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The SEC is 7-0 in the NCAA tournament, but that shouldn’t change the perception of the league

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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.

Seriously.

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.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.