published Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Is SEC logjam hurting league perception?

  • photo
    LSU head coach Johnny Jones calls a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Southeastern Conference began this week with half of its men's basketball teams owning 7-7 league records.

The sizable logjam has evoked mixed reactions from the league coaches, with LSU's Johnny Jones leading the optimistic viewpoint.

"I think it just speaks to how great our league is and how competitive it is from top to bottom," Jones said. "You look at what [nationally top-ranked] Florida has been able to do, but they've been in some tough, challenging games, and so has [second-place] Kentucky."

LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt all entered this week with 7-7 SEC records, and Vandy was the first to fall from that list -- with Tuesday night's loss to the No. 1 Gators. Commodores coach Kevin Stallings has never seen a bigger cluster of teams in his 15 years within the league, and he doesn't view it as a good thing.

Especially not in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee.

"I think the fact that we've all kind of beaten up on each other a little bit has hurt us in some regards nationally," Stallings said. "I think it's hurt the perception of our league a little bit nationally, but I'm very optimistic that the teams that do get into the tournament from our league will do very well."

The two most prominent NCAA tournament projections tend to support Stallings and his concern. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee in his mock bracket, with Cuonzo Martin's Volunteers being relegated to a play-in game, while CBS's Jerry Palm has just Florida, Kentucky and Missouri making the 68-team field.

Should the SEC send three teams, it would mark the third time in six years the league had such a small delegation. The SEC had at least five teams in the tournaments from 1997 through 2008.

"The SEC has nine teams in the top 100 of the RPI," Martin said. "You get criticized throughout the course of a season, but when you look at the numbers, the SEC is one of the top leagues in the country."

According to the RPI used by CBS, the SEC is currently the seventh-best league behind the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big East, Atlantic Coast and Atlantic-10.

"Obviously it's going to play itself out with records and RPIs and whatever the committee looks for in terms of making those selections," Florida coach Billy Donovan said, "but look at the way Georgia has played. Ole Miss is very, very good. Tennessee is outstanding. LSU is talented. Arkansas is playing well. Then there's Missouri.

"We have an opportunity to get a good number of teams in, but a lot of it is going to depend on how things shake out the final two weeks of the regular season and in the conference tournament."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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