Change has swept through SEC basketball,but John Calipari and Kentucky should remain on top.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The only thing you need to know about the message the Southeastern Conference sends about its love for basketball is this:
The SEC's pre-season media extravaganza for football stretches across three days. Bands play. Work stops. Talk show lines fill up. Mothers assemble to get their babies kissed by Nick Saban.
SEC basketball media day is booked for Thursday in Hoover, Ala. It lasts 30 seconds. Coaches don't have to slip through the hotel kitchen to escape the paparazzi. Al from Dadeville doesn't bother calling the Paul Finebaum Show.
I don't need to wait until Thursday to give you the summary:
Kentucky will be announced as the team to beat. Coaches from the 13 other schools will hug Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, thrilled that somebody in the media has taken a 30-second break from football.
It's too bad. SEC basketball is getting better by the dribble. In fact, I've got 10 Reasons To Be Excited About SEC Basketball this season:
1. The Antlers – Nobody will exceed the atmosphere in Rupp Arena, but the Missouri student section – known as The Antlers – will try. For years, Big 12 programs complained that Antlers members called opposing coaches and players at their hotels on game day to harass them. They howled even louder that Missouri did nothing to curb the behavior.
I believe it. My cousin played for Oklahoma. During one trip to Columbia, the Antlers threatened to kidnap his little brother and abduct him to the balcony.
2. The Turnstiles – SEC attendance is on the rise. Four schools – Mississippi State, Alabama, Louisiana State and Arkansas – registered increases of 1,200 or more per home game last season. Overall, SEC teams ranked second to the Big Ten in average attendance, averaging better than 600 per game more than Big East schools. It's true.
3. The New Kids (Team Edition) – Welcome Texas A&M and Missouