SEC! SEC! SEC!

I got hung up in some other commitments, and by the time I parked in the living room on Thursday night Tennessee was up two touchdowns on Ohio State -- 34-20 -- in the South Regional semifinal.

So I grabbed up the laptop to write this piece and had scripted a brutal rip job on Ohio State and the Big Ten Conference. About halfway through writing it, the Buckeyes had come halfway back from that 49-29 deficit and trailed by only 10.

Surely Tennessee will wake up, stop trying to run clock and fire 25-footers and get back to what they were doing in the first half, I thought. It never happened, and Vols performed one of the most memorable second-half folds in tournament history.

Nice comeback by the Buckeyes, though the foul calls on Tennessee in the second half seemed to consist of (1) any contact; (2) any breathing on an Ohio State player.

I won't make any predictions the length of Ohio State's stay in this dance -- its comeback to beat Xavier in the second round was actually more impressive -- but I will say I was borderline giddy at the ease with which Tennessee was handing the business to the Buckeyes in the first half.

It kind of reminded me of the National Championship football game. Except Florida was up on the Buckeyes by three or four touchdowns with plenty of time left in that game. And the hardcourt Buckeyes had more speed, and more heart, than their football counterparts, and a softer opponent to rally on.

Ohio State's postseason issues -- much like Big Ten buddy Wisconsin's feeble exit from the NCAA tournament -- point out a hard-to-ignore truth about this power conference. The middle and lower tiers of the Big Ten were demonstrably weaker than the SEC in both football and basketball.

Thus, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin were able to rise to the top 10 in football on the carcasses of their laggard brethren; and the Buckeyes and Badgers did the same in basketball to obtain superior seeds.

Ohio State should have lost to Xavier in the second round.

Is there any question now, that the SEC -- which sent two teams to the Final Four last season, one of which plummeted to LAST in the SEC West -- put forth the strongest array of teams in the nation this season?

The Atlantic Coast Conference better shut up.

The league that flirted with the SEC for the No. 1 RPI rating put up a pitiful first-weekend performance.

Duke was bounced by mid-major Virginia Commonwealth in the first round. Georgia Tech was another first-round casualty from this league that sent seven teams to the tourney compared to the SEC's five.

In the second round, Maryland and Virginia Tech were bounced by salty mid-majors Butler and Southern Illinois, respectively. Boston College fell as an underdog to Georgetown, and Tennessee took out Virginia to give the mighty ACC just one entrant -- North Carolina -- in the Sweet 16.

Three of the SEC's five teams advanced to the regional semifinal round. Makes you think a Mississippi State or an Ole Miss or a Georgia was probably more deserving of an at-large bid than teams like Stanford, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech or Illinois. Had Tennessee just managed to play a respectable second half, its win would have knocked the Big Ten out of the tournament altogether.

SWITCHING GEARS

Well, what did we glean from a brief session with Alabama football assistants Major Applewhite, Joe Pendry, Kirby Smart and Kevin Steele yesterday? For one thing, we can assume they were told not to reveal any ``evaluations'' of the Crimson Tide team they inherited.

There were no thoughts on players who had good performances during winter workouts, no guesses as to what the depth chart would look like. No assumptions that the team's playmakers -- guys like John Parker Wilson, D.J. Hall, Keith Brown, Jimmy Johns, Wallace Gilberry, Prince Hall, Simeon Castille and Javier Arenas -- would be the chief makers of plays in 2007.

The interviewing at the Naylor Stone Media Suite was like a trial balloon sent up by Coach Nick Saban. What type of questions would the rabid Alabama media rattle off and how would his assistants handle them?

Every aspect of this program is under Saban's eye, and he doesn't want assistants discussing schemes and plans. The public can expect plenty of Saban's perspectives -- even if it's warnings to keep a check on their own rhetoric -- and others in the business who have covered his teams say Saban can be more revealing than you'd guess.

It won't take much for him to lend more perspective than his predecessor. In fact, his ``Guess how many tries it took for the team to run 10 perfect 10-yard dashes?'' and his unidentified player who couldn't make it through a workout, but could ``make pizzas'' felt like more insider information than the media got in four years of Mike Shula.

Being the head football coach at Alabama has to be a difficult job, with all the scrutiny and the pressure and the incessant rumor-mongering.

Hey, all we in the media want is good information and interesting stories, right?

I once mentioned to Jim Wells, the highly perceptive, dry-witted and media friendly Tide baseball coach, that I wished he was the Alabama football coach. (This was before he performed his disappearing act last spring while in the running for the LSU job).

He didn't think it was funny.

Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and a contributing writer to ‘BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com.


BamaMag Top Stories