BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Kentucky Coach John Calipari dismissed the importance of his team being tabbed an overwhelming favorite to win the 2009-10 Southeastern Conference championship.
"I don't know what that means," he said at SEC Media Day on Thursday.
Calipari predicted a wide-open race, saying the SEC will have "seven or eight" teams receive bids to the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee, which last season became the first SEC team to finish ahead of Kentucky three straight years, returns all five starters. Yet, the Vols offered no complaint about finishing far behind UK in the pre-season media poll.
"Coach Cal's a great coach," senior forward Tyler Smith said. "He's coming in from one of the winningest programs in Conference USA history. He knows how to recruit.
"We understand it's just the pre-season."
Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl accepted Kentucky as the favorite.
"Their talent is so overwhelming and I understand that," Pearl said. "I don't have an argument with it. I know how many pros they have on that roster."
Florida Coach Billy Donovan accepted being picked to finish fifth.
"We were picked fifth three years ago," he said. "Who knows? We were picked fifth and won the national championship."
Actually, Florida was picked second in the SEC Eastern Division going into the 2005-06 season. The Gators then won the first of two straight national championships.
TV exposure welcomed
SEC coaches and players welcomed the league's new television deals with ESPN and CBS. Besides bringing a reported $3 billion to the league over the next 15 years, the deals represent a recruiting tool and coast-to-coast exposure. SEC games will be on one of the ESPN channels four nights a week.
"We're like Notre Dame football," Calipari said. "People are going to truly hate us."
Added Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury: "How many coaches can say, every game will be on one of the ESPN channels?"
As for a recruiting advantage, Stansbury said recruits care about TV and NBA.
"That's it," he said.
LSU Coach Trent Johnson playfully suggested a downside to all that exposure by noting his team's 91-61 loss at Utah last season.
"I'm not sure I want that game on TV," Johnson said. "We should have a delete button."
Another downside is the potential for ESPN-dictated games on a Thursday-Saturday. Several coaches noted the unfairness of one team having more time to prepare for a Saturday game if it did not play on the Thursday.
"We have to accept it as coaches," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. "I've been to too many meetings where we said, 'We'll do it, we'll do it, we'll do it.' "
The coaches suggested the deals have little impact on Kentucky, which already had its games televised and enjoy a tradition of national exposure.
The other teams will have a greater benefit.
"An incredible deal for the conference," Donovan said. "The SEC is identified as a football conference. This is an opportunity for a lot of our teams to get incredible exposure. It comes at a great time when our league is very, very good."
UK women optimistic
UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell said he'll go into his third season with newfound optimism.
"With this group of players, I'm not questioning anybody's commitment," he said. "It's a process we've been trying to work through. I'm most excited about this group being 100 percent with us."
As a result, Mitchell said his coaching emphasis has changed from "getting attitudes right" to player and team improvement.
Mitchell said he expected better shooting this season. The UK women ranked 11th in overall shooting (37.8 percent) and 10th in three-point shooting (29.6 percent) among SEC teams last season.