Hello, Kentucky Wildcats fans!
I posted a FanShot from my "Ideal College Realignment" earlier this week. Now that is a massive realignment that is certainly not realistic and requires ripping up a bunch of existing conference memberships and Grant of Rights agreements.
So the question is can Kentucky escape the SEC and join one of the superior basketball conferences, the ACC or Big Ten? If you took Kentucky out of the SEC, the rest of the league would be the Sun Belt Conference. Oh I'm sorry, that's an insult to the Sun Belt Conference! I wrote in 2016 the performance of each conference in the NCAA Tournament based on tournament wins. The SEC had a surprisingly good year in 2017 capped off by South Carolina's improbable run to the Final Four. But that was a fluke run as the Gamecocks hadn't won an NCAA Tournament game since they expanded the field to 64 teams in 1985.
Updating for 2017:
ACC: 104 wins (27 Sweet 16, 8 Final Four, 4 Championships)
Big Ten: 79 wins (24 Sweet 16, 6 Final Four)
SEC: 59 wins (15 Sweet 16, 6 Final Four, 1 Championship)
Big 12: 59 wins (17 Sweet 16, 3 Final Four)
Big East: 48 wins (11 Sweet 16, 3 Final Four, 1 Championship)
Pac-12: 44 wins (14 Sweet 16, 1 Final Four)
The SEC is way behind both the ACC and Big Ten in total wins. The SEC has the championship the Big Ten doesn't have but duh that's Kentucky's. If Kentucky (26 wins, 4 Final Fours, 1 Championship) joined the Big Ten, the SEC would have 33 wins, less than the Big East and Pathetic 12 while the Big Ten would have 105, more than the ACC. Take away Kentucky from the SEC and they only have 2 Final Fours.
But what if you took Duke or North Carolina away from the ACC? North Carolina won 21 games, made 2 Final Fours, and last year's national championship while Duke won 20 games, made 2 Final Fours, and won 2 championships in the last decade. Either way, they still have more wins than the Big Ten. Take away BOTH of them and they still have more wins than the SEC WITH Kentucky (63 wins) and they still have Louisville's 2013 national championship (although they were a Big East member at the time). The Big 12 is of course also inflated by Kansas (I refer to the Big 12 as "Kansas and the Nine Dwarves"). I consider Florida as a legitimate basketball program although maybe not as much since Billy Donovan left. There is no good program in the Big 12 outside of Lawrence.
Face it, the SEC is a weak conference in basketball. Last year, South Carolina was a fluke. Five teams in the conference have not won an NCAA Tournament game this decade. Auburn and Mississippi State haven't made the tournament this decade. And the SEC's ineptitude has hurt Kentucky. Remember the 2014 NCAA Tournament? UK started out as a #8 seed and had to play undefeated Wichita State in the 2nd round! Luckily the Wildcats won and advanced to the championship game. In 2016, they were underseeded as a #4 and weren't so lucky, being beaten by Indiana, who was also underseeded. Or how about 2013 when they didn't even make the NCAA field? When you play in the SEC you don't get as much respect. Play in the Big Ten or ACC and play a better schedule and you will.
The SEC is the only Power 5 conference that doesn't have a Grant of Rights agreement. So Kentucky can escape the SEC if it wishes to. The obvious question would be if it would be financially beneficial to do so. Academically both conferences would be an upgrade and there is a lot of money in academic research too, especially in the Big Ten. Geographically, both conferences wouldn't be much different than the SEC. The ACC footprint would be stretch northward to Boston but the furthest west would be in-state rival Louisville, no trips to Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi. In the Big Ten, Kentucky would be the furthest south, it would be all north. Nebraska is the furthest west and Rutgers is the furthest east. I think the ACC might be a step down financially but the Big Ten would be on par if not a step up. If you care about just basketball, of course, you want the ACC but if you care about the mighty dollar than the Big Ten is your ticket.
If the move is to the Big Ten, it likely has to be paired with another team for a 16 team conference. The ideal partner IMO would be Connecticut as I suggested at UConn's blog. I think the Big Ten should just do away with divisions but UK probably would go to the west in football (or east and move Indiana to the west so Indiana and Purdue would be in the west together). Another possibility would be Kentucky and Missouri together but I want Connecticut rescued and I like Connecticut in a major basketball conference. If you move to the B1G, the obvious #1 rival is Indiana. Purdue and Ohio State would be good rivals as well and you have to get up for Michigan State and I'm sure you will want to get back at Wisconsin for ending your undefeated season in 2015. Hopefully, Connecticut will join you and that rivalry will be great.
The ACC is a bit more complicated. I think UConn's situation is more desperate than UK's. I mentioned in the Connecticut article that they have the awkward situation because of Notre Dame of either having an odd number of teams in college football or an odd number of teams in men's/women's basketball. If they would rather have an even number in football, one proposal is Connecticut/Kentucky. Can you imagine an ACC with Kentucky, Connecticut, North Carolina, Duke, and Louisville in the same conference? You can't tell me you'd rather play Auburn and Mississippi State (even Florida pales by comparison).
The best part of Kentucky in the ACC? You get to play Louisville twice every year in basketball. Kentucky/Louisville should be right up there with Duke/North Carolina but it isn't because you're in different conferences. If you join the ACC, that would change. I would say Louisville join the SEC but their GOR ends that possibility (and the SEC supposedly wouldn't allow Louisville, Florida State, Georgia Tech, or Clemson anyway). I really feel the in-state rivals SHOULD be in the same conference. Imagine if Duke and North Carolina, Alabama and Auburn, UCLA and USC, Indiana and Purdue, etc. were in different conferences. Why shouldn't Kentucky and Louisville not be in the same conference?
So if this GOR is binding? Maybe another idea to get Kentucky to the ACC. What if the ACC and SEC decide to TRADE members? Kentucky goes to the ACC and Clemson goes to the SEC. That puts UK and Louisville in the ACC together and Clemson and South Carolina together in the SEC. So ACC basketball is, as Dick Vitale would say, awesome with a capital A!
Clemson, meanwhile, is as pathetic as most of the SEC so they would fit right in. On the other hand, imagine Clemson football in the SEC! Think about how much better they would be! Meanwhile, Kentucky football would then join the ACC Atlantic without Clemson (but you'd still have Florida State and Louisville). Is Kentucky really "southern"? I usually associate the SEC as girls wearing dresses and heels to football games which I think is stupid. Do Kentucky girls do that? I think Clemson girls do. They'd fit right in the SEC. Kentucky is more of a basketball school than a football school. You don't belong in the SEC, you belong in the ACC or Big Ten.
I might go further and include Florida and Georgia Tech in the trade with Florida joining Kentucky in the ACC (I don't see them as a dress up school either like Georgia or Alabama and UF is a smart school unlike the Mississippi schools although Georgia Tech is a smart school too so I don't know if they would like getting dumped to the SEC). So if you move Kentucky and Florida to the ACC and Clemson and Georgia Tech to the SEC all four pairs of in state rivals are in the same conference and the ACC becomes even better in basketball while SEC football really becomes the Sun Belt (my apologies to the Sun Belt!)
So hopefully one day Kentucky will be in the ACC or Big Ten and John Calipari is playing conference games with Coach K and Roy Williams or Tom Izzo instead of wasting their time in Starkville and Auburn in February.