BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With Kentucky once again leading the way, the football powerhouse Southeastern Conference is trying to reclaim that status in hoops after a mostly desolate postseason.
The Wildcats – and 10 other SEC teams – were shut out of the NCAA Tournament last season. Now, the coaches are predicting a resurgence, and John Calipari’s newest crop of highly-touted recruits appear to be at the forefront.
It can’t get much worse for either the league or Kentucky, thanks to that program’s unforgiving standards.
Florida was the only one of the three SEC participants to survive the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend. That poor performance came four years after SEC teams went 1-3 in the tournament, but was still unusual.
The SEC had at least five NCAA participants 12 years running starting in 1997, but had three last year.
Avoiding a repeat of that embarrassing performance was a priority for the SEC in the off-season. Schools had to run their nonconference schedules by the league offices to make sure they passed muster.
The season ended with six SEC teams ranked 100th or lower in the Ratings Percentage Index, and Arkansas was 99th.
That left Texas A&M (105), Vanderbilt (111), Georgia (143), South Carolina (228), Mississippi State (230) and Auburn (250) trying to return to respectability this season.
DUKE FAVORED: Duke is the favorite to win the expanded Atlantic Coast Conference, though new member Syracuse has the preseason player of the year in C.J. Fair.
The Blue Devils earned 50 of 54 first-place votes from media members at the league’s ACC Operation Basketball media day Wednesday. Syracuse – which joins the ACC along with Pittsburgh and Notre Dame from the Big East – was picked second and earned three first-place votes, while North Carolina was picked third.
Virginia was picked fourth, followed by Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, reigning champion Miami, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
This will be Maryland’s final year in the league before leaving for the Big Ten.
It marked the 10th time in 17 years that the Blue Devils were picked to finish first, though the first since before the 2010-11 season following Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fourth national championship. This year’s team returns starters Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon from a 30-win team that reached an NCAA regional final before falling to Louisville.
That duo will join with highly touted freshman Jabari Parker, picked as the league’s rookie of the year, and Mississippi State sophomore transfer Rodney Hood to form Duke’s core.