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For SEC basketball, numbers show reality may not match perception

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UK and LSU split two hard-fought meetings this season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK and LSU split two hard-fought meetings this season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Having played LSU twice in the last month, John Calipari doesn't have any doubt about what kind of team the Tigers are.

He sees the athleticism. He sees the NBA-level talent. He knows about the Tigers' overall record, but the eye test tells him something different.

The same goes for much of the rest of the Southeastern Conference.

"LSU is a really good team," Calipari said after UK's last-second win over the Tigers on Saturday. "It's like I've said about Tennessee and LSU and other teams in our league -- Missouri: It amazes me when people beat each other in other leagues it shows how strong their league is. When we beat each other in our league, then the league is not very good. What?"

With two weeks left in the regular season, only Florida and Kentucky are solidly on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble among SEC schools according to most experts, only fueling the national perception that the league is a notch below its power conference brethren.

According to both the RPI and kenpom.com, the SEC is sixth among the seven so-called power conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, Big East, ACC and American Athletic Conference), leading only the American. There's no clouding those facts, but a deeper look at the numbers shows there may be merit to Calipari's words.

SEC in the top 100


Let's start with a look at the RPI, where nine of the SEC's 14 teams are ranked in the top 100 -- led by No. 3 Florida and No. 10 UK. Only one conference has more:

1.    Pac 12 - 10
2.    SEC - 9
2.    ACC - 9
2.     Big Ten - 9
5.    Big 12 - 8
6.    Big East - 7
7.    American - 5

The numbers are similar in kenpom.com's top 100:

1.    ACC - 11
2.    Big Ten - 10
3.    SEC - 9
3.     Big 12 - 9
3.     Pac 12 - 9
6.    Big East - 8
7.    American - 5

The same goes for ESPN's Basketball Power Index:

1.    ACC - 11
1.    Big Ten - 11
3.     SEC - 10
4.     Pac 12 - 9
4.     Big 12 - 9
6.     Big East - 8
7.     American - 5

Conference vs. conference

In nonconference play, SEC schools took down a total of six ranked opponents, including Kentucky's win over rival Louisville. What that total doesn't include is perhaps the SEC's most impressive win. On Dec. 30, Tennessee dominated Virginia, 87-52. Since then, the Cavaliers have lost just once in 15 games en route to a No. 13 ranking in the Coaches Poll and first place in the ACC.

On the strength of that victory, the SEC sports a 9-5 record against ACC teams. Here's how the league has fared against every power conference.

ACC: 9-5
American: 5-5
Big East: 3-4
B1G: 3-5
Big 12: 4-9
Pac 12: 1-4

A total record of 25-32 (.439 winning percentage) isn't exactly what SEC teams would hope for, but it also doesn't reveal a league completely outclassed by its competitors.

Tough road, close games

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times: UK always gets its opponents best shot when the Wildcats hit the road in SEC play. Even though other league schools might not have to cope with white outs and t-shirt nights as often as UK does, away games in the SEC are never easy.

The records prove it.

In conference play alone, home teams have a record of 69-29 (.704 winning percentage), best of any league in Division I. Including nonconference games, SEC home teams boast a winning percentage of .797, which trails only the Pac 12 (.814) among power conferences.

Offering further proof of the competitiveness of the SEC, 23.5 percent of conference games have been decided by three points or less or in overtime, according to kenpom.com. That also leads all power conferences.

Could the SEC be having a better season? Yes.

Have some teams underachieved? Probably.

Should the SEC be dismissed as a mere also ran? Definitely not.

After all, there's a reason SEC teams have won six of the last 20 national championships and three of the last eight.

National championships since 1994 (based on current conference alignment)
1.     SEC - 6
1.    ACC - 6
3.     American - 4
4.     Pac 12 - 2
5.     B1G - 1
6.     Big 12 - 1
7.     Big East - 0

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2 Comments

Personally, I think because the SEC is so dominant in football it is human nature for the rest of the country to want the conference to be second rate when it comes to other sports. They need to have something to hang their hat on.

I'm hoping that neither Florida or Kentucky wins the conference tournament. That's about the only way the SEC will get another team in the NCAA tournament and I believe there are several SEC teams capable of going a long way into the NCAA tournament.

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  • Jack Callaway: I'm hoping that neither Florida or Kentucky wins the conference tournament. That's about the only way the SEC will get read more
  • Linda Taylor: Personally, I think because the SEC is so dominant in football it is human nature for the rest of the read more