It's hard to mock Southeastern Conference basketball right now. Panned for early season losses and relatively weak nonconference schedules, the league has three teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee — the only SEC squads to make the 68-team field — all advanced to the Sweet 16 over the weekend, giving the SEC a perfect 7-0 mark in college basketball's premier event. "I'm sure some people are pretty surprised at three SEC teams, because all I heard all year was that the SEC was in a down year and it was a weak SEC," Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin said Monday. "It's pretty cool to see three SEC teams in the Sweet 16." The Gators (34-2), the tournament's overall top seed, will play fourth-seeded UCLA in the South Region on Thursday night in Memphis. No. 8 seed Kentucky (26-10), which on Sunday handed Wichita State its only loss of the season, advanced to face fourth-seeded Louisville on Friday night in the Midwest Region. No. 11 Tennessee (24-12), which already has three tournament wins, will join the Wildcats in Indianapolis and play Michigan. Only two other conferences — the Pac-12 and the Big Ten — landed three teams in the round of 16. Both leagues were ranked in the top three in conference RPI. The SEC, meanwhile, ranked seventh, just ahead of the American Athletic Conference. Florida coach Billy Donovan blamed early-season struggles for the widespread perception that the league was down. "It's very, very unfair to pin a league based on what happens in November and December," Donovan said Monday. "In a lot of ways, maybe some of the losses that our league took in November and December prepared them to be better in our league. I think our league can play with any league in the country. "But I would say this: Just because certain league teams get knocked out early doesn't mean the league is overrated. And because a league really, really advances in the tournament doesn't mean the league is great. I just get upset when all of a sudden everybody just throws out and makes assumptions or draws conclusions of a league being good or bad based on what's happened in the nonconference. That to me is, I think, somewhat unfair." There were plenty of eye-opening losses early, so the SEC was down before its teams started beating each other up.
NCAA Tournament turns into Sweet SEC
Tennessean | Mar 25