Mississippi State assistant coach Phil Cunningham thinks there is a simple reason why so many people across the country have been surprised by the play of LSU and Florida going into the Final Four.
Cunningham, a Kentucky native, believes national media members watched Kentucky's big losses to Indiana and Kansas, along with a home loss to a then unproven North Carolina, and wrote off the Southeastern Conference then.
"The perception of the league runs parallel with Kentucky," Cunningham said. "If Kentucky is perceived as being down, then the thinking is the SEC has to be down. But even those Kentucky games were not true indicators because Randolph Morris did not play in those games. To judge Kentucky on those games was unrealistic, but that is what people did. Adding Randolph Morris to the equation changed their team dramatically."
What others need to understand is that Florida and LSU are not going to fade into NCAA obscurity based on what Cunningham sees. He knows both teams have several players that could be persuaded to leave school early for the NBA, but he also knows both teams are more than capable of sustaining strong programs.
"Florida gets a lot of scrutiny over how many top players they recruit and how they fit together," Cunningham said. "But Billy Donovan understands recruiting. He's always going to get good players. That's not going to stop.
"LSU has just locked down its state. Like Georgia, LSU doesn't have to leave the state to get good players and its roster shows that. It is a big state with a ton of players. That's the same reason LSU is so good in football every year. Now they are just going to lock down the state even more in basketball. LSU is going to be impossible to beat for in-state kids and should be good every year just like they are in all their other sports. They won't lose players to out of state schools after this. And people better understand that Dennis Felton is eventually going to be that way at Georgia."
So how good will the SEC be next year?
"Too good. The league had a lot of young players this year. Kentucky will be good. LSU will be good. Florida will be good. Alabama will be good. Tennessee has some big-time recruits," Cunningham said. "People just don't understand how balanced this league is and how many good teams you have to play. But if you just look at the Final Four, you see what this league is all about."
MSU assistant weighs in on SEC hoops
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