The SEC coaches joined the SEC media teleconference this week and were asked time and again about the league's disappointing nonleague resume. One by one, they did their best to dismiss the notion that things aren't well on the basketball side of this conference.
"We act like the SEC's the only league in the country that lost games in the nonconference," said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, and I can appreciate a man trying to defend his league. It's admirable. But what can't be denied is that the SEC ranks eighth in conference RPI heading into a Wednesday on which 10 of the SEC's 14 teams open the SEC portions of their schedules, and what shouldn't be downplayed is that America's so-called best athletic conference really might place just three schools into this season's NCAA tournament bracket.
Why does the SEC stink at basketball?
Let's turn to Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings for the answer.
"I think there are a few teams that are like us -- that are kind of in a transitional mode," said Stallings. "I think that's part of it. As a whole, our league had quite a bit of turnover."
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Which is true.
Stallings lost his top six players.
So did Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Consequently, two of the SEC's top basketball schools weren't as good early as they've traditionally been under their current coaches who are together trying to replace nine of the 15 NBA Draft picks the SEC produced last June. Beyond that, there's the fact that half the league is operating with a coach either in his first or second year. And that Tennessee lost one of its top frontcourt players (Jeronne Maymon) for the season. And that Mississippi State has only seven student-athletes on scholarship, total.
Add it up, this is the result.
The SEC is a league with more bad losses than good wins, more terrible teams than rankable ones, and the same amount of schools in the top 50 of the RPI as the West Coast Conference. The WCC has No. 5 Gonzaga and No. 33 BYU. The SEC has No. 12 Florida and No. 20 Missouri. That's it. Even Kentucky and its lottery picks are outside the top 50 in part because of an 0-4 record against teams inside top 50. Making things worse is that four SEC schools -- Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State -- are ranked outside the top 200 thanks to losses to Youngstown State, Winthrop, Elon, Troy and Alabama A&M.
So, yes, the same league that's won seven consecutive football championships is currently the worst of the power conferences in basketball, but you'd be unwise to try to relate those two things because one has nothing to do with the other. It's not like all these schools with all this money aren't investing in hoops. For the most part, they spend. So neither funding nor focus is an obvious problem, and there really isn't some big issue that must be addressed. Truth is, this is just one of those seasons where, as Stallings put it, lots of SEC programs are in transition at the exact same time. And the man who has been a part of this league since 1999 knows better than to assume things will stay this way for an extended period of time.
"Whether you want to call it cyclical or transitional or whatever you want to call it, it won't last long," Stallings said. "Trust me, it won't. Our league's too good for that. Historically, just look -- if we have a down year, we never stay down."