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Snowflakes: Why SEC Hoops is No Longer Just Kentucky

Posted: Mar 14, 2008

With Mississippi and Florida both dropping first round games in the conference tournament, the SEC contingent for the Big Dance seems to be set at five (TN, UK, VU, Ark., MSU). While there’s an outside chance the Rebels could get an at-large berth, the rest of the weekend will mostly be played for seeding to the NCAA Tournament. With that in mind, it’s a good time to look at the state of league. For years, the SEC Tourney was dubbed by the many the “Kentucky Invitational” as the Wildcats usually took the crown and went on to carry the conference banner on a national level. While I believe Kentucky will still be at or near the top of the league for many seasons to come, the future of the SEC basketball looks to be more than the historical view of the Wildcats and everyone else.

The two biggest changes over the last five years in the league have been the ascension of Florida under Billy Donovan and the hiring of Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. The Gators may barely miss the NCAA Tourney this season, but that’s after claiming two National titles. Donovan has recruited well, and his young team will be a force over the next few years. When looking at what Pearl has done in Knoxville in just 3 seasons, it may be the biggest factor in raising the bar for teams in the SEC. By taking a dormant program to new heights in both the standings and attendance, Pearl has forced conference athletic directors to wonder why a similar turnaround can’t happen at their school. Just last season, we saw coaching changes at Kentucky and Arkansas after both teams made the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, LSU fired John Brady this season just two years removed from the Final Four, and South Carolina will also have an coaching opening when their season ends.

With Georgia’s Dennis Felton and Alabama’s Mark Gottfried feeling pressure for improvement from their fan bases, the landscape of SEC basketball seems to be getting tougher. Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be good bets to go to their second straight Sweet 16 while Kentucky and Florida will continue to be top programs. Athletic directors around the league cannot continue to accept mediocre results and poor attendance if they want to compete in the improving SEC.

- Patrick Snow


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