The strength of the SEC is in the pack

The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team is on the cusp of history. With their most recent (resounding) victory this past Saturday against Arkansas, 84-67, John Calipari’s Wildcats remain unbeaten. With their unblemished record intact, their pursuit of perfection and history will continue to be chronicled and publicized. 

Kentucky, specifically their selflessness in a narcissistic society, represents and exemplifies everything good about collegiate athletics. While Kentucky is certainly deserving of adoration and applause, they have overshadowed (and rightfully so) the strength, top to bottom, of the SEC as a basketball conference.

Kentucky’s bludgeoning of Arkansas, the second-best team in the conference, illuminated the nationally-perceived notion that the SEC is a weak basketball conference. In his post-game press conference, Calipari was asked what his team’s thrashing of the second-best team in the SEC said about the conference as a whole. His response – “What’s the gap between us and Kansas? What’s the gap between us and Louisville? What’s the gap between us and UCLA, Providence?” – was quintessential Calipari.

The SEC and its relative strength as a conference should not be based upon whether or not a member school can beat Kentucky. No team in the SEC can beat Kentucky. Similarly, no team outside the SEC can beat Kentucky, as illustrated by their dismantling of UCLA, Kansas, Louisville, Texas and Providence, North Carolina. This year’s Kentucky team is one for the history books, rivaling that of Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, who were the last team to go undefeated, including the postseason.

The SEC is not a weak basketball conference. Last year the conference placed three teams in the tournament, a slight by the NCAA selection committee. All three teams – Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee – went to the Sweet 16; two teams. Kentucky and Florida, constituted the Final Four; and one team, Kentucky, played for the National Championship, although it should have been two, if not for an abysmal night shooting by the Gators against UCONN.

This year, according to ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, six SEC schools – Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and LSU – are likely to make the tournament. If Lunardi proves to be prophetic, the SEC will place its largest number of teams in the tournament since 2008.

While national pundits perpetually write that the league is weak, that does not mean the league is in fact weak. Just because you write or say something over and over again does not make it true. Undoubtedly, Kentucky is deserving of the attention it has been receiving and will receive. However, it should not come at the expense of the SEC. 

Simply because no team in the SEC can beat arguably one of the best teams in college basketball history does not make the conference weak. The strength of the conference does not just lie with Kentucky – it lies in the pack, as illustrated by the conference’s success in the tournament last year and the resume of its teams this year. Thus, the dialogue that the SEC is weak needs to change.

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