The Southeastern Conference is known for many things around this country; tailgaiting, beautiful campuses, and gorgeous co-eds to name a few (oh yeah, football too). It may surprise some of you, but the SEC is traditionally a strong basketball conference as well. Tradition that includes 11 national titles, 30 Final Four appearances, and countless legends like Pete Maravich and Dominique Wilkins. However, this historic tradition doesn’t translate well into the current day as the SEC only finds themselves with two teams ranked in the AP top-25 (Florida & Missouri). Even worse, multiple teams like Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Georgia have fallen victim to lowly teams like Troy, Marist, and Youngstown State. Seeing this, one would be safe in assuming that the league is down as a whole, but just how far has it tumbled in recent years? To find out, I used Kenpom.com’s conference power ratings to see where the SEC stacks up (and has stacked up in the past) against other leagues around the country.
(Oh, what do you know? Schuette made another chart. To the comment section, quickly!)
The “rating” number you see above may just seem like another advanced metric that makes no sense, but it’s actually simple to understand. That decimal is simply a combination of offensive and defensive efficiency that predicts how a team would perform against average competition. A higher number equals a better team (and vice-versa). For example, 2010 Kentucky would have around a 95% chance of beating 2010 LSU at a neutral site. I’m fully aware that some of the “best teams” listed above didn’t win the conference, but since I’m listing actual strength it makes more sense to list teams like this.
The first observation that one should make is the rating of the SEC this year as compared to years past (conference ratings are done by averaging all individual team ratings). In terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, this year’s SEC is the weakest ever and by a significant margin too. Something else to consider; once conference play begins the rating will fall even further due to strength of schedule increasing. It may look poor now, but it will only get worse as the season progresses. This hurts Kentucky in a multitude of ways. First and foremost, conference play is supposed to be a time where tough road environments battle test a young team. While it’s still difficult for Kentucky to win on the road given the “everybody’s Superbowl” angle, it theoretically won’t be as difficult like previous years. The second reason why a down SEC hurts Kentucky are the RPI/strength of schedule numbers for NCAA Tournament seeding. Now, the SEC wasn’t exactly the Big Ten last year, but it provided plenty of tough opponents like Vanderbilt, Florida, and Tennessee to build a resume against. This year, Florida, and possibly Missouri, are the only teams in which that argument can be applied to.
No matter what the naysayers post on message boards or spew on talk radio, the SEC was a once great basketball league. Perhaps no better example of this recent greatness would be the 2003-2007 stretch where the SEC was rated 2nd best on 3 separate occasions and once took home the distinction of nation’s top conference. While I’m sure John Calipari and his team are just focusing on getting better, this decline is a shame for the fans who want to see the intense competition of yesteryear. Luckily for the ‘Cats, we’ve proven in the past seasons that the winner of the best conference isn’t always the best team (see 2012 Kentucky or 1990 UNLV). One, however, would be foolish to argue that a good strength of schedule won’t help you prepare for the tournament. It’s impossible to tell how a significantly down SEC will affect Kentucky, but from a resume/team building perspective, it isn’t ideal.
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