Wednesday, February 4

I'm Sorry, and You Are...?

How many of the following men do you recognize, or can name?

No, it's not the ten most wanted list from Wall Street. These men are your SEC coaches not named Bruce Pearl or Billy Donovan.

We considered doing this as a YDKB, but decided that only family members and SEC commissioner Mike Slive could get more than half.

A full third of the conference's coaches are in their first year or are interim coaches. Less than a year after leading his team to three wins in just over thirty hours in the SEC tournament, Dennis Felton in out at Georgia. One of the elder statesmen of the league, Mark Gottfried resigned at Alabama just ten days after a loss to bitter rival, Auburn. The Tide had struggled the last three years against the Tigers, going 1-4.

The addition of new coaches isn't the issue, but in a sport where stability thrives, only three teams, Florida, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt have had their coaches in place for longer than five years, and half the league hasn't had their coach in place for two full seasons.

Coaching changes are a part of the business, and many times they are cyclical, but just as the SEC thrives in football from it's visibility they're struggling in basketball from a lack of it. The Big East basketball thrived in the 80s due in no small part to a contract with ESPN. SEC basketball now finds themselves stuck below both the ACC and Big East in ESPN's priority list and their weekend CBS coverage doesn't attract near the attention that their football does. Looking at Kentucky and Florida's remaining schedules they have just as many games on ESPN Full Court as the do on ESPN. The most watched games for this conference were when they were getting thrashed by the Big East in the SEC/Big East Invitational and most of the big name schools didn't participate.

In football, it's common place for teams to schedule patsies in non-conference play, preferring to allow the conference record to speak for itself. Apparently, the athletic directors in the SEC have chosen to do that for basketball too. According to the ESPN/USA Today poll, the conference as a whole only has five wins against top 25 teams, but more importantly only sixteen total matchups against ranked teams. Sixteen of their 254 played games represents just over six percent of their total games played and that number will continue to decrease as they play more unranked teams in conference. The conference's top three teams (in terms of visibility), Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee are a combined 2-5 with Florida having faced not one top 25 team and Kentucky going 0-3. Compare this with the ACC where every team in the conference has at least three matchups with ranked opponents, and the Big East where every school has faced at least four.

The lack of ranked teams in the conference hurts the SEC's numbers, but three of the teams haven't faced a single ranked team, and another five have only faced one. Consider this, Davidson, a "mid-major" has played three ranked teams this season, more than all but Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC, and they too get no ranked games in conference, and they have a fourth ranked matchup, against Butler coming up. The SEC athletic directors are doing a poor job of scheduling, leading to decreased visibility (I hate to keep using that word), and making recruiting harder, thereby making it harder for these schools to compete at the highest level.

For the record, here's the list of the coaches at the top (left to right):
Top Row - Rick Stansbury (Miss St), Jeff Lebo (Auburn), Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), Adam Kennedy (Ole Miss), and Darrin Horn (S. Carolina)
Bottom Row - Trent Johnson (LSU), Philip Pearson (Alabama), Billy Gillispie (Kentucky), Pete Herrmann (Georgia), and John Pelphrey (Arkansas)

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