Just look at the basketball talent that has come out of the Southeastern Conference.
There’s Al Horford and Joe Johnson, both with the Atlanta Hawks from Florida and Arkansas, respectively. Auburn’s Marquis Daniels and LSU’s Brandon Bass play for the Boston Celtics. Arkansas’ Ronnie Brewer, Florida’s Joakim Noah and Tennessee’s C.J. Watson are with the Bulls. Alabama’s Mo Williams is with the Los Angeles Clippers. LSU’s Glen Davis plays for the Orlando Magic.
And that’s just to name a few.
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Then there is the All-Star list of NBA alumni: guys such as Robert Horry, Shaquille O’Neal, The Round Mound of Rebound himself, Charles Barkley, and the greatest college basketball player of all time, “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
So, with a history of great talent and a plethora of teams that advance through the first couple of rounds of the NCAA tournament every year, why does SEC basketball get so little attention and respect? Why is the Atlantic Coast Conference full of rabid fans who pack arenas every night and light up message boards while the SEC gets a lot of polite golf claps and “oh that’s nice” platitudes?
The answer is simple and two-fold.
First, it’s one word: football.
When you have six consecutive BCS championships and are on track for a potential seventh, basketball is going to take a backseat, no matter how good a team you put on the hardwood. Part of it is timing. The first tipoff is mid-October, right at the height of football season when every Saturday promises a handful of crucial conference games. Then there’s Christmas and Bowl Season, and the elongated BCS games. By the time SEC fans get around to paying attention to their basketball teams, the season is more than half over.
Plus, humans have only so much enthusiasm in them. After four months of pompoms and face paint for the football team, many fans are emotionally spent. Even supporters from schools such as Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, where the basketball team has a better winning percentage than the football program, have only so much to give. By February, it’s hard to ramp up a lot of full-throated vigor for basketball.
The second part of the answer is even more obvious: Kentucky.
Of all the NBA players listed above, Kentucky alumni were left off the list intentionally because of the gap Big Blue has over the rest of the pack.
Kentucky has produced Rajon Rondo (Celtics), Jodie Meeks (76ers), John Wall (Wizards), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Patrick Patterson (Rockets), Eric Bledsoe (Clippers), Daniel Orton (Magic), Brandon Knight (Pistons), Josh Harrellson (Knicks) and DeAndre Liggins (Magic): And that’s just guys on active rosters. The alumni push the Wildcats list into triple digits.
When you play against the most successful college basketball program in history and the No. 1-ranked team in the country, it’s difficult to ramp up a lot of energy for basketball before the conference and NCAA tournaments. Even then, there is almost a sense of resignation among everyone not from Kentucky.
The coaches don’t think that way. Billy Donovan, Mark Fox, Rick Stansbury, Kevin Stallings and the rest will tell you how competitive the conference is and how they love the support they get from their fans. But compared to the scenes at North Carolina, Duke, Pittsburgh, and UConn, SEC basketball has all the zeal of a cricket match.
It’s a shame. They play very good basketball in football country. It might even be better if more people noticed.