Beleaguered SEC endures nightmarish four-loss opening night

The Dagger

When Charleston Southern's Cedrick Bowen soared in for a game-winning tip dunk at the buzzer to beat heavily favored Ole Miss on Friday night, it seemed the SEC might have already suffered its most surprising loss of the non-league season. 

UMKC's Frank Williams Jr. dribbles around Missouri's Wes Clark (AP)
UMKC's Frank Williams Jr. dribbles around Missouri's Wes Clark (AP)
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Turns out it wasn't even the SEC's worst loss of opening night.

Barely an hour later, Missouri somehow managed to fall at home 69-61 to UMKC, a Western Athletic Conference squad that went 10-20 last season and began this season 250th in the KenPom rankings. The SEC also suffered two other opening night losses as Georgia fell at ACC also-ran Georgia Tech and Tennessee was run off the floor by 15th-ranked VCU. 

Those four opening-night losses are one more non-league setback than the SEC has suffered in football all season.

It's far too early to sound the alarm bells, but this certainly wasn't an ideal start for a football-first conference already battling the perception it's a two-team basketball league. While Kentucky has reached the Final Four three times since 2010 and Florida has advanced to the Elite Eight or beyond each of the past four seasons, the inability of the rest of the conference to carry its own weight has led to the SEC averaging just 3.6 NCAA bids the past five seasons.

Tennessee's unexpected run from the First Four to the Sweet 16 aside, last season only provided more fodder for critics. The SEC finished seventh in conference RPI, landed only three teams in the NCAA tournament and suffered more head-scratching November and December losses than any other prominent league did.

For the SEC's fortunes to change this season, it desperately needs other teams to ascend to national prominence besides Kentucky and Florida. The ultra-talented Wildcats begin the season as the favorite to win the national title and the Gators are a preseason top 10 team despite replacing four starters, but no other SEC team is even among the first five receiving votes in the AP poll.

None of the four SEC teams who lost Friday night are the most likely to rise to prominence this season — Arkansas and LSU have the best chance of that — but the opening night woes still hurt the conference as a whole. The more SEC teams struggle in non-league play, the less RPI boost their peers get for beating them during the conference season.

The most surprising of Friday's losses was probably Ole Miss falling to Charleston Southern simply because the Buccaneers had only beaten one other power-conference foe in their history and the Rebels entered the season projected by many to finish in the upper half of the SEC. The return of all-SEC guard Jarvis Summers and the arrival of four coveted transfers appeared to give Ole Miss a good chance to flourish even despite the graduation of high-scoring wild child Marshall Henderson.

Alas, that certainly wasn't the case Friday night as the Rebels shot 30.9 percent from the field and 6 of 30 from behind the arc. They still managed to rally from 12 down at halftime to force overtime, but the failure to block out Bowen on the game's final possession enabled the Charleston-Southern forward to sneak into the paint and stuff Saah Nimley's missed runner just before the buzzer sounded. 

The Missouri loss was also a bit of a stunner simply because UMKC is so mediocre. The Kangaroos lost by 59 points to Iowa State last season and have dropped a combined 65 games the past three seasons.   

Drawing too many conclusions from opening night is always dangerous because of the one-game sample size, but it's safe to say this wasn't the start the SEC wanted. 

Kentucky and Florida did their part, winning by a combined 63 points. A few other teams, however, dropped the ball yet again.

(Thanks for the video, College Basketball Talk)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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