David Cloninger

April 29, 2014

SEC basketball still working to restore its national shine

Barring any last-minute changes, the SEC coaching carousel has stopped spinning. Will Commissioner Mike Slive finally see dividends from his improvement plan, and have the SEC emerge as a hoops power?

David Cloninger

All things Gamecocks, especially basketball and football

“Spin, spin.”
------------- PEARL JAM

Barring any last-minute changes (leaving for Tulsa?), the SEC coaching carousel has stopped spinning.

Native son Kim Anderson was hired at Missouri on Tuesday, filling the last of the league’s three vacancies and giving the Tigers their fourth coach since 1999. He joins Bruce Pearl (back for his second tour of SEC duty at Auburn) and Donnie Tyndall (Tennessee’s latest mid-major reclamation) as the rookie class.

With that and the usual comings and goings among players (the country’s transfer list grows faster than kudzu), one can kinda-sorta see how the league will look next year. Will Commissioner Mike Slive finally see dividends from his improvement plan, and have the SEC emerge as a hoops power?

Signs point to no.

Nine of the 10 members of the AP’s All-SEC team are gone. Of the three teams that made the NCAA tournament this year, Florida lost its senior class and Tennessee lost its best players, plus every one of the recruits that former coach Cuonzo Martin had signed.

Kentucky’s going to be good (SPOILER ALERT) and remains the league’s best chance to win a national title. Honestly, if John Calipari can’t win a championship with the team he has, he ought to donate at least half of his $5 million-plus salary to the Christian Laettner Relief Fund.

The rest? Hard to tell.

Georgia finished tied for second in the league and brings back Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, but that same Georgia team went 12-6 in the SEC and still didn’t make the NCAAs. LSU returns Jordan Mickey but lost Johnny O’Bryant.

Arkansas lost a big senior class and Mike Anderson has yet to make the NCAAs, while Missouri is trying to rebuild minus its top three scorers with a guy who has never been a Division I head coach and has just become the oldest big whistle in the league.

When all three of the league’s reps made the Sweet 16, and two made the Final Four, many took to their soapboxes to proclaim the SEC wasn’t as bad as the national media made it look this year. What they didn’t say was that LSU, Arkansas and Missouri fell far short of expectations and Tennessee and Kentucky should have been playing like they did in March all season, which is what re-triggered the entire “Kentucky and the Pips” moniker in the first place.

The league has been fighting a PR battle in the national eye for years, even with a national championship in 2012. Only once since 2009 has the SEC gotten more than four teams in the NCAA tournament, which has rubbed a lot of the shine off the stretch from 1999-08, when the SEC only had two seasons without six in the Dance.

Looking to this year, Kentucky is already predicted to win the league and the other 13 teams are mysterious. Florida will be good, landing transfers Alex Murphy and Jon Horford, but will it be as dominant as it has been?

Can Pearl work his magic at a hoops Sahara where he doesn’t walk into a situation that had talent, but no coaching, like he did at Tennessee?

Will Anthony Grant, one of the game’s brightest minds, pay the price for again scheduling an extremely aggressive non-conference slate despite going 13-18 last season?

Will TV personalities be as effervescent about SEC hoops with no Marshall Henderson around?

See you in October. And maybe again in late March.


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