Why the SEC could really use some flexing in the NCAA Tournament
On Monday, the SEC posted a graphic on social media that had the words “the best college basketball in the country.”
The flex was rooted in the fact that the SEC has No. 1 overall seeds in both the men’s and women’s brackets in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s tied for the most of any conference with a combined 15 teams in the field.
The caption read “when we say It Just Means More … ”
Yeah, it’s that time of year. Conference flexing is a thing. And to be clear, yes, the SEC has quite the women’s basketball flex because South Carolina looks like the second coming of UConn and along with LSU, there’s a strong possibility that the conference will be represented in the national championship for the 4th time in the last 6 NCAA Tournaments.
But on the men’s side, ask yourself this question — when was the last time the SEC flexed late in March?
It certainly wasn’t last year when Arkansas was the conference’s lone team to reach the second weekend. While SEC women’s hoops has established a title game presence, the last SEC men’s program to play for a title was 2014 Kentucky.
That’s right. It’s been 9 years. Say what you want about the Big Ten’s inability to win the big one for more than 2 decades (and counting). At least the conference can flex about having 7 different programs play in the title game during that stretch.
Meanwhile, in the post-Florida repeat era of the last 15 years — current recruits were in diapers when that happened — 2012 Kentucky and 2014 Kentucky were the SEC’s lone teams to play in the title game.
The SEC needs a late-March flex. Badly.
Yes, it’s great to have representation in March, and the fact that the SEC is riding a streak of 5 consecutive NCAA Tournaments with at least 6 teams in the field is a nice flex.
You know what’s a better flex? Having your best teams in the Final Four. Auburn got there as a 5-seed after winning the SEC Tournament in 2019 — I realize the Tigers were a properly called double-dribble from reaching the title game — but think about this. Alabama is the SEC’s first No. 1 seed since 2015 Kentucky. As in, the team who entered the field 34-0 but was upset by Wisconsin in the Final Four.
Since then? Zero 1-seeds. Two Final Four teams, which were 7-seed South Carolina and 5-seed Auburn. Both felt like Cinderella runs that few, if any, saw coming. From 2016-22, here were how the SEC’s 2 highest seeds in each NCAA Tournament fared:
- No. 3 A&M — Lost in Sweet 16
- No. 4 Kentucky — Lost in Round of 32
- No. 2 Kentucky — Lost in Elite Eight
- No. 4 Florida — Lost in Elite Eight
- No. 3 Tennessee — Lost in Round of 32
- No. 4 Auburn — Lost in Round of 32
- No. 2 Tennessee — Lost in Sweet 16
- No. 2 Kentucky — Lost in Elite Eight
- No. 2 Alabama — Lost in Sweet 16
- No. 3 Arkansas — Lost in Elite Eight
- No. 2 Auburn — Lost in Round of 32
- No. 2 Kentucky — Lost in Round of 64
To recap, 5 of those 12 teams failed to make it out of opening weekend and only 4 of 12 made it to the Elite Eight.
You won’t see that appearing on an SEC social media flex anytime soon.
If it feels like the SEC still doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday, I’d guess that might have something to do with it. The Big 12 gets respect because it had 3 different teams play in the title game in the last 3 tournaments, the last 2 of which saw a Big 12 team cut down the nets. That’s a flex.
If you want to know why teams like A&M and Mizzou don’t seem to get the benefit of the doubt by the selection committee after years in which they earn top-4 seeds in the conference tournament, well, there’s your answer.
This year feels like as good an opportunity as any for the SEC to begin to change that.
That obviously starts at the top with No. 1 overall seed Alabama. A deep March run from the Tide, who went 19-2 overall against SEC competition in 2023, would be a nice (but awkward) flex. So too would be Tennessee advancing to the second weekend with Rick Barnes exorcising some of his March demons. What if we saw Auburn or Arkansas knock off a 1-seed in the Round of 32?
There’s tremendous value in flexing during those preview weeks leading up to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four. For awhile, that’s where the ACC thrived during the first 2 decades of the 21st century when it had a pretty clear argument to be considered the premier hoops conference. It took home 8 of the national titles from 2000-19, and it did so with 4 different programs. The ACC’s blue bloods did the heavy lifting with 3 titles apiece for UNC and 3 for Duke. Half of the national title games in that stretch featured an ACC team. Lord knows the ACC flexed a ton during those years, though this year, the conference’s pre-NCAA Tournament narrative is that it’s down. It probably didn’t help that the 3 elder statesmen coaches — Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams — all bounced in the last 2 years.
So far, the 2020s has been all about the Big 12. In the last 2 years alone, the conference already had as many different schools win titles (2) as the SEC had in the entire 21st century. Ironic it is that the Big 12 is about to undergo a significant facelift with Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC in 2024. As good as Texas looks amidst the Chris Beard fallout, I wouldn’t necessarily bank on a program searching for its first Sweet 16 berth in 15 years as being a power-shifter in favor of the SEC.
But given the era we’re about to embark on, wherein conference media contracts are set to grow exponentially in the latter half of the decade — don’t forget that the SEC’s media contract with ESPN could be renegotiated with the Texas and Oklahoma additions — it feels like a key time to boost the reputation of the No. 2 revenue sport. I’d argue that the SEC, for the most part, has done that the last 5-plus years.
Now, though, is a golden opportunity to finally make a loud March statement. In a year in which it feels like the pre-March Madness themes are “there aren’t those elite teams” and “it’s not all about the bluebloods,” there’s no better time than the present for the SEC.
This NCAA Tournament just means more.
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I guess y’all forgot an NCAAT game involving an SEC team happened last night. No Rapid Reaction or any article of any kind talking about a 1 point March Madness game. If you’re gonna hype up March Madness for the conference, you could start by covering the first game of it involving a team from the conference.
Not enough juice for the squeeze.
I’ve often been guilty of picking SEC teams in my bracket to go further than they end up. Maybe some conference bias, but I would contend it’s more that I see teams during conference play and I see potential in athleticism and hard nosed basketball. Take Arkansas this year (just as an example)- they are crazy long, quick and take it to the hole as good as any team I’ve seen play. Tough defense with a dog mentality. I don’t know how they’ll finish in the tournament, but from my exposure in watching them play would say they should be a Sweet 16 team at minimum. We’ll see. As far as this season goes, Bama is complete enough to win it all and they should. I just want to see these teams play to their potential (Kentucky included) and demonstrate just how good the SEC really is. Because I still don’t think there’s a national media narrative that believes in that.
It did not help the SEC cause with Miss St going down last night. Good Game.
Definitely was and no it did not. Jans is a quality coach in his first year ot not, but that Howland’s players are still too talented to be mediocre at best.
yeah, that was a great game. when pitt got that 6 pt lead with under 3 to go, ms state could have easily folded. some questionable shot selection by pitt and some solid passing by msu narrowed the margin and actually rendered a 1 pt msu lead w/ under a min to go. pitt made their ‘gotta have’ shot with under 30 sec left and ms state simply could hit theirs (open 3 and makeable tip in).
as a side, pitt started the year 8-5, but finished 14-6 in the acc. the acc is obviously a little down this year, but only good teams could go 14-6 in that conf.
admirable finish by the secw dawgs.
“The caption read “when we say It Just Means More … ”
It just means we lose in the tournament.
“This NCAA Tournament just means more.”
Until your bracket falls apart on day one.
uk gets the brunt of any criticism tied to the conf. in looking at the above chart, in their 4 yrs of the 6 in being one of the top two seeds, they went chalk and made the elite 8. some bad early exits in the other two years, but getting to the elite 8 as a 2-seed should carry more positive than negative press