The College Basketball Season finally ended as the Virginia Cavaliers defeated Texas Tech on Monday by a score of 85-77. So how did each SEC team fair overall this season? Below are my final grades and analysis for every squad in the conference for 2018-19. Teams are in order based on their final ranking in conference play.
Record: 28-7, Sweet Sixteen Finish
Final Grade: B+
The Tigers are a very hard team to grade. Do you concentrate on their surprising on-the-court success? Or, do you take into consideration all of the problems off-court with potential recruiting violations involving Head Coach Will Wade and freshman Javonte Smart?
Personally, I am choosing to look more at the on-court product until more information comes out on the current scandal in Baton Rouge. Is it possible that they achieved almost 30 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance unfairly? Yes.
However, winning the SEC Regular Season Title is very, very impressive given their preseason ranking which placed them as a middle-of-the-road conference team. Wade did a great job with his team this year. Despite a tumultuous past two months, this was a very memorable season for LSU.
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) March 23, 2019
Record: 31-6, Sweet Sixteen Finish
Final Grade: B+
The Volunteers were one of the best teams in the entire nation for the vast majority of this season. However, I think everyone can agree that the ending to their terrific year was very disappointing.
Not only did they get absolutely embarrassed in the SEC title game by a head coach formerly employed by Tennessee (Bruce Pearl), but the Volunteers also failed to make the Elite Eight as they ran into a red-hot Purdue squad in the NCAA tournament.
This was without question the best Volunteer team in school history. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield wreak havoc all season long. The bad news is that Tennessee actually underachieved when it mattered most. No matter how good that regular season was, they will mostly be remembered for letting Purdue’s Ryan Cline put on one of the most memorable shooting performances in tournament history.
RYAN CLINE IS NOT HUMAN pic.twitter.com/bzemdSGLHJ
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 29, 2019
Record: 30-7, Elite Eight Finish
Final Grade: A-
The Wildcats actually had quite a different path than Tennessee. Like I previously mentioned, the Volunteers were ranked in the top ten for the vast majority of the year. Don’t forget that Kentucky started out 10-3 with losses to Seton Hall and Alabama. Things were so gloomy that even Quade Green decided to transfer.
Turning a 10-3 start into a 30-7 final record against incredibly tough competition is very impressive no matter how you try and spin it. Yes, the season still ended in a disappointment. Kentucky lost to an Auburn team they absolutely should have beaten. Reid Travis and PJ Washington deserved a better ending to their college careers.
Despite that very hurtful loss, every single team in the nation would take a 30-win season and an Elite Eight finish if they had the chance to do so. There was just one more piece missing in this year’s Kentucky team (looking at you Zion), but this was still a memorable season for Kentucky that many fans would not trade for.
An overtime loss to a red hot Auburn team in the Elite 8 doesn’t erase all the fun from the Bahamas, the wins over UNC and Louisville, how we got to know the guys off the court, and everything else. Loved every moment of it.
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) April 1, 2019
Record: 16-16, No Postseason
Final Grade: C-
What an utterly bizarre season it was for the Gamecocks. They managed to successfully finish fourth in conference play, yet they could not even break .500 on the season.
What kind of a grade do you give South Carolina who placed higher in its conference standings than a team that made the Final Four? Also. the Gamecocks did not even finish with a winning record for crying out loud.
No matter how you chose to spin this, I do think that Head Coach Frank Martin got the most out of his team this season. They played their best basketball in conference play and gave a lot of good teams fits. If nothing else, they were an impressive annoyance for a few tournament teams. That’s good enough to receive a passing grade.
Final Record: 30-10, Final Four Finish
Final Grade: A+
The Tigers won the SEC Tournament, won exactly 30 games, and made their first Final Four in school history. I could care less how many games they lost, or how underwhelming their regular season was. This was easily the best season in school history, and Auburn deserves their A+ grade.
What’s even more interesting is that if it had not been for a very controversial foul call (it was a foul) in the last seconds of the Final Four against eventual champion Virginia, the Tigers could have won the whole tournament.
Foul? I think it’s a foul from this angle. pic.twitter.com/sLFweNDpmx
— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) April 7, 2019
The Cavaliers were just a team of destiny this season. I realize that some of you may only consider an A+ be given to just the team that wins it all. However, the randomness of this tournament every year opens up for a few, special cases. The best Auburn team ever is unquestionably one of those cases.
Record 23-11, First Round Exit
Final Grade: B-
The Bulldogs got red-hot down the stretch in February as they won five games in a row heading into the month of March. Unfortunately for them, all of that positive momentum was stopped when they had to play Tennessee and Auburn a combined three times in a two-week span.
That isn’t exactly the kind of momentum changer you want before you play a 5/12 game against a hungry mid-major in the form of Liberty University. The Bulldogs fell in the first round to a team that shot 48% from the three-point line. If your opponent hits 12 three’s in one game, you probably aren’t walking out of that matchup a winner.
Either way, I was often impressed with the Bulldogs in the regular season. Coach Ben Howland is still trying to build a good program in Starkville. While they would have received a higher grade if they had at least made the second round, you get the feeling that maybe Howland has something nice going on down there.
