Hoops thoughts

It's hard not to include the SEC in the elite of college basketball - men's and women's. Just look at this year's results in their respective Big Dances. Read about it inside.

I'm sitting here on Sunday evening watching Maryland upset North Carolina in the Women's Final Four and waiting for the LSU Lady Tigers to get their shot at beating Duke and going to the championship game Tuesday.

These women can really shoot and they can dribble. And that Maryland bunch can rebound with the very best of them as well.

In between I'm thinking of the wonderful performance Saturday night by the Florida Gators as they beat George Mason and the woeful effort by LSU's men as they were drubbed wire to wire by LSU.

I'm also thinking of the great game played by the South Carolina Gamecocks against Michigan and their repeat championship in the NIT, something that has only been done once before in the long history of this tournament.

I'm also thinking of last week's bare-it-all column in which I admitted being as wrong as a man could be in my conclusions this was an off year for the SEC and that not a team in the league had a chance at grabbing the brass ring off the merry-go-round we now know as tournament basketball.

I don't know whether Florida can beat UCLA in a few hours from now, but I think they can. They're big, they play with fire in their bellies, they can shoot and they are tough under the boards. Granted UCLA is a standout defensive team but I just can't believe they can hold the Gators to 45 points as they did the Tigers.

Florida has not lost a non conference game this year and I choose to believe they won't lose this one.

LSU was totally miserable in their game. They couldn't shoot a lick, they played without enthusiasm and, in effect, the end was in sight when the game was only 10 minutes gone.

As for South Carolina, please don't let me hear any further criticism of Coach Dave Odom. No one said his charm is radiating. All he can do is win, which is what I've always believed a coach is paid to do. He did that this year 23 times and lost only 15. To beat Louisville and Michigan back-to-back is an achievement of which any coach would be proud.

In truth, in advancing to the finals of the SEC Tournament his team was one of the leagues best at the end of the season. If you checked his losses by one and two points it probably was one of the best all season long.

So here we sit with our national reputation as a football league still facing the possibility of winning the NCAA Men's, having a Final Four participant in the Women's, and already having won the NIT. Not many conferences have ever done that and if the SEC doesn't do it this year I don't know if anyone ever will again.

You have to understand how tough the SEC is. Coaches come into the league who have heard the usual publicity about the competition here and how anyone can beat anyone else, top to bottom. They hear it but they don't believe it until week in and week out they have to face the other 11 members—and I don't care whether we're talking about football, basketball, baseball or any other sport. It's not until they take a squad out to face these other guys that they say to themselves, where I came from this would be a very strong team yet here we are getting our butt pounded by the Alabamas, the Tennessees, the Georgias, the Ole Miss Rebels and South Carolina plus all those other guys.

What have I gotten myself into? In time you'll know coach. In time you'll know. New Rebel Coach Andy Kennedy will have some of those thoughts in the next 12 months, even though he was the interim head coach in a very tough conference while at Cincinnati and faced very good teams night-in-and-night-out. The SEC is a meat grinder. Other conferences are too, but no more than the SEC.

We pay coaches well in the SEC because we must have the best in order to compete and to get the best you have to pay the most. We get the best players because we have the best facilities, the largest and most devoted fan base and we win because of a combination of the above.

Yes, the SEC is famed from coast to coast as college football's best conference. As of today it would hard, no make that impossible, not to accept the premise that we are one of the country's best basketball leagues as well.

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