There is no way around it: SEC basketball is having a down year.
The league is having such a bad year that Eric Prisbell of USA Today wrote an article this week asking whether or not the SEC could be a one-bid league in the NCAA tournament.
From Kentucky’s freshman class to the lack of tournament-caliber teams, here are the 10 biggest disappointments in SEC basketball this year.
One of the more amazing stats in college basketball this year is Florida’s record in games decided by fewer than 10 points. The Gators are 0-3 in those contests.
That isn’t amazing because Florida is 0-3. It’s amazing because Florida has played just three close games this year.
Unfortunately, the Gators have not been able to close in those contests. Two of the games, Florida gave away. The Gators led by six with under a minute to go at Arizona in December and lost.
Tuesday, Florida led Missouri by 13 points midway through the second half before letting that game slip away.
There weren’t any expectations for the Bulldogs in their first season under Rick Ray. The Bulldogs were picked to finish dead last in the SEC, and they are tied at the bottom of the league standings at 2-10, having lost 10 straight.
Mississippi State is dealing with limited numbers, and that has not been helped due to a few suspensions for violations of team rules. Ray will need time to build back up a program that has won at least 20 games nine of the last 11 years.
After a coach’s fourth year, he has had ample time to put his mark on the program. In Mark Fox’s fourth year at Georgia, the Bulldogs are heading toward their third losing season during his tenure. Georgia was picked to finish in the middle of the pack of the SEC before the season began, and that’s where it will finish.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is one of the best players in the league. He is averaging 17.7 points per game, but no one else is averaging more than eight. If Caldwell-Pope enters this year’s draft, Georgia won’t have much reason for optimism next year.
Vanderbilt is on its way to just the second losing season since Kevin Stallings became head coach back in 1999. Obviously, some sort of drop-off was expected with the loss of Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli.
The good news is that this is a young team without a senior contributor. Stallings will have time to develop this core group of young players.
Missouri finished the nonconference portion of its schedule 11-2, with the losses coming to Louisville on a neutral court and in overtime at UCLA. Through their first 13 games in SEC play, the Tigers are just 8-5.
The knee injury that cost Laurence Bowers to miss five games certainly played a role in Missouri’s struggles, but they are better than 8-5 in a down SEC.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Bowers is starting to round back into form with 17 points against Florida Tuesday night, and they have won three of their last four.
Frank Martin understood the job he was undertaking when he came to South Carolina last offseason. The Gamecocks have been to the NCAA tournament just once since 1998, and they have a long way to go to become a player in the SEC.
Now, Martin’s first year will probably be best remembered for his press conference following South Carolina’s 64-46 home loss to LSU, where he compared the majority of his players to zombies.
The Gamecocks have lost six in a row and eight of their last nine. This season is only getting longer for Martin.
Arkansas is 15-1 at home with wins over likely tournament teams in Florida, Oklahoma and Missouri. On the road and on neutral courts, the Razorbacks are a putrid 1-8. With any sort of success away from Fayetteville, Arkansas would be a contender for an at-large bid.
Mike Anderson’s group isn’t simply losing on the road, it is getting beaten badly. Arkansas has lost by double digits to South Carolina (75-54), Vanderbilt (67-49) and Texas A&M (69-51). All three of those teams are in the bottom half of the league standings.
Alabama is just one game back of Florida in the loss column of the SEC standings, but it’s a safe bet there are few people around the country who know that. The Crimson Tide have taken advantage of a soft schedule, with just one win over a team in the top five of the league.
This was supposed to be a competitive race between three teams that could make serious noise come March. Florida has held up its end of the bargain, but Kentucky was not able to reload after last year while Missouri hit a lull midseason.
Florida hasn’t run away with the SEC title, but there is little intrigue the Gators can be caught.
The SEC could very well end up with just two NCAA tournament teams. Florida is playing for seeding while Missouri should be safely in. Outside of that, there aren’t any guarantees.
Kentucky is reeling after losing Nerlens Noel, dropping its first game without Noel by more than 30 points at Tennessee. Ole Miss has lost four of its last six and has zero room for error on a remaining schedule that features the league’s worst. Alabama has just one win against the RPI top 50, according to CBSSports.com, and that was at home against Kentucky.
That is incredibly disappointing for a league that added Missouri and Texas A&M, two basketball programs with recent histories of success.
Kentucky’s freshman class had a tall order once it set foot on campus in Lexington. These freshmen were going to constantly be compared to the class before it, the one that went 38-2 and won a national title. Those expectations were never going to be met.
However, no one thought Kentucky would miss out on the NCAA tournament, a very real possibility with a month left in the season.
Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have not played well, and Nerlens Noel, the one freshman who did meet expectations, is out for the year with a torn ACL.