Not long after Tennessee's victory over Mercer kept the SEC unbeaten in NCAA tournament play, Mississippi State coach Rick Ray sent a predictable tweet.
"7-0 in NCAA tournament and 3 out of 3 teams make it into the Sweet 16," he wrote Sunday. "Yep, SEC Conference is a bad and weak league."
Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee indeed deserve credit for advancing to the second week of the NCAA tournament, but Ray's notion that their success somehow proves the SEC was strong from top to bottom is rooted in false logic. Three Sweet 16 teams don't make the SEC one of the best leagues in the nation any more than four SEC teams losing in the opening two rounds of the NIT makes the Gators, Wildcats and Vols weak and vulnerable.
The SEC ranked seventh in conference RPI this season, behind the Big 12, the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big East, ACC and Atlantic 10. Only three SEC teams cracked the top 50 in the KenPom rankings and five teams were outside the top 100.
When only three SEC teams made the NCAA tournament last season, commissioner Mike Slive hired ex-NCAA staffer Greg Shaheen as a consultant to help the league schedule smarter this season. That was a shrewd decision, but it ultimately didn't help in the short-term because SEC teams still suffered way too many damaging non-league losses.
Third-place Georgia lost to Davidson. Fellow NCAA tournament hopeful LSU fell to Rhode Island. Ole Miss was upset by Mercer. Mississippi State fell to TCU. Alabama lost to Drexel and South Florida. Auburn lost to Northwestern State. Texas A&M fell to North Texas and Missouri State. South Carolina was upset by South Carolina Upstate and Manhattan.
The list of quality wins notched by the SEC's non-NCAA tournament teams is much shorter. Aside from Missouri's victory over UCLA and LSU's win over St. Joseph's, those nine teams didn't beat a single NCAA tournament team seeded 12th or higher.
It doesn't help the SEC's credibility that Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas and LSU all lost early in the NIT, but that shouldn't alter the perception of the league any more than its NCAA tournament success should.
Florida is the favorite to win the national championship, preseason No. 1 Kentucky is finally tapping into its potential and Tennessee has capitalized on a favorable draw and made a case that it's indeed a top 20 team as its analytic stats would suggest.
But we've had five months to evaluate the rest of the SEC. And the results were damning enough that the league's four days of NCAA tournament success shouldn't alter the perception.
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