The State of the SEC NationPosted by EMoyer on January 24th, 2012
Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address, and since the President is known for possessing a solid left-handed jumper, we found today as good a day as any to assess the positions of the 12 SEC basketball programs. Paraphrasing roughly every president ever: “I come to you tonight to report the state of our union is strong” (wait for prolonged applause). Now when speaking of the SEC as a whole, it would still hold true, as the league against boasts the #1 team in country, Kentucky, and has five teams solidly in the NCAA Tournament field as this moment. For some teams however, calling the state of their program “strong” would be in insult to their fan bases. For Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Florida, the three schools picked to finish atop the standings, each move into the final six weeks of the regular season looking to hold on or improve upon their NCAA statuses.
In Kentucky, the lone blemish remains that buzzer-beating loss at Indiana. While the Hoosiers have dropped out of the Top 10 of late, no one can complain about year three of the Calipari era. Anthony Davis has become the most menacing defensive inside presence in the league since perhaps Shaquille O’Neal as the Cats eye a #1 seed in March.
Both the Gators and Commodores have two cracks at the Wildcats coming up. At Florida, the Gators missed scoring big non-conference wins at Ohio State and Syracuse then suffered questionable losses to Rutgers and Tennessee and the combined record of their first four SEC opponents is a meager 38-36. Road games at Ole Miss, Alabama, and Arkansas could shape their NCAA future.
Vanderbilt scheduled the toughest non-conference schedule in the conference and, after starting out 6-4, rattled off eight straight victories including road wins at Marquette and Alabama. The Commodores also owns wins at NC State and Davidson, two more top-60 teams. If they could just figure out overtime (a 12-point loss to Xavier, two-point loss to Louisville, and one-point loss to Mississippi State), their NCAA standing will only increase.
For four schools, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Alabama, no one can question their strength defending the homeland as the four are a combined 41-4 at home. However, all four are weak on foreign soil (possessing a 7-14 road record). Projections as of today tend to put the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide into the field of 68, but all four could stand to improve their resumes come Selection Sunday.
The league’s two Tigers (at least until Missouri joins in July), LSU and Auburn, sport matching 12-7 records. Not too shabby for teams picked ninth and 10th respectively in the preseason polls. Resume-wise, the Tigers from Baton Rouge own the only quality non-conference victory (an eight-point home win against Marquette) and both must overcome some questionable non-conference losses to really be considered NCAA-worthy.
For Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, each head coach — Mark Fox, Darrin Horn and Cuonzo Martin — is in his first four-year term. For Horn, however, he is in year four in Columbia and could be facing a tough re-election if he can’t reverse the declining trend in victories his teams have won every year he’s been the head coach. They won 21 in 2008-09, 15 in 2009-10, 14 a year ago and sit at 8-10 currently.