ST. LOUIS — It’s summertime, and the Southeastern Conference would like you to sit back and relax while it serves you some sunny optimism.
Disregard that this was the 14-team league that placed fewer than four teams in the NCAA Tournament last season — just the second time that has happened since 1992.
Ignore the fact that only one of the three teams that made the cut (Florida), danced into a portion of the bracket with a snazzy name (Elite 8).
Wash away the residue from the “weak” label that got stuck to the SEC’s back as a result of the league barely beating out the Missouri Valley Conference when it came to the RPI.
And please, do your best to block out the dumpster fire — Kentucky’s two-point loss to Robert Morris in the first-round of the second-tier NIT — that capped off the season for the SEC’s pride and joy.
Forget the bad. It’s summer now. And the SEC says things will be different when basketball starts again.
“Last year was one of those not-typical years of SEC basketball,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said Monday morning on the SEC hoops summer teleconference.
“I think this is one of those years where the SEC is on an upswing,” Auburn’ coach Tony Barbee added.
Even the Kentucky kingpin himself is in on the spin.
“It’s going to be some exciting stuff,” John Calipari said.
Let’s roll with it, for now. It is summer, after all.
Here are a few reasons the SEC might really get its groove back this year …
Mike Slive got involved.
The SEC had an RPI problem last year, and everyone knows it.
The rating percentage index measures a team’s strength of schedule, and how a team does playing that schedule. The lower the number, the better chance a team has of making the Tournament.
By the end of the season, Florida was No. 8 in the RPI. Missouri came next at 36th. Five teams ranked 100 or worse, two of which camped out in the 200s.
As a result, SEC commissioner Mike Slive hired NCAA Tournament expert Greg Shaheen as a scheduling consultant, and told every SEC team it would be sending its non-conference schedule to the league office for approval.
“Not a huge fan, to be honest with you,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said of the change. “I understand the reason why, but scheduling is a little bit more difficult than the people who don’t do it think it is. To add more layers of approval and things like that is not necessarily what I would desire. But again, I understand the commissioner’s reason as to why he want’s to do it.”
Slive wants to do it to keep the league from scheduling so soft it hurts. If teams haven’t tested themselves by the time the conference season starts, their weak schedules mean RPI trouble for every SEC team.
“When I first heard about it, I wasn’t happy,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin, whose team was 227th in the RPI last season, said. “Like I told my boss, I like to do my own schedule. I’m not in kindergarten anymore. I think I can take care of my responsibilities. But, I also understand. Because we, South Carolina, were part of the problem with non-conference schedule. You have to schedule better.”
Everyone will now, whether they want to or not.
New talent has arrived.
Nine McDonalds’ All-Americans will suit up for the SEC this season. And no, not all of them will wear Kentucky blue.
Sure, the Wildcats landed the most (Dakari Johnson, James Young, Marcus Lee and twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison), but Florida snagged two (Kasey Hill and Chris Walker) while Arkansas (Bobby Portis) and LSU (Jarrell Martin) signed one each.
That’s a lot of potential for four teams, three of which didn’t make the Tournament last season.
“Anytime you are adding talent, there’s hope,” Calipari said. “Talent doesn’t guarantee you wins. But bad players guarantee you’re losing. It’s just how it is. If you tell me there’s a guy out there that says, ‘I want to coach them up.’ Well, you go coach them up, and let me go get talented guys.”
He got them. Some of his fellow SEC coaches did as well. As long as a few pan out, their instant impact should help the conference as a whole. The basement should be better.
The SEC’s worst teams could and should help league more than last season.
Mississippi State (10-22), South Carolina (14-18) and Auburn (9-23) won a combined 33 games last year — two fewer than than the national champion Louisville Cardinals.
Two of these coaches, Martin at South Carolina and Rick Ray at Mississippi State, were brand new back then. Year two should be better for both. How could it possibly be worse?
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org