Three Takeaways From Wednesday’s #SECTipoff16

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 22nd, 2015

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Billy Donovan is no longer roaming the sidelines for the Florida Gators. Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, and a handful of other Kentucky underclassmen are gone to the riches and fame of the NBA. There are new coaches with Final Four and NBA Finals resumes now leading programs in Knoxville, Starkville and Tuscaloosa. The SEC certainly looks a little different heading into the upcoming college basketball season, but overall that might be for the best. Participants in the SEC Media Day event in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday oozed hope that the SEC’s early season stumbles and late collapses of years past would better prepare the league for ascent into college basketball’s elite this season. After many years of hype, will this finally be the year that SEC basketball takes a big leap forward into the national landscape?

Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee at #SECTipoff16 (photo credit -

Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee with Sean Farnham at #SECTipoff16 (photo credit –

Here are three key takeaways from Wednesday’s #SECTipoff16:

1) The SEC is no longer Kentucky and everyone else.

Ben Howland has won at the highest levels of college basketball, taking three different schools to the NCAA Tournament. The new Mississippi State head coach has been successful in the Big Sky, Big East, and the Pac-12, but he spoke highly of the depth and quality of the teams in the SEC. “You have to bring it every night or you’re not going to win,” said the first-year Bulldogs coach.

Mississippi State is not the only SEC program with a major roster or coaching upgrade this year. LSU signed the top freshman in the country, Ben Simmons, who also happens to be only the second freshman ever named as the preseason SEC Player of the Year. Texas A&M brings in three top 35 recruits and four of the top 75 (per ESPN’s 2015 recruiting rankings). Seven-foot center Damian Jones decided not to enter the NBA Draft in June, opting instead to return to Nashville to lead a promising Vanderbilt roster. These personnel upgrades mean a number of teams look poised to challenge Kentucky this season at the top of the standings.

The quality of teams from top to bottom could turn out to be a league-wide strength this year. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl even said that the SEC possesses “14 strong programs.” Go ahead and insert your joke about the conference bottom-feeders here, but on paper the SEC looks to be significantly improved this season. Only time will tell whether that October supposition is March fact, but it appears that this may finally be the year where the SEC makes due on the long overdue promise of a rise to basketball prominence.

2) Coaches plan to take a wait-and-see approach on NCAA rule changes.

Freedom of movement — if we heard it once, we heard it a hundred times. The coaches and players know they will need to adjust to this season’s rule changes, but there is widespread concern about the consistency of how calls will be made, particularly regarding freedom of movement for offensive players. Howland, for example, revealed that his Bulldogs were called for 56 fouls in a scrimmage earlier in the week. He even joked that 6’11” sophomore Fallou Ndoye fouled out twice.

Pearl questioned the need to change college basketball. “I loved our game before. What was wrong with the Final Four? I thought the Final Four was incredible. What was wrong with our game in March? I thought our game in March was great.”

3) SEC football is always a hot topic.

SEC football is king in the South, and that demonstrated itself once again as pigskin was a hot topic during Media Day. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy wasn’t sure that fans “ever transition to basketball” in football-crazed Texas. But Kentucky coach John Calipari contended that programs look inward rather than making comparisons to the dynasty of SEC football. “Why would we compare ourselves to that? Lets just be the best that we can be.”

To most SEC coaches, the benefit of football is undeniable. Current Tennessee head coach (and former Texas head coach) Rick Barnes said matter of factly, “We all understand that football is important to every college and university.” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy agreed that basketball benefits from the overwhelming support in SEC country. “Personally, I am a believer in anything that strengthens the brand. Football wins. Good for the brand. Volleyball wins. Good for the brand. We get a Rhodes scholar. Good for the brand. Oxford gets a new hotel. Good for the brand.” In that sense, the SEC is in good shape. However, it is clear that SEC basketball is primed and ready for a bigger supporting role, perhaps as soon as this season.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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