Conversely, the SEC is the redheaded stepchild of college basketball. Only three league teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and only four were tabbed in 2010.
Even Tennessee - the only SEC team to make the field each of the past two years - isn't feeling a lot of love from the NCAA these days. The Vols got stuck with a No. 6 seed, despite a No. 15 national ranking and a No. 14 RPI
"Our first two years here our seeds were a little better than we thought," head coach Bruce Pearl said, referring to a 2 seed in 2006 and a 5 seed in 2007. "The last three years our seeds weren't as good as we thought they'd be."
Those three were a 2 seed in 2008, a 9 seed in 2009 and the 6 seed this year.
Pearl thought all along this year's team would get a 4 seed at best and a 5 seed at worst. He clearly was blindsided by the 6 that showed up Sunday evening.
"The RPI, strength of schedule and national ranking would indicate that we maybe would have a different line," he said, choosing his words carefully. "Our RPI and our strength of schedule was higher than several of the teams on the 5 line (5 seeds)."
Losing to Kentucky by 29 points in the SEC Tournament semifinals had to hurt the national perception of UT's program but Pearl thinks it was the national perception of the SEC that did the bulk of the damage.
"One of the things that got us I think was record vs. the top-50 in RPI," Pearl said. "Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss all wound up in the mid-50s. We had four wins and one loss against that group. If they did the top 60 RPI, we would have four more wins. That would be the only thing from my standpoint, as far as criteria, where you could look to move us up a notch."
He may have a point. Tennessee went just 2-5 vs. top-50 RPI teams - going 1-0 vs. Kansas, 1-2 vs. Kentucky, 0-1 vs. Purdue and 0-2 vs. Vanderbilt. If you expand the list to include the top-60 RPI teams, the Vols would've been 7-6, since they went 1-1 vs. No. 53 Florida, 1-0 vs. No. 55 Mississippi State, 1-0 vs. No. 58 Memphis and 2-0 vs. No. 59 Ole Miss.
"There were only three teams in the league that were inside the top 50 - Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt," Pearl noted. "It was the math that got us. Our overall RPI (as a league) was just down. I don't have the answer. It is frustrating but this is back-to-back years now."
Although he expected more than four SEC teams would be chosen for the NCAA Tournament, Pearl thought the other three were treated fairly in the seeding process.
"I thought Kentucky had a great seed (a 1)," the Vol coach said. "I thought Vanderbilt had a great seed (a 4), and it was good to see Florida get in (as a 10 seed)."
Mississippi State suffered the ultimate heartbreak, playing its way into the SEC finals only to suffer a one-point loss to second-ranked Kentucky in overtime. Despite that and a 23-11 record, Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs were passed over for an NCAA Tournament bid.
"I'm very, very disappointed for Mississippi State," Pearl said. "With their performance the last weekend and the way they were so close and playing so well ... I'm really sorry for them."