The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

October 16, 2013

SEC trying to rebound from poor NCAA showing

(Continued)

Missouri coach Frank Haith said last year was a transition in the league with his program and Texas A&M joining and youngsters sprinkled throughout.

He predicts at least five teams to make the NCAA tournament this season.

"We had a lot of teams like Vanderbilt that lost a lot of players to the league," Haith said. "It wasn't just Kentucky. It was a young league."

Youth isn't always bad — particularly for Kentucky.

Calipari brought in eight freshmen, including preseason SEC player of the year Julius Randle. A repeat one-and-done trip to the NIT appears less likely than an NCAA run.

The SEC is more known for football programs that have collected seven straight national titles. Haith thinks calling it a football league would be wrong.

"I think a lot of times because football's so doggoned good, it takes away from how good our basketball is in this league," he said. "Traditionally you go back this last decade, we've won a couple of national championships in this league. I think there's really good tradition in this league basketball-wise."

Avoiding a repeat of that embarrassing performance was a priority for the SEC in the offseason. Schools had to run their nonconference schedules by the league offices to make sure they passed muster.

SEC teams lost to the likes of Mercer, Tulane, Wintrhop, Youngstown State, Alabama A&M, Elon, Southern and Marist.

The season ended with six SEC teams ranked 100th or lower in the Ratings Percentage Index, and Arkansas 99th. That left Texas A&M (105), Vanderbilt (111), Georgia (143), South Carolina (228), Mississippi State (230) and Auburn (250) trying to return to respectability.

Stallings said bad teams will be bad no matter how strong their nonconference schedule is, but that coaches needed to remember that a weak strength of schedule can impact the rest of the league's power ratings.

"I think that Commissioner (Mike) Slive, and rightfully so, is demanding that we be a little bit more aware of that," Stallings said.

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