The SEC was the laughing stock of college basketball for much of the season.
They’re a power conference, one of the five left after the Big East broke up, yet they only managed to get three of their 14 members into the NCAA tournament. That’s half as many bid as the Atlantic 10 received.
And yet, as we enter the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, the SEC has yet to lose a game. They are 7-0 in the NCAA tournament, with No. 1 Florida, No. 8 Kentucky and No. 11 Tennessee all reaching the Sweet 16.
Good for them.
If reaching the Sweet 16 was an easy thing to do, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self and Jim Boeheim would not have been sent home already, and the fact that Cuonzo Martin was able to make it through from the First Four and John Calipari was able to hand Wichita State their first loss of the season only reinforces that notion.
But it does not change the fact that the SEC was not a good basketball league this season.
Florida is the No. 1 team in the country, the No. 1 seed in the South and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. They are supposed to be in the Sweet 16. In fact, they are supposed to be in the Final Four. Making it this far is not an accomplishment for the Gators, it’s a necessary step.
The same should have been said for Kentucky, but it took them more than four months to finally play like the team that entered the year as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. The fact that this is being lauded as an accomplishment for the Wildcats just goes to show you how underwhelming they were during the regular season.
The fact that Tennessee made it this far is the one impressive achievement the SEC has made to date in this tournament. You can critique who they beat if you’d like too — No. 11 Iowa, No. 6 UMass and No. 14 Mercer is not exactly a murderer’s row — but they won three games in five days against quality competition. No matter how you slice it, that’s commendable, and it should go down as proof that the SEC actually had a third good team in the league all along.
So let’s do the math.
The SEC had one national title contender that played like a national title contender. They had another national title contender that lost to South Carolina on March 1st. They had another good team that laid dormant until the month of March.
That’s three … of the 14 teams in the league.
It doesn’t change the fact that more SEC teams were ranked outside KenPom’s top 100 (five) than were ranked in his top 50 (three). It doesn’t change the fact that the team that finished tied for second in the conference (Georgia) lost to Davidson and Temple. LSU, who was supposed to be in contention for a tournament bid this season, lost to Rhode Island. Texas A&M got picked off by North Texas and Missouri State. South Carolina, who, again, beat Kentucky this month, lost to USC-Upstate. Auburn lost to Northwestern State. Alabama lost to Drexel and South Florida. Mississippi State lost to Utah State and TCU.
Should I keep going?
The bottom-line is this: entering the season, we expected the SEC to be a bit top-heavy. Florida and Kentucky were in the preseason top ten, Tennessee was in the preseason top 25, Missouri and LSU were expected to be tournament teams and everyone else was, well, everyone else.
What we have at the end of the season is Florida as a title contender, a disappointing Kentucky team as a sleeper Final Four pick, Tennessee in the Sweet 16 after playing in the First Four and four NIT teams from the conference losing in the second round of that tournament.
The SEC has some good teams at the top of the conference, and they’re playing well this month.
That doesn’t mean that the rest of league is better by association.
Only getting three teams into the Big Dance says a lot more than getting all three of those teams into the Sweet 16.