There is no doubting the Southeastern Conference’s place atop the proverbial mountain.
The league boasts arguably the nation’s best athletes, coaches and facilities, and the recent string of seven straight national championships has done nothing to quell the envy of the rest of the country.
Simply put, the SEC is the best there is … in football.
Basketball however, is another story entirely. Although the reigning national champion, Kentucky, resides in the league, the overall perception is that the SEC is at its lowest point in terms of talent and production that it has been in years.
The Wildcats currently sit unranked. Of the two teams from the SEC who are representing the league in both top-25 polls, one of them — Missouri — played in its first-ever game as a member of the conference on Tuesday.
The other top-25 representative, Florida, enjoyed a hot start to the season, with some trumpeting the Gators as a possible Final Four team before two quick losses turned them into old news.
On Monday, the league’s dean of coaches — Billy Donovan — defended the conference of his Florida Gators and its newfound tattered reputation.
“Where that is somewhat flawed for all of us as coaches and teams is, what about the improvement that a team makes over the course of a year,” Donovan said.
“It is like people talking on Selection Sunday, ‘Well, back in November they lost this really bad game.’ Well, it’s February now. March, that was four months ago. The team could have gotten better. I think what happens a lot of times is, based on November and December your league gets immediately labeled.
“Now clearly up to this point in time our league has had some difficult and challenging losses, we all have.”
At this point in time, there are only three sub-.500 teams in the SEC, but in matchups against top-25 opponents, the league as a whole has come away victorious only three times so far this season. The Gators themselves are just 1-1 in such contests, with their lone top-25 loss coming against then-No. 8 Arizona on the road.
Donovan acknowledges how some have arrived at their conclusions of the SEC, citing how the league has fared against the best from other conferences. At the same time however, Donovan didn’t seem pleased in the current lumping of the league as a downtrodden group.
“Now clearly up to this point in time our league has had some difficult and challenging losses, we all have,” Donovan said. “I don’t think you take our league and just put it in a box and say therefore the league is not as good because I think teams are going to get better, they are going to improve.”
While none of the league’s teams can control outside perception at this point, the focus for conference teams like Florida will remain on winning the SEC championship and snatching up an at-large bid — which at this point project to be scarce — for the NCAA tournament.
For the Gators, their conference slate will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday against a visiting Georgia team that is battling just to get to .500, but Donovan knows of the potential the Bulldogs have.
“I think, like all of us, [Georgia] are dealing with some injuries and some setbacks,” Donovan said. “They are a team with some guys that will continue to get better and improve as a lot of teams in our league will.”