Assessing a Disastrous Opening Night for the SEC

Posted by David Changas on November 15th, 2014

We hear the term “SEC Bias” thrown around a lot in the context of college football, and with good reason — the league has won seven of the sport’s last eight national championships, and dominates the headlines on a weekly basis. Based upon how the conference fared on opening night of the 2014-15 college basketball season, however, there is no reason to worry that concept will bleed over into the world of hoops anytime soon. As Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports points out, the league lost more non-conference games in basketball Friday than it has lost non-conference football games through the first 11 weeks of the season. We set out to examine what happened.

VCU 85, Tennessee 69

Tennessee Fought Hard But Never Put Together a Run Against VCU (USA Today)

Tennessee Fought Hard But Never Put Together a Run Against VCU (USA Today)

This was the least surprising of Friday’s results. The Volunteers have eight new scholarship players and were facing a top-15 Rams squad in Annapolis at the Veterans Classic. While Donnie Tyndall‘s team showed heart by not throwing in the towel after falling behind by 18 at the half, it was apparent that this team has not been playing together for long. Although Tennessee appears to have some athletes, and got an encouraging 17 points from freshman find Detrick Mostella, the Volunteers were outrebounded and a woeful 4-for-17 from three-point range. They also turned the ball over 19 times, and clearly have a long way to go on the offensive end. Their lack of a true point guard – Josh Richardson, who is a natural wing, handled those duties before fouling out late – will be a problem for Tyndall’s squad all season, and the Volunteers will have trouble putting points on the board as a result.

Georgia Tech 80, Georgia 73

This one really hurts the league. The Bulldogs, picked by most everyone to finish near the top of the SEC, were one of very few teams to open with a true road game against a high-major opponent. This was a chance for Mark Fox‘s team to make an early statement against an intrastate rival that doesn’t appear to have a great year ahead. That obviously didn’t happen, and it never really had a chance to either, as the Yellow Jackets held a steady lead throughout. Georgia Tech held preseason first-team all-SEC selection Charles Mann to nine points while Maryland transfer Charles Mitchell torched the Bulldogs with 20 points and nine rebounds. While there is plenty of season left, this one particularly stings because Georgia could  not overcome its dreadful pre-conference performance last year despite finishing third in the league. Their remaining non-conference schedule does not present many more opportunities for quality wins, and they very well may look back with regret on this singular result on Selection Sunday.

Georgia's Mark Fox has to be disappointed by his team's performance. (The Athens Banner-Herald)

Georgia’s Mark Fox has to be disappointed by his team’s opening night performance. (The Athens Banner-Herald)

UMKC 69, Missouri 61

You could almost see this one coming, even though Missouri was a 14-point favorite heading into the contest. New coach Kim Anderson took over a roster that had lost three players who combined to average over 50 points per game last season. As a consequence, the Tigers were woeful on the offensive end Friday night, hitting only 5-of-23 three-point attempts and 8-of-16 from the free throw line. They allowed Kangaroos’ guard Martez Harrison to score 26 points, and were not able to overcome two 10-2 UMKC runs in the first half. Unfortunately, with such an inexperienced team, this may be a sign of things to come for Missouri, as things will only get more difficult in coming weeks. In addition to what should be a challenge on Sunday against Valparaiso, they will take on Arizona to start the Maui Invitational in nine days, and then face December games against Oklahoma, Xavier, arch-rival Illinois and Oklahoma State. It looks like Anderson’s first season coaching his alma mater could turn out to be a long one.

Charleston Southern 66, Ole Miss 65

There are bad losses, and then there are bad losses. The Rebels were down 12 at home to their Big South foe at the half, but they had clawed all the way back in the second before Stefan Moody tied the game at 57 on a layup with 16 seconds left to force overtime. In the extra period, Ole Miss led by one when Martavious Newby decided to turn the ball over with eight seconds remaining. You saw what happened next. Not only was losing this game tough for head coach Andy Kennedy to swallow, the way it happened was gut-wrenching. The Rebels did a good job forcing a tough shot for the win, but Moody’s failure to get a box out on Charleston Southern’s Cedrick Bowen might come back to haunt the Rebels, which plays a relatively weak non-conference schedule. As with Georgia, the Rebels might not be able to overcome this loss by March.

What Does It Mean?

Some might caution fans from overreacting to one night of subpar results, but for a conference that has struggled so much over the past several years, and is regarded nationally as little more than an afterthought (other than Kentucky and Florida, of course), Friday’s results were not at all what the SEC needed. The ACC, for example, went 14-0. Certainly there will be chances for these schools to earn big wins in the coming months, but the complete failure of the league on the first night of the season is likely a distressing sign of things to come. Even if the conference collectively rights the ship and takes care of business against the rest of its opponents in the coming weeks, the perception already created by opening-night failures leaves a scar in the minds of fans and with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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