FEINSWOG: The SEC is down?

You heard it. You might have even said it. The SEC is down this year in basketball.

Yeah, right.


Tell that to LSU and Florida, two of the remaining 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament.


Tell that to Kentucky and Alabama, which came so close to making their ways in as well. Really close.


Tell that to a league that went 5-1 in the first round, one that saw the teams that won the Big East and Big Ten tournaments fall by the wayside.


The Big Ten, for that matter, is 0-for-the final 16.


The Big East still makes up one-fourth of the last 16, which is no small thing. But the Valley makes up an eighth, just like the SEC. The ACC also makes up one eighth. It was supposed to dominate. Down year for the ACC?


Not exactly.


Actually, the two leagues rarely play each other in basketball, so this is extra sweet:


The ACC's overall winner, Duke, which happens to be America's team and the top seed overall in the tournament, gets the best the SEC has to offer in LSU.


Duke is better and should win. It has the nation's best outside player in J.J. Redick and perhaps the nation's best inside player in Sheldon Williams. But Duke doesn't create matchup problems or call for special strategies. You'd better play like a crazed animal, stick to Redick like glue and hit a lot of shots.


LSU, however, is a whole different thing. It's led by Glen Davis, the best college post man ever who plays almost completely below the rim. It has its own gunner in a 5-9 shooting guard, Darrel Mitchell. And LSU does, in fact, play like a crazed animal, especially on defense and when it rebounds.


LSU's coach doesn't do national American Express or Chevy commercials. For that matter, John Brady never has endorsed anything except his friend Tim's line of peanut butter, which, by the way, is pretty darn good. Not that he ever did a commercial or anything, but Brady does claim to pull it to the front of the shelf when he sees it in the grocery store.


No, what Brady has done this year is take a team to the round of 16 after losing his best player to the NBA. He starts three freshmen, pulls two others off the bench, and if LSU beats Duke on Thursday night in Atlanta, he still won't do any commercials.


But this postseason has validated Brady's rank as SEC coach of the years as awarded by his peers. Simply put, he's done a big-time job.


It started with the schedule, one that was tougher than any other in his nine years at LSU. But those five non-SEC defeats by a total of 11 points are paying dividends.


It continued Saturday with Brady listening in the timeout to his best friend and assistant coach Butch Pierre, who suggested LSU run a play called Special, a strategy designed to let Darrel Mitchell take the last shot.


Having Mitchell take the last shot in the deciding moments didn't take a genius. At the least Mitchell had to be the first option.


But when he swished the shot and sent LSU into the round of 16, it made Brady look pretty good and gave Duke something to think about.


Trust me, while they're planning their own strategy in Durham this week, no one at Duke will suggest the SEC is down this year.




Lee Feinswog is a Baton Rouge sportswriter and host of the television show Sports Monday. Reach him at (225) 926-3256 or lee@sportsbatonrouge.com.


His book, "HoopDaddy" is available at www.HoopDaddy.net.

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