What has happened to SEC basketball?

Published 2:04 am Sunday, October 23, 2016

It’s still October, yes, but a shaky Rebel defense in football has had me thinking about basketball, wondering if the SEC will ever get its game awakened after years of slumber.

The league used to be so enjoyable when personalities like Nolan Richardson, Wimp Sanderson, and Dale Brown prowled sidelines and players like Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Keith Carter delighted crowds with on-court play.

The good life in Oxford was made that much better by having captivating SEC basketball at our fingertips between football and baseball seasons. And even if the Rebels weren’t so good the enticing league play and personalities made up for it.

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LSU went to the Final Four. Arkansas won a national championship. Alabama and Georgia could not be kept out of the NCAA tournament.

Even Ole Miss had its moments, charging to the Sweet 16 and becoming a national storyline other seasons.

But recent years in the SEC have been mostly all Kentucky, a little bit of Florida and a whole lot of boring, when assessing it all from top to bottom.

Sure, Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss teams have put up some decent win numbers. Marshall Henderson flashed into Ole Miss’ life for two interesting seasons, and Stefan Moody could really play. But not even 20 wins overall and 10 in league play got the Rebels any attention last year because the league was so weak as a whole.

And that’s been the general story for the SEC in recent years.

It’s got so bad the SEC hired some help last year to try and assess why the league can only get two or three teams into the NCAA Tournament when years before five, six or seven belonged and got in.

As if they needed to pay a consultant for such insight.

The churn of talent and personalities in the SEC has kept quality of play and entertainment value down, as many schools including Ole Miss have increasingly turned to transfers rather than grooming talent as freshman on up.

In SEC football and baseball, for instance, fans bond with players over several years and the players bond with winning ways – getting better over time the way it used to happen in basketball.

For instance, if six teams in SEC men’s basketball this year were returning four or five core players who had worked together under the same coach for several seasons, odds are high that each would be candidates for making the NCAA tournament.

Instead, Ole Miss as one example has just a handful of players returning from last season and its best hopes for the future hinge on other transfer players. That’s been the story line for several seasons running, now, and it becomes a difficult cycle to escape.

Wins climb higher in the short term when upper class talent rolls in but making a Sweet 16 charge is less likely.

Similar storylines have played out in recent years at Alabama, LSU, Georgia and other SEC basketball programs and the result is a weak league top to bottom that is being outpaced by mid-conference upstarts.

At Ole Miss we are fortunate to have The Pavilion, which is a better home court than one can find in any league. We also have enough solid mid-range talent and a seasoned coach that should allow the Rebels to surprise with a few more league wins than anybody is expecting.

But winning more in SEC basketball these days doesn’t mean what it once did.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford Eagle. You can contact him at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.