Mark Story: Unofficial motto of SEC men's hoops: Bad Early Losses R US

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 17, 2012 

If they ever put real teeth into the 'truth in advertising' guidelines, the slogan of SEC men's basketball will become Bad Early Losses R US.

Southeastern Conference coaches spend many a March whining about the lack of respect their league gets. What they need to do instead is cut out what has become as much a Southern tradition as sweet tea — being defeated early in the season by schools from far less prominent leagues.

Just last weekend, LSU got blown out (89-70) at Boise State. Anthony Grant took Alabama to face his old school, VCU, and got trounced (73-54). Struggling Mississippi State managed to lose (59-51) to Loyola (Chicago).

Already this season, Auburn has lost by double digits to Murray State and Dayton. Georgia has lost home games to Youngstown State, Southern Mississippi and Iona. South Carolina has fallen to Elon at home.

Vanderbilt really lowered the bar by getting blown out by mid-majors Davidson (75-62), Marist (50-33) and UTEP (73-49) over a three-day period in the Old Spice Classic.

From the vantage point of the one SEC state where basketball matters most, it's a maddening phenomenon that seems to play out year after year. Why does the SEC take so many bad basketball losses in the early season?

"That's a very good question," said Larry Conley, the former Kentucky standout and longtime TV color analyst. "I don't know if there is just one reason."

This season, the 14 SEC men's hoops teams have already taken 17 losses to teams from outside the six major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC). That's an average of 1.21 "bad losses" per team. Nine of the 14 SEC teams have such a defeat.

Compared to the other five "major" conferences, it is a relatively weak showing.

Big Ten: With 12 teams, the league has 12 "bad" losses (1.0 average) and seven teams with at least one loss to a non-power-conference team.

Big East: With 15 teams, has 15 defeats to non-power-league foes (1.0 average) and nine teams with at least one such loss.

ACC: With 12 teams, the league has 13 "bad" losses (1.08 average) and eight teams with at least one such defeat.

Big 12: With 10 teams, has 12 "bad losses" (1.2 average) and eight squads with such a defeat.

Pac-12: With 12 teams, has 18 non-power-league defeats (1.5 average), and nine of conference's squads have at least one such loss.

(Admittedly, equating every loss to a non-power-conference team as a "bad defeat" is an imperfect standard. There's no disgrace in losing to Butler, Creighton, Gonzaga etc. ... But you have to set a boundary somewhere).

One theory long offered in Kentucky to explain the SEC's history of lackluster results in men's hoops in November and December is that there is no focus on basketball in the pigskin-obsessed Deep South until the football bowl games end.

That makes sense for the fans, but that should not be an excuse for SEC basketball players and coaches. "I just don't think whether the fan base (at SEC schools) is paying attention (to basketball) really pertains to the players and coaches," Conley says.

Some of the SEC's early issues this season are cyclical, Conley believes. "We've got some new coaches (three) in the league and they're rebuilding," he says.

Larger basketball trends also explain some of the SEC's issues, he says. "I think when they went from 15 to 13 scholarships (in men's basketball), it freed up some good players for places you'd never expect to find them," Conley said.

As NBA draft early entry has tended to make the rosters in the power leagues younger, "that's created opportunity for some of the teams from the other conferences," Conley said. "If you build a team and have juniors and seniors, that experience can ... sometimes overcome young talent."

Going into games of Monday night, the SEC had five teams ranked below our old friend Gardner-Webb (145) according to realtimerpi.com — Vanderbilt (185); South Carolina (186); Auburn (236); Mississippi State (244); and Georgia (272).

Not only is the SEC ranked lowest (eighth) in the RPI among the power conferences, it is also below the Mountain West (fifth) and the Atlantic 10 (sixth).

What a non-conference slate filled with "bad losses" will get a league is disrespect.

So even if the SEC improves over the next two months, what's already happened would make it hard for even noted litigator David Boies to compellingly argue the league's case come Selection Sunday.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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