Record 20-13, First Round Exit
Final Grade: B+
The Rebels were far and away the biggest surprise from the SEC this season. They were picked to finish last in the conference and they managed to comfortably make the NCAA Tournament!! That accomplishment within itself is worthy of an “A” grade on the season.
But how Ole Miss finished the season cannot be ignored. They lost five of their last six games including an embarrassing first round blowout to a below average Oklahoma team. No way can any team play like that in March an earn an A.
Despite a bad ending, Head Coach Kermit Davis has the Rebels already back on track in his first season. Winning 20 games and making the tournament is a massive success for a team that won only five conference games last season.
Kermit Davis’ new contract, as expected, includes a hefty pay raise. Rebels were 20-13 and an 8-seed in NCAA Tournament in Davis’ first year in Oxford. pic.twitter.com/0dddX1h32s
— Neal McCready (@NealMcCready) April 4, 2019
Record: 20-16, Second Round Exit
Final Grade: B
Florida’s season is mainly going to be defined by them actually making the tournament and beating a tough Nevada squad in the first round. Remember, if the Gators had not of beaten LSU in the SEC Tournament, then they would have missed the Tournament altogether.
Overall, this is a situation similar to Ole Miss. Florida successfully won 20 games and made the tournament. They were originally picked to finish fifth in the conference so its safe to say that they underwhelmed in the 2018-19 season.
Head Coach Mike White was often criticized the majority of the year. However, beating LSU and Nevada proved that this guy gets the most out of his players. The Gators did not have a large amount of talent this year, but they still managed to have a respectable season despite being underwhelming.
Record: 18-16, NIT Second Round
Final Grade: D+
No team in the SEC disappointed more this season than the Razorbacks did. At one point, Arkansas basically forget how to play basketball as they lost six straight games in a row over the span of three weeks.
I don’t care that they made the second round of the NIT at all. Failing to win 20 games and to make the tournament in a season when star Daniel Gafford went out of his way to return to school is a failure. Gafford would have been a lottery pick last season, but this year’s Razorback team was so disappointing that it actually hurt his draft stock in this year’s draft.
The burden falls completely on former Head Coach Mike Anderson who has now been replaced with Eric Musselman. Brighter days may be on the horizon, but wow did this season stink for the Razorbacks.
— Arkansas Razorbacks (@ArkRazorbacks) April 8, 2019
Record: 18-16, NIT First Round
Final Grade: C-
Welcome to the “wow this team had such a disappointing season that they had to fire their head coach” section of this column. The Crimson Tide barely had a winning season, and they failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
Out goes Head Coach Avery Johnson, and in comes new front man Nate Oaks from Buffalo. This may seem like a surprising move, but once you consider Alabama lost five of their last six games including a home loss to Norfolk State (!), this move makes a lot of sense.
Record: 14-18, No Postseason
Final Grade: D+
I thoroughly did not understand Texas A&M’s decision to fire former Head Coach Billy Kennedy. Everyone knew that the Aggies were going to be in a massive rebuilding year. Yet, after winning just 14 games the administration went ahead and fired Kennedy.
It makes a little more sense that they went out and got Virginia Teach Head Coach Buzz Williams who is quickly climbing up the ladder of best coaches in the sport. In summary, Texas A&M had the terrible season everyone assumed they would have, and they got a really good head coach out of it. Not too shabby, I guess.
Record: 15-17, No Postseason
Final Grade: D
The Tigers got dealt a really bad hand when star Jontay Porter tore his ACL and missed the entire season. This was a devastating injury that completely killed Missouri’s season. The fact that they won 15 games without him is actually sort of impressive.
Sadly, that’s all this year is going to be for the Tigers. Maybe brighter days are ahead, but the 2018-19 season will always be one massive “what if?”
Record: 11-21, No Postseason
Final Grade: F+
Tom Crean’s first year in Athens was pretty terrible to say the least. The Bulldogs only won two conference games, and at one point they had lost nine straight in SEC play.
However, there is very small room for optimism. Forward Nicolas Claxton caught the eye of many NBA scouts and he will be returning next season. Combine that with the future arrival of possibly the best recruit in the class of 2019 in Anthony Edwards and you have a nice outlook for the 2019-20 season. That’s all I got on this team because wow was Georgia terrible this year.
— Overtime (@overtime) March 26, 2019
My guy from GA Anthony Edwards a problem. pic.twitter.com/A41UQ0zeSB
— Evolve Basketball (@evolvebballapp) July 21, 2018
Record: 9-23, No Postseason
Final Grade: Complete and Total Failure
Zero. That’s the amount of SEC games the Commodores won this season. Did star Darius Garland’s season ending injury in the first few weeks of the season lead to this? Yes. But zero is still zero. Bryce Drew has now been fired, and there is nothing to remember from this abject disaster.
Vanderbilt deserves exactly zero more words written about them, so I’ll stop now.
That does it, folks. I’ve enjoyed covering the SEC throughout the season as the conference has made drastic strides in the sport. With a great crop of new head coaches coming in, I can only expect the conference to improve even more. The success of this year has put the rest of the college basketball world on notice: The SEC is back and better than ever.