The SEC’s push to become more of a factor in men’s college basketball landed with a thud on Sunday night, when for the third time in three years just three SEC teams -- this year none higher than a No. 3 seed -- were selected for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Despite losing the conference tournament final in overtime to Kentucky, Texas A&M was slotted as the No. 3 seed in the West. Kentucky was placed as the No. 4 seed in the East. Vanderbilt was relegated to a Tuesday night First Four game against Wichita State in Dayton.
South Carolina, which finished tied for third in the league standings at 11-7 and was 24-8 overall, was left out thanks to a soft non-conference schedule. LSU, which also finished 11-7 in the conference, suffered a disastrous semifinal loss in the SEC Tournament. Ole Miss and Georgia, each 10-8 in the league, also failed to receive a bid.
So Tuesday, commissioner Greg Sankey announced that he is employing additional help. Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has been named special adviser to the commissioner for men’s basketball. Tranghese will work with associate commissioner Mark Whitworth, a Wilmore native, to enhance the quality of hoops in the league.
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“Men’s basketball in the SEC gained positive momentum during the last 12 months, but we are not meeting our won expectations,” Sankey said in a news release issued by the league. “As a conference, we seek continuing improvement in the national competitive success of our men’s basketball programs. Mike’s knowledge and experience will be an asset for me, our staff and the athletics programs of the SEC as we accelerate our men’s basketball enhancement efforts.”
Tranghese was Big East commissioner from 1990 to 2009. He’s been chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee and just finished a term as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. He is also a special adviser to Providence College.
Will he help? Tranghese sure can’t hurt the league’s efforts. He has done extensive work in basketball scheduling and television contracts. For a time, the Big East was one of if not the most prominent conference in college basketball, boasting Connecticut, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Boston College, Seton Hall, Providence and Pittsburgh. Notre Dame joined for basketball in 1995. In 2005, it added several more schools, including Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul and Marquette.
Football helped break the league apart after the 2013 season. Boston College had already left for the ACC in 2005. Louisville and Pittsburgh left for the ACC after 2013. The “Catholic 7” schools of Providence, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul decided to form their own conference and took the Big East name with them.
Meanwhile, SEC schools have made several high-profile hires over the last couple of seasons. Auburn hired former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. Mississippi State hired former UCLA coach Ben Howland. Tennessee hired former Texas coach Rick Barnes. Alabama hired former NBA coach Avery Johnson.
Greg Shaheen, who previously ran the NCAA Tournament, was hired as a scheduling consultant by former commissioner Mike Slive. It was Slive who also appointed Whitworth as his basketball “czar” to spearhead the effort of improving the conference’s efforts in the sport.
There has been some progress. The SEC got five teams in last year’s NCAA field of 68. Moving the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to the last Saturday in January, as a brief respite from the conference season and out of the shadow of football, proved a publicity boom, capped by Kansas’ epic 90-84 overtime win over Kentucky at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
Getting just three teams in the NCAA Tournament, however, has to be considered a setback, however. The ACC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 each have seven teams in the field. The ACC has two No. 1 seeds in North Carolina and Virginia.
The SEC? It’s getting some additional help.
SEC schools in NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament
Kentucky, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss
Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee
Florida, Missouri, Ole Miss
Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee
Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt