TUPELO – With only one game left in the men’s season, is it too soon to look ahead to what could be the wildest 12 months in SEC basketball history?
Between now and next April, at least three new head coaches will take the floor. The future of another SEC coach, Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss, will soon be decided in a Cincinnati courtroom.
And much soul-searching will continue on the question of what was wrong with the league this year and why it couldn’t get a single team out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The new coaches will divert some attention from the league’s real problem. (More on that in a moment.)
In the poker game of life, Kentucky has gone all-in, bringing in a guy they didn’t want to hire just two years ago – John Calipari, the king of the mid-majors.
This is a pure Al Davis move – Just Win, Baby.
On paper, it looks like an unbeatable deal, closely akin to the shock waves caused when Alabama made when it brought Nick Saban in as its football savior.
Calipari will overshadow, for a while at least, the two other new coaches. It’s possible, though, that Anthony Grant at Alabama and Mark Fox at Georgia could eventually have more success than their new rival in Lexington.
But in the hype war, they never stood a chance.
All three coaches join a league with a credibility problem after this year’s NCAA tourney fizzle underscored what the computers said all along: the SEC has fallen behind, perhaps way behind, its major rivals.
Some talking heads suggest that below-par coaching was the issue. That may come as a surprise to Billy Donovan, Bruce Pearl and Rick Stansbury.
Several league teams, including Ole Miss, put very young lineups on the floor. That’s a cyclical issue that will resolve itself.
For his part, SEC commissioner Mike Slive diagnosed the problem as one of poor scheduling. He’s made it clear he plans to lay down the law at the league’s meeting this summer.
Only two league teams, Tennessee (3) and Ole Miss (29) ranked in the top 50 in strength of schedule this season. That contributed to the SEC ranking sixth in overall strength of schedule – last among major conferences.
The leagues with the toughest schedules? The ACC and the Big Ten – each with a team in the championship game tonight.
Pearl and Tennessee get it. They played a tough schedule, lost a bunch of games, yet still made the Big Dance.
Scheduling may have also played a part in the poor NCAAseeding given to the league’s regular-season champion, LSU, and tourney champ Mississippi State.
Then there’s Florida, which played nine teams with RPI numbers of 200 or higher.
The Gators, a program just two seasons removed from back-to-back NCAAtitles, went to the NIT again.
In Mike Slive’s Brave New Basketball World, that’s not gonna cut it.
John L. Pitts (email@example.com) is sports editor of the Daily Journal.
John L. Pitts/Daily Journal