This season the Southeastern Conference has proven it’s more than a football league, and the hoops coaches can’t get enough of it, including Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has eight SEC teams in his latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection, one less than the ACC, which has the most with nine.
Missouri is currently 6-5 in conference play, which puts them in a four-way tie for fourth place. Martin isn’t worried that the logjam in the conference standings could come back to bite the conference on Selection Sunday.
“I think this is the better conference,” Martin said on Friday. “They said the Big 12 was, but we won the shootout, the matchup. You look across the board, you’re talking about nine teams, 10 teams. You beat up on each other, that’s fine. It doesn’t affect you from an RPI standpoint. One team last year got in the tournament at 8-10. They had the so-called best conference in the country.
“I think when you’re good you’re good as a league.”
His colleagues share the same opinion.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said on the league conference call on Monday that the SEC has already proven it is “one of the best leagues in the country” and also referred to the conference’s win in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, which the SEC won 6-4 and was highlighted by Kentucky’s come-from-behind win at West Virginia.
Kennedy said he would put the SEC’s non-conference schedule up against anyone’s. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said improving the non-conference schedule has been a priority for a while and said seven to eight teams is the goal for the SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament come March.
“The scheduling changes we’ve made have paid dividends,” Sankey said before Missouri’s game against Illinois on Dec. 23. “I think you saw that last year with Vanderbilt’s selection with I think 16 or 17 losses. The first time a team with that many losses has been picked for an at-large team but they played such a schedule and had success that it merited a selection.”
Florida coach Mike White said that with such a logjam in the conference standings, it’s easier to recover from a loss as a team since a loss doesn’t put you as further down in the standings as prior years and doesn’t hurt a team’s resume either.
The SEC currently has eight teams in the RPI top-50 rankings, with conference leader Auburn as high as No. 9. Missouri ranks No. 30 and Florida is at No. 50. Four of the other SEC teams are in the top 100 of the rankings.
“Coming off a loss from a big-picture standpoint, it’s nice,” White said. “You have a big road ahead of you, but you have a lot of opportunities to help your case. We all have the opportunity now for quality wins in this league.”
White went even further to say that the logjam is only a good thing since losing only leads to development.
The longer the league beats itself up, the better it will bode for it in March.
“You can learn about yourself after a win but you can learn more after a loss,” White said. “I think you’re going to see a bunch of teams on Selection Sunday.”