College football may be dominated by the SEC, but college basketball doesn’t exactly have the same sort of success from the conference.
Outside of the almost-a-given Kentucky Wildcats performing at a high level, the Southeastern Conference has been in flux for the past two years. Texas A&M last year and Arkansas the year before have been godsends for the SEC because they’ve challenged Kentucky for the top spot and put more attention on teams that weren’t coached by John Calipari.
This season, there’s really no telling who that secondary team is going to be. After Kentucky, there isn’t one team that stands out because most are rebuilding to some extent.
The Aggies are hoping Tyler Davis can become the focal point to the team that will be without Danuel House, Alex Caruso, Jalen Jones and Anthony Collins. Georgia with J.J. Frazier and Arkansas with Moses Kingsley each have one player they can rely on, but beyond that their teams are a mystery. Avery Johnson has brought excitement back to Alabama basketball, but there’s still a process to get through before the Tide will be considered a threat in the SEC.
Which brings us to the Florida Gators, which, up until the last two years, has been the thorn in Kentucky’s side. Billy Donovan’s squads had the best opportunity to take attention away from Lexington. After that 18-0 regular season run through the SEC, the Gators have not been the same and Donovan has gone off to the NBA, leaving Florida is a state of uncertainty.
It’s no coincidence that the SEC has gone downhill in terms of strength since Florida has taken a step back. We’ve gotten to the point where the conference getting four teams in the NCAA Tournament field seems like two too many.
Actually, the SEC got three teams in last year and even that was too many (Vanderbilt got a play-in game, so they made it but they also didn’t). A conference with one of the nation’s most consistent and powerful teams year in and year out should have more of a leg to stand on than it currently does. Folks like to talk about how the Pac-12 failed in the NCAA Tournament, but at least they had a good enough regular season to get into the field. The same cannot be said for the SEC.
Strengths of a conference are perceived by the strengths of the teams at the top. Kentucky has been carrying the banner for the SEC for years and Florida helped take some of the weight prior to 2014. Since then, it’s been all Kentucky. They need some help. They need some Gators.
Mike White, entering his second year as Florida’s head coach, should be looking to take that next step. White has talent to propel the Gators into the top tier of the SEC with seniors Kasey Hill and Canyon Barry (grad transfer from the College of Charleston), junior Devin Robinson and sophomore KeVaughn Allen leading the way.
This quartet, along with Chris Chiozza and John Egbunu, need to exceed their modest expectations this season in order for the SEC to get back to being one of the better conferences. The ACC has the depth, the Big Ten has the tradition, the Big 12 has the consistency and the Pac-12 is growing. The SEC is in danger of being the bottom tier of power conference teams, falling below the Big East.
The SEC needs a good Florida team to regain some of its prestige. A good Gators squad makes the conference better. Without them, it’s entirely possible we see the SEC fall even deeper down the mediocrity rabbit hole.
For the sake of the SEC, the Gators need to get back to their winning ways.