UT third in SEC hoops over past decade

ESPN ranked the top 10 men's college basketball programs over the past 10 years and two SEC teams made the cut – Florida and Kentucky. The criteria included national championships, conference championships, NCAA Tournament bids and players in the pros. Duke was No. 1.

I decided to apply the same criteria – discounting pro players produced – to rank the top five SEC men's basketball programs over the past decade, and here's what I found: Tennessee has been better than you might think.

Initially, I thought I'd have Mississippi State in the top five. The Bulldogs have six 20-win seasons, four NCAA Tournament appearances, three NCAA Tournament wins and 190 victories. But with no conference title or Sweet 16 showing, coach Rick Stansbury's team fails to make the cut.

Here is my ranking, starting from the bottom.

5. LSU. The Tigers get the nod over State because of postseason success. LSU has been to the Final Four, a Sweet 16 and won two SEC regular-season titles. They have four NCAA Tournament appearances and posted 184 wins. The negative: three losing seasons since 1998. But remember, John Brady had to rebuild a sinking program.

4. Alabama. The Crimson Tide has been to five NCAA Tournaments, won one SEC title, reached the Elite Eight and chalked up five 20-win seasons en route to 196 total victories. Alabama also has five NCAA Tournaments wins.

3. Tennessee. That's right, Tennessee. You can't discount Jerry Greens' 89 wins in four years, even though they still underachieved with all that talent. The Vols have been to six NCAA Tournaments, posted six NCAA Tournament wins, reached two Sweet 16s, won one SEC regular season title, one East Division title and compiled 196 wins.

2. Kentucky. The Wildcats have been to 10 NCAA Tournaments, won one national title (1998), five SEC Tournament titles, four SEC regular-season titles, and racked up an SEC-best 263 wins. No wonder Tubby Smith left for Minnesota.

1. Florida. The Gators might have been fourth two years ago, but back-to-back NCAA titles can do wonders for a program. Florida has the second-most wins (248) but the most Final Fours (three) and three consecutive SEC Tournament titles to go with three regular-season crowns.

VOLS PICKED 4TH IN SEC EAST

Ted Lewis of the New Orleans Times-Picayune believes USC and LSU have the best chance of playing for the football national championship in the Louisiana Superdome in January.

He doesn't think that much of Tennessee.

Lewis has the Vols No. 20 in the nation but No. 4 in the SEC East, behind Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. He's got Florida No. 8, South Carolina No. 14 and Georgia No. 18. He's got Auburn No. 7 and finishing second in the West behind LSU.

HAMILTON UPDATES CONSTRUCTION

Mike Hamilton, Tennessee men's athletic director, said construction of the new basketball practice facility is a couple of weeks behind schedule and the renovations inside Thompson-Boling Arena are about a week behind.

The new date for the practice facility to open is early October, as opposed to Sept. 15. Arena renovations should be completed at about the same time.

With the improvements at TBA, Hamilton is hoping UT will land another men's Sweet 16. Knoxville was host to the Sweet 16 in 1994 and 1999 but lost on a bid for 2010.

``Absolutely,'' Hamilton said, when asked if he wants to host NCAA Tournament games. ``It's good for us financially and it's also very good for the citizens of East Tennessee and our economy to have those events here. Every time the opportunity is available to us, we're going to bid.''

Hamilton said UT is hurt by not having five full-service hotels within a mile of TBA. Knoxville has four. UT wants to count the Airport Hilton (12 miles away) and the Holiday Inn near Papermill (about four miles away).

Hamilton said a new golf facility, designed by Greg Norman, is being built past the Buck Karnes Bridge along the Tennessee River across from UT Medical Center. It will have 41 acres and three practice holes. Construction is set to begin this summer.

The public will have use of the facility.

``Both of our golf teams are in the top 15,'' Hamilton pointed out. ``This will allow our golf programs to take the next step and compete for a national championship.''

The current perception is UT fans are more interested in men's basketball than football. If that's the case, you can't tell it by donations.

``We've had another tremendous fund-raising year,'' Hamilton said. ``We're up significantly. I've not seen any sort of drop-off (in football interest). We still have a strong donor base in football.''


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