The SEC is a football conference. Or could that be rapidly changing?
Thanks to the emergence of talented recruiting classes and smart coaching decisions the SEC is quickly climbing the conference ranks when it comes to college basketball. This is thanks to two schools in particular. LSU and Texas A&M.
Everyone knows about Kentucky and Florida when it comes to SEC basketball, especially the Wildcats. Therefore, there is no reason to discuss their recruiting classes and rise – or fall in Florida’s case.
Sure, LSU isn’t necessarily meeting expectations so far in the 2014-15 season, but the Tigers are still trending toward a NCAA Tournament bid. They also made a big statement on national TV in a loss to No. 1 Kentucky.
The resurgence of LSU, which has seen players like Shaquille O’Neal, Tyus Thomas and Glen Davis come through Baton Rouge, can be credited to head coach Johnny Jones’ recruiting tactics. He’s honed in on going after big name players and is starting to collect. Two years ago it was Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, the current centerpieces of this year’s team. Martin is a hometown kid who was a McDonald’s All-American while Mickey was a four-star recruit.
Coming into next season Jones and the Tigers already have commitments from two five-star recruits, including arguably the best player in the class in Ben Simmons. Joining Simmons at Baton Rouge is Antonio Blakeney, who is another five-star recruit who originally committed to Louisville. Both players are expected to be instant starters and impact players for LSU in the 2015-16 season.
Now, imagine if Mickey and Martin decide to return for their junior years. Instantly LSU becomes a top-10 team in the preseason and could easily challenge Kentucky for the SEC title. When looking at the Tigers’ roster it’s even more believable. There are two seniors on the team, Antonio Robinson and John Odo, who don’t play more than seven minutes a game.
Without getting another recruit LSU is instantly eight deep, with six of the players having plenty of experience. More importantly the balance of scoring will be easier for LSU to navigate because teams can’t just focus on Martin and Mickey.
While LSU is somewhat underachieving this season, head slightly west and see Texas A&M overachieving. The Aggies are currently 16-7 overall and 7-4 in the SEC while seemingly working their way to the NCAA Tournament. Did you know Texas A&M currently has the third best recruiting class for next season?
That is thanks to Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy’s decision to hire Rick Stansbury as an assistant coach. Stansbury has helped drive a recruiting effort to keep home grown talent at home. So far, it’s paid off with four different four-star recruits staying in Texas to play for the Aggies. Much like LSU, this is a young team with just two seniors, but they are both in the rotation this season.
There’s still plenty of time for the recruiting rankings to be adjusted, but a quick look at 247 Sports rankings sees five SEC teams ranked in the top 15. Joining Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Texas A&M is Auburn, which is trying to make a resurgence with Bruce Pearl at the helm.
Another reason for the emergence of talent deciding to go to SEC schools is because of the football culture. As ESPN studio member Seth Greenberg mentioned during halftime of the LSU vs. Kentucky game, these schools know that on Saturday nights in the fall there will be 100,000 fans in a stadium, which can be used as a recruiting tool.
In a couple of years, maybe the football programs might want to take recruits to basketball games.