SEC Outside Looking In – and It's Been Years

Two rounds into the NCAA Basketball Tournament and SEC fans have little if any rooting interest in the remaining action that will determine this year's NCAA Champion. For the first time in 20 years, the SEC has failed to advance a single team into the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance. It's one of the worst performances the SEC has ever had in the national tournament, but not the worst.

This year's SEC can claim to have outperformed the conference of 1989. Tennessee and Mississippi State lost in the first round, but LSU edged Butler, giving the SEC one team in the round of 32. While that may seem like a lousy performance – ok it IS a lousy performance – but it's not as bad as 1989. Twenty years ago, the SEC advanced five teams into the NCAA Tournament. Alabama was the highest seed at No. 6 (yes, the lowest number is the highest seed). Florida went in at No. 7, Vanderbilt was an eight seed and LSU and Tennessee were both seeded 10th.

And they all lost in the first round.

Alabama, to its credit was competitive in an 86-84 loss to South Alabama. The other four teams were defeated handily with LSU losing by 11 to UTEP, Vandy by 14 to Notre Dame, Tennessee by 16 to West Virginia and the SEC Champion Gators by 22 to Colorado State (68-46). That loss is the first time I appreciated the hardship of a team playing in a conference tournament final on Sunday and getting an early Thursday game in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators would have that same experience 15 years later when they lost to Kentucky in Atlanta and then faced (and lost to) Manhattan in the first game of the entire tournament Thursday afternoon in Nashville.

Since that miserable NCAA event the SEC has had some other poor showings. Two years later the SEC had four of five teams lose in the first round, but Alabama saved face for the league by reaching the Sweet 16. Then, 1997 was another year where four teams lost in the first round, but Kentucky made it all the way to the NCAA Championship Game before losing to Arizona in their attempt at back-to-back titles. The following year was also a mixed bag as three teams lost in the first round and another in round two, but Big Blue came through with a national title so who noticed?

Last year the SEC got six NCAA bids, but only one team, Tennessee made it to the second weekend. That poor performance may have been a factor in the NCAA giving the SEC just three invites this time around. A 1-3 record in this tournament isn't going to enhance the SEC's resume either. The only thing that will do that is playing more challenging non-conference games and winning a good percentage of them.

The league schools have to follow that up with a strong showing in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. That's the only real way the SEC reputation will rebound.

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The SEC could also use some coaches who have had some success in the NCAA Tournament. Billy Donovan has far and away the most NCAA wins of any current league coach with 22. The stunning thing is he has more NCAA wins than the next four most successful SEC coaches combined. Bruce Pearl (7), Trent Johnson (5), Kevin Stallings (5) and Rick Stansbury (4) have combined for 21 NNCAA tournament wins and none of them has gotten beyond the Sweet 16. Maybe the SEC could use Bob Knight after all.

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The Big East has certainly lived up to its reputation in this year's tournament. Five Big East teams made it to the Sweet 16, and there still could be an All-Big East Final Four. The Big 12 still has three teams while the ACC and Big Ten have two each.


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