Avert your eyes from the SEC West


Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 5:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:35 p.m.

The coaches bristle at the derogatory remarks. The spin doctors point to other conferences like the ACC and Pac-10. The players tell you that every night is a battle when you get into conference play.

Nobody in the SEC likes it when there is a conversation about the weakness of the conference in basketball.

Don't blame you. If you are in the East.

If you are in the West, you deserve to be blamed for everything from the economy to Jay Cutler's knee injury.

It has been pointed out by those who live in the world of RPI that the SEC West would rank below the Ivy League if the West was a conference by itself. What other conference can say it has losses to St. Peter's, Samford, Campbell, Presbyterian, Nicholls State, North Texas and East Tennessee State?

There are so many versions of RPI standings out there now that you don't know which ones to take seriously. But the majority of them have only Ole Miss in the top 100 of RPI (Ken Pomeroy mysteriously has Alabama at 48, but everywhere else I looked the Tide were in triple figures). Auburn is so far down the RPI chart you need a shovel to find the Tigers. If Auburn's RPI were a batting average, it would be seeking arbitration. And winning.

Has there ever been such a disparity between a football and a basketball team at a school? In the history of the world? Auburn just celebrated a football national title in front of 78,000 fans. It's basketball team needed 14 home games to draw that many people.

The only thing worth debating about Auburn's basketball team is whether it's the worst power conference team ever. Oregon State went 0-18 in Pac-10 play in 2007. It's RPI was about 40 points higher than Auburn's.

It was only five years ago that the SEC West had a team in the Final Four. In 2006, the West provided half of the six teams the conference sent to the NCAA Tournament. Since then the West has only sent four teams in four seasons and one of them — Mississippi State in 2009 — had to win the SEC Tournament to get in.

There's a real good chance that the West could be shut out this year unless a team wins the tournament in Atlanta. The RPIs are so bad and the biggest non-conference win may belong to Auburn (over Florida State), which has no chance.

"This is a cycle that's kind of been two, three, four years in the making — and it looks like it's going to stay this way," former Alabama coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried said recently.

Maybe not. Arkansas has a top-10 recruiting class coming in. Alabama and Mississippi State have top-25 classes ready to help out.

Recruiting has been the reason the West has spiraled downward so badly. Part of it is the turnover in coaches. Trent Johnson is in his third year at LSU. John Pelphrey is in his fourth year at Arkansas, Anthony Grant is in his second year at Alabama. Auburn has a first-year coach. In basketball, you start recruiting a kid just after he is potty-trained. You don't start when he's a senior. Unless you are Kentucky.

As a result, the talent gap between the East and West is gaping. How many sure-fire pros do you see in the West? I'm still looking.

There is also the issue of coaching. Perhaps it is because the West does have so many young coaches making a lot less than the coaches in the East, but if you started ranking the coaches in the SEC, how deep would you go before you got to a coach from the West?

Maybe the answer to this dilemma is simple. The SEC talked last June about dumping the divisions and seeding teams 1-12. The idea was tabled and not pushed very hard by the coaches.

But there are only three other Div. I conferences with divisions and none in the power conferences (the Mid-American, Southern and Sun Belt have divisions). Even the SEC women don't use divisions. Maybe it would be more difficult to take shots at the conference if it didn't group all of the bad teams into one target. Every conference has its bottom-feeders, but most don't lump them into one division.

The West may come back and just because it is down doesn't mean Mississippi State can't knock off Florida on Saturday.

For now, we just have to shield our eyes. It's not pretty to look at.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at http://Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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