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SEC Basketball Season Postmortem: Ranking the Conference

Tre Thompkins is gone, but Georgia still should be plenty good next year.
Tre Thompkins is gone, but Georgia still should be plenty good next year.

This year's SEC basketball season turned out quite a bit different than most prognosticators predicted.  The SEC was picked as one of the weakest conferences this year, and for a fact, the numbers back that up.  Ken Pomeroy had the top seventeen conferences ranked thus:

Rank Conference Rating
1 Big Ten Conference .8975
2 Big East Conference .8643
3 Big 12 Conference .8294
4 Atlantic Coast Conference .8245
5 Pac 10 Conference .7776
6 Southeastern Conference .7608
7 Mountain West Conference .7578
8 Conference USA .6307
9 Atlantic 10 Conference .5940
10 Missouri Valley Conference .5799
11 West Coast Conference .5718
12 Colonial Athletic Association .5656
13 Horizon League .5655
14 Western Athletic Conference .5632
15 Ivy League .4024
16 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference .3872
17 Big West Conference .3819

The SEC wound up sixth out of the Big Six conferences, just a whisker below the rather loathsome Pac-10.  But the SEC did overachieve in the NCAA tournament, placing two teams in the Sweet 16, as many as the much-vaunted Big East and only one less than the ACC.  In the Elite Eight, the SEC had 2 teams, more than any other Big Six conference, and of course Kentucky got to the Final Four.  The Big East did have the national champion, so that's a plus for them.

The season is about more than the tournament, though.  It's tempting to look at the tournament results and crow, but I think you have to consider the entire body of work.  So with that in mind, here are my rankings of the Big Six only.  This is of course subjective and probably biased, but my excuse is that I am a Kentucky blogger -- so sue me.  Here we go:

Rank Conference Rating
1 Big East Conference .8643
2 Big Ten Conference .8975
3 Atlantic Coast Conference .8245
4 Southeastern Conference .7608
5 Big 12 Conference .8294
6 Pac 10 Conference .7776

Unlike Ken Pomeroy, I don't just consider NCAA Tournament games another basketball contest.  That's not to disparage the fact that he does, and doing that is really much more objective, so I do want to reiterate that this ranking is not intended to be considered unbiased -- I consider tournament performance to be a factor greater than the sum of the games played therein.

I think when you consider the many failures of the Big 12 in the NCAA Tournament, their #3 rank does not pass the smell test.  The Pac-10 performed pretty well in the tournament, but not as well as the SEC.  So I bumped the SEC to 4th above the Big 12.  That's how I see it.  Others will no doubt disagree.  I also think that the Big East deserves the benefit of the doubt, because they produced the eventual tournament winner, and even I have to admit that the Big East was very tough this year.  I think they were tougher than the Big 10.

The SEC in 2011-12

Next year looks like the brightest for the SEC in many a year.  Alabama is likely to bring back a number of good players from this year's NIT runner up and contend seriously for the SEC West.  Mississippi St. is keeping Renardo Sidney, and with an off-season of work, he could be a Player of the Year candidate.  Florida and Kentucky both have outstanding recruiting classes coming in, and Vanderbilt could be as good or better than either if all their best players hang around another year.

Tennessee will most likely be down a bit from their last few years owing to the coaching change and likely probation.  They also look like they will lose both Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris, although that isn't a sure thing just yet.  Some of their recruits have already asked permission to jump ship, and it remains to be seen if they can retain any of their stellar recruiting class.

Overall, the SEC looks much better next year, and looks likely to have between 2 and three teams in the pre-season top ten, and as many as four in the pre-season top 25.  That's a big upgrade from the last couple of years.  Kentucky will likely be the favorite to win the conference next year, but Vandy and Florida will be close on their heels, and Alabama cannot be ruled out the way Anthony Grant coaches up his teams.  Mark Fox has Georgia going the right way, and even though Tre Thompkins is not coming back, the Dawgs should be a dangerous team by years end.

I'll have much more on the specific teams in a later post, but suffice it to say that next year looks very bright for the SEC, the brightest in quite some time.