Why is SEC struggling?

Published: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 12:04 a.m.

Now that the SEC is knee-deep into league play, there is a tendency to forget about where the conference is in the national perception.

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Bruce Pearl and SEC coaches haven't helped the league earn national respect.

Jason Getz/Tuscaloosa News

It’s not good.

The numbers, also known as the RPI, only tell part of the story. The league ranks sixth — or last among BCS schools — in RPI and is holding off the Mountain West Conference. There were so many bad non-conference losses in the pre-conference schedule there is not enough room to list them here. And most of the SEC schools ducked out of playing anybody who will be a high seed in March.

There seems to be no doubt that the league is down. The coaches’ and writers’ polls reflect that. The question is why? Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley gives you his five reasons.

1. No deep impact

Where are the freshmen? I mean, I know there are freshmen playing in this league. Arkansas starts three of them. But where’s the impact? Only three of the top 30 scorers in the SEC are freshmen and none of the top 10. For a league that wasn’t real good a year ago, you’d expect some first-year players to come in and be the talk of the conference. Not happening. There are some solid freshmen but no great ones who can lift an average team into the top 20.

2. On the other hand

Where are the seniors? So many players have left early in this conference that the only seniors are either transfers or role players. OK, we’ll give you the streaky Alonzo Gee at Alabama. And college basketball is rarely a senior-dominated sport. But look at four teams who will be in the conversation about who will be in Detroit in April — Connecticut, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma. Among each team’s top five scorers there are a total of nine seniors.

3. This isn’t football

We have raved off and on about the level of coaching in the SEC in football. Not so much in basketball. Make a list of the 40 best college basketball coaches. Billy Donovan is a slam-dunk. Bruce Pearl. Kevin Stallings. Maybe Billy Gillispie. Maybe. Sorry, but that’s the list. Mark Gottfried at Alabama and Jeff Lebo of Auburn are on hot seats. Dennis Felton is gone at the end of the year. Jury is out on two new coaches.

4. Deja vu

Last year, coaches would tell you the reason there was a perception that the league was down was because the dominant teams of the new millennium — Florida and Kentucky — were struggling. This season, Kentucky lost to VMI and its reputation hasn’t recovered. Florida’s best win RPI-wise? Over No. 37 Washington. It’s second best is over No. 58 Arkansas. And with Tennessee failing to carry the league’s banner, there isn’t a team to get excited about.

5. Spin cycle

There’s no need to panic. These things tend to go in cycles in this league. Heck, in any league. Don’t forget that we’re less than two years removed from Florida winning its second straight national title and less than three years removed from a Final Four that had two SEC teams. During its back-to-back run, UF lost nine SEC games and none in the postseason. The league will be back.

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