Donovan stands up for SEC

The non-conference schedule created a bad reputation for the Southeastern Conference. There are multiple bad losses for teams at both ends of the conference. The SEC wasn't expected to have a strong season with a number of teams rebuilding with youth on their rosters and new coaches, but Florida head coach Billy Donovan sees multiple good coaches that will improve their teams throughout the year.

"You have a lot of really, really good coaches in this league and you also have a lot of departures from a lot of teams," Billy Donovan said. "You also have a lot of departures in terms of head coaches."

That's part of why Donovan took a stand for the conference he has coached in for 17 seasons. The turnover of players and coaches in the league has caused the league to have some bumps in the non-conference portion of the schedule. As the teams improve during the second half of the year, Donovan spoke about his frustration because it will be perceived as the SEC struggling instead of the lesser teams improving.

It happened last year at Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin took over the program, and the team suffered some bad losses in non-conference play. When the Volunteers became adjusted to Martin, the team played better in conference play, even if their record didn't show it.

"They drop some games in November and December, but I don't think anybody can argue the fact that in January, February and March they were one of the better teams in this league," Donovan said.

Two years ago, it was Alabama. Anthony Grant coached his team into a battle for the SEC regular season title, but they barely scraped into the NCAA Tournament because of their non-conference losses.

Donovan sees plenty of possibility for that to happen this conference season. There are new head coaches at LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina this season. Then there are teams like Kentucky that had its roster gutted last season by defections to the NBA.

Teams are still trying to find their identity this early in the season, and when they do, the league will look better on paper. It just might be too late for that national perception to change.

"I'm all for the resume and the whole body of work," Donovan said. "I think that's important, that's what you have to do. But where that's somewhat flawed for us as coaches and teams is, what about the improvement a team makes over the course of a year? It's like people talking on Selection Sunday, 'back in November they lost this really bad game.' Well, it's March, that was like four months ago. The team could have gotten better."

The labels on the SEC started early in the season. A big part of that is because the bad losses started early in the season, too. Truthfully, there are too many bad losses in the conference to list. However, Donovan still isn't ready to give up on the league the rest of the season.

"I think what happens a lot of times is based on November and December, your league gets immediately labeled, and then once we all play each other it gets labeled of whether or not it's a good or bad league based on what you've done in the conference," Donovan said. "Clearly up to this point and time, our league has had some difficult, challenging losses. We all have.

"But I don't think you take our league and just put it in a box and say, okay, therefore the league is not as good because I think teams are going to get better. They're going to improve."

It's different for Florida, too. The Gators enter conference play as one of the perceived favorites along with Kentucky and Missouri.

"We're right up there at the top," senior guard Kenny Boynton said. "There are some great teams in the SEC. I think Kentucky is a great team, despite their record. We have respect for them. If we do the right things, we're right up there and can win it."


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