The line for years was, “If you display symptoms of SEC basketball fever, immediately consult a physician.”
This season could give the country a fever it doesn’t want to lose.
The SEC, which has an unofficial beginning to basketball season at the SEC Tipoff in Charlotte on Wednesday, has raised its profile with four new coaches and a slew of highly ranked prospects (which signed with schools other than Kentucky). Coming off a year where the NCAA tournament featured the most SEC teams (five) in five years, the league is poised to place its “Kentucky and the Pips” nickname in the back seat.
“I think we’re in the right direction, we’ve made some progress,” SEC basketball consultant Greg Shaheen told The (Macon, Ga.) Telegraph in the spring. “But this is a long trip.”
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It’s been some time since the SEC sustained a national reputation for big-time college basketball. Outside of the Wildcats, the league has had Florida in multiple Final Fours, LSU and Arkansas making one occasionally and the rest a few good seasons.
But Bruce Pearl coming back into the league last year prompted headlines, and Georgia and Ole Miss joined LSU, Arkansas and Kentucky in the NCAAs. This year, three of the country’s Top 10 recruits signed with the SEC (Skal Labissiere with Kentucky, Ben Simmons with LSU and Malik Newman with Mississippi State), two teams hired former Final Four coaches and two others got one of the country’s best young minds and an NBA veteran.
“The SEC finally gets serious about basketball,” longtime SEC scribe Ron Higgins wrote after the coaching carousel spun Rick Barnes, Ben Howland, Avery Johnson and Michael White into the league.
It’s time to take that final step. League regulations have stipulated that each SEC team schedule aggressively in the non-conference slate, the Big 12/SEC Challenge will be showcased in January and it was only two years ago the SEC had half of the Final Four.
SEC Tipoff will also feature the league’s women’s teams, which are in a scaled-down version of the men’s event but will take place at SEC Network headquarters. South Carolina and Tennessee should be preseason Top-10 teams while Kentucky, Texas A&M and Mississippi State could be in the Top 25.
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