Is SEC Hype a Double-Edged Sword?
If you're not a fan of the Southeastern Conference, than chances are you've become nauseated by all the love it gets in college football. Everyone knows about their streak of national championships (never mind that a few of those belong to coaches that are now out of the league). As selections were made last night for NCAA men's basketball tournament though, the fourteen-team conference saw just three teams selected. If not for a run by Ole Miss in the SEC tournament, that list might have been trimmed to two. One of those two is newcomer (and relative football lightweight) Missouri. So does its football prowess spell doom in hoops for the SEC?
The RPI Doesn't Lie
It's no secret that the NCAA selection committee relies on the RPI to choose at-large teams for the tournament. The RPI looks at your win-loss record, your opponents' win-loss records, and your opponents' opponents' records. Florida ranked 8th, Missouri was 35th, and Ole Miss 48th. Usually, at-large teams need a top fifty RPI ranking. So Kentucky at 57th, Tennessee at 59th, and Alabama at 60th all missed the cut. That trio of outsiders all had winning records in the SEC and at least 20 wins overall. But the weakness of their schedule (which is a reflection of their conference), sank these teams. By contrast, the Big Ten sent schools like Minnesota and Illinois to the tournament despite losing conference records for both schools. Both teams had RPI rankings in the top 40.
No doubt, the football reputation of the SEC has benefitted member schools in terms of their recruiting and postseason opportunities. But might that also cause top basketball prospects to reject what are essentially "football schools"? Or top coaches? Might the selection committee have given at least one of the bubble teams a longer look if the conference had a better basketball brand? Villanova snuck into the tournament with just 19 wins overall from the hoops-crazy Big East. That pushed them ahead of a team with a much higher RPI in Southern Miss that plays in Conference USA. With football driving so much in college athletics, it might also be driving the SEC out of the conversation in basketball.
Not Their Year
Maybe 2013 is just a blip on the radar. After all, Kentucky won the whole thing a year ago when four SEC teams made it (and the league still had just twelve teams). Missouri also got in last year. Still, it will be something to watch in the years to come. SEC's success in football just might undermine their prospects in March.