there, and out in the Midwest a darkhorse to me is Mike Anderson's Missouri team. Kansas State is another. Duke is still a player in the mix.
"The Big East is the strongest conference in the country," Dean says. "They've got 16 teams and seven or eight will get a bid. In the Big Ten, there are six or seven and in the BIg 12 six or seven. The ACC should have about five teams. The biggest disappointment to me is the Pac 10. There may be one team, Cal, or two, if Washington gets in. There's only a three game spread from first place to last place. Cal has four losses and everyone else is right behind.
"Personally, I think Kansas, Villanova and Syracuse are very good teams that should be in there at the end."
I asked Joe who was the best coach in the conference this year.
"Without a doubt it's John Calipari. He's taken over a program that didn't make the NCAA's last year with three freshmen and they're 22-1. Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt) is in the next group with Darrin Horn and Billy Donavan right behind."
The SEC Tournament at the Sommet Center in Nashville this year from March 11-14. Dean expects Kentucky to win it. You never know. Joe will be handling interviews at halftime and conversations before, after and during intermission between games.
"I'd rather be calling the games," he said. "They're a blast. When it's in Baton Rouge of at Mississippi State I love it."
One thing is for sure: Joe Dean Jr. loves what he does and knows the game inside and out especially in the SEC. I'll talk to Joe before the SEC tourney and before the Big Tournament in March.