ESPN college basketball analysts Jay Bilas and Tom Crean remain bullish on SEC basketball despite the fact that the ongoing FBI probe into college basketball recruiting could impact two of its rising programs — Auburn and Alabama.
Auburn has held out sophomore center Austin Wiley and sophomore forward Danjel Purifoy due to eligibility concerns related to the FBI’s investigation into improper benefits from agents and shoe companies. Alabama freshman point guard Collin Sexton also has been held out of exhibition games.
Bilas and Crean both think there are enough veteran teams around the league to help the SEC continue its positive momentum. Last March, the SEC had three teams reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986. Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina all made it to the Elite Eight, with the Gamecocks advancing to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
“Obviously Collin Sexton not being eligible right now and maybe not being eligible for the year is going to negatively affect Alabama,” Bilas said in an ESPN conference call. “And they won’t be — you’re not going to be as good without a player of that caliber as you would be with him. But it’s still — the league is still really, really strong, and it’s strong through the middle now, where it used to be.
“I think the perception of the league was hurt because teams weren’t able to compete as successfully with Kentucky, so it seemed like Kentucky and then everybody else, and that definitely hurt the league. Obviously the way the league performed last year in postseason was really helpful to perception … you never know how a league is going to do in the tournament, but how they’re going to do throughout the course of the year. They will be just as good this year as they were last year if not better.”
Crean, who joined ESPN after being fired by Indiana last March, pointed out Georgia coach Mark Fox building around senior forward and conference preseason co-player of the year Yante Maten as an example of the league’s depth and talent.
“Yante Maten is a guy that we recruited at Indiana,” Crean said. “We knew there was something there. You knew he was a late bloomer. There were only a few schools on him, but you absolutely knew there was something there. Well, that team has gotten better and better. There’s better people around him. I think it’s a real tribute to the coaches in that league, the way they’ve built their teams, and the way they’ve been able to build some depth, and I think it’ll show up this year.”