SCOTT: SEC a big winner on hardwood

The big winner in the 2005-06 basketball season is the SEC.

The SEC men were supposed to be down this season.


Yep, they were down all right.


So down all they could produce was six NCAA Tournament teams, two Final Four teams, one team in the national championship game and the NIT champion for the second consecutive year.


The SEC women are supposed to be on shaky ground as the rest of women's basketball infringes on their territory.


Yep, shaky ground all right.


So shaky all the women could do was send six teams to the NCAA Tournament, two teams to the Elite Eight, one team to the Final Four.


"How about that?" SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "It is both very satisfying and very gratifying, especially when so many people thought this was a down year for our league. ... it shows we still play pretty good basketball in this conference.


"I've always felt we were a very fine basketball league. Actually, we're a fine league in all sports. We won seven national championships last year alone."


The SEC is well into another success sports season. The SEC is just two weeks removed from Auburn's sixth national championship and its fourth consecutive national title in men's swimming and diving. Two weeks before, Auburn won its fourth national championship in the past five years women's swimming and diving.


In early March, Arkansas won the men's national indoor track and field title. All seven SEC programs recently earned spots in the NCAA Women's Gymnastics championships and Georgia enters as the favorite to win the national title.


Mississippi State entered this past weekend ranked No. 1 in the nation by Baseball America and nine different teams ranked in the various national polls.


And then there's basketball. The SEC, apparently, is one lousy basketball league. It can't come close to measuring up to the ACC, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pac-10. Just ask Billy Packer, Jim Nantz, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale and all the other national critics who regard the SEC as a basketball afterthought.


Yet, it was the SEC, not the ACC or the Big East, that placed two teams in the men's Final Four.


"Not bad for a football conference," Slive said.

Not bad at all. And here's the best part. If early entry into the NBA draft doesn't ravage the conference, the SEC could be even better next season. Florida starts four sophomores and a junior, while LSU starts three freshmen and a sophomore.


"It's been a really young conference," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "There was so much made about the early departures, and rightfully so, and everybody thought the league would be down because teams would have to rely on so many freshmen and sophomores.


"But I think the coaches in our league have done a great job recruiting and bringing in good quality talent, and the young talent in our league is very good as it always is. The talent in the SEC is always as good as anywhere in the country."


Even if the SEC returns most of the best players on the best teams, don't look for things to change.


"I love football," LSU coach John Brady said. "I hope our football team wins a national championship, goes undefeated. But sometimes I feel we wrestle with that football sort of image. ... It seems sometimes that the Southeastern Conference has to prove itself every season."


Only one thing can change that.


"I have really never been a big believer in buying into (that) you have got to make a deep run into the tournament," Donovan said. "The big thing with the NCAA tournament, in my opinion, is you have got to get in it on a consistent basis to do something special."




More basketball news. First, don't look for Auburn's basketball fortunes to change anytime soon now that freshman forward Joey Cameron has become the latest Tiger to leave the program.


Cameron, who has decided to transfer after seeing his playing time diminish last season, is the eighth player to leave the program since coach Jeff Lebo took over two years ago. Two more little-used players - Emanuel Willis and Moses Edun – will likely raise that number to 10 in the coming weeks.


Lebo lost four players, including Indiana forward Marco Killingsworth, Indiana guard Lewis Monroe and Ole Miss Dewayne Curtis, within weeks of his hiring. Two more, including current Florida State guard Toney Douglas, left after his season at Auburn.


Point guard Michael Woodard left Auburn midway through this past season after his lost the starting job to freshman Quantez Robertson.


It's difficult to build a winning program when the players are leaving as fast as they are arriving.


Meanwhile at Ole Miss, new coach Andy Kennedy decided to keep two assistants from the staff of former coach Rod Barnes. Kennedy retained Tracy Dildy and Michael White to ease the transition from one head coach to the next, but it didn't hurt that Curtis will likely stay at Ole Miss now that Kennedy has given Dildy a job.


"He's a very loyal and trustworthy man," Curtis said of Dildy in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I know it was hard for him to be here at Ole Miss on Coach Barnes' staff and then somebody offered him a job at the same school after what happened to Coach Barnes."


Kennedy is taking a big chance here. Keeping Dildy and White could bring more continuity to the program, but it could also undercut his own authority as the man in charge. A lot depends on how Dildy and White handle the transition and whatever tone they set with the players.




While basketball season wraps up and baseball season is in high gear, it's also time for spring football throughout the SEC. In fact, while Auburn, Alabama and LSU are finished with spring practice, while Florida is just getting started.


Coach Urban Meyer isn't waiting for the start of his second spring practice at Florida to send a serious message to his players, especially quarterback Chris Leak and his running backs.


Meyer isn't one to soften his stance or back down from a challenge and let his backs know they had better improve or else this season.


"I get very upset thinking about that position," Meyer said. "That's not what is expected. If that continues, we'll play without a tailback. I'm not going to sit and watch that trash I watched last year. That's not going to happen."


The Gators averaged 3.9 yards a carry and 146.8 yards a game in 2005 and rarely made big plays.


"Fred Taylor and Emmitt Smith played tailback here before. I keep checking that. That did happen, right?" Meyer said. "I want to see that. We have to recruit that, we have to develop that. There's got to be a standard set. Right now, we don't have a standard. You're not watching film, saying that's how it's supposed to be done. We don't have that. That has to happen or we will not play with a tailback."


Meyer has already threatened to use true freshman quarterback Tim Tebow at tailback. Then again, Tebow could also end up as the starting tailback if Leak doesn't make a commitment to running the ball more frequently and effectively.


"Our quarterback needs to make a lot of big plays, many of them with his feet," Meyer said.


Tebow, widely regarded as one of the nation's top quarterback prospects last fall, enrolled in January, participated in winter workouts and will take part in spring practice.


"He's earned a lot of respect with his work ethic and toughness," Meyer said. "We're trying to keep a ceiling on him. If he looks at a turkey sandwich he gains seven pounds. We've got to watch what we do with him. He likes to lift weights with the linebackers and defensive tackles. That's kind of neat for a while. Then after you see him up to 242 pounds you tell him to back off. We're trying to keep him as close to 230 as we can. He's 229 now. So he tells me. He's doing great, though."


Meyer said he fully expects Tebow to play this fall.


"Tebow is working hard and will play this season," Meyer said, "but Leak is our quarterback and Tim has to earn playing time."




While LSU can feel good about its quarterbacks coming out of the spring, regardless of the starter, Alabama faces considerable uncertainty at the position after a shaky performance in the spring game.


Sophomore John Parker Wilson, the heir apparent to three-year starter Brodie Croyle, did complete 21 of 31 passes for 244 yards and touchdowns of 33 and 50 yards to receiver DJ Hall, but he also threw two second-half interceptions that gave coach Mike Shula cause for concern.


"Two picks can cost you the game," Shula said. "I told him no matter how many good things you do, if you do that in a game, that's all we're going to be talking about in here (afterward)."


Backup quarterback Jimmy Barnes also threw two interceptions and completed only 12 of 22 passes for 95 yards. Barnes played with the second team because senior backup Marc Guillon suffered a knee injury in the final week of spring practice. Guillon is expected to resume offseason workouts this summer, but the Tide still has a lot of offensive questions to answer between now and September.




Richard Scott is a freelance writer, sports journalist and author based in Birmingham, Ala. Reach him at

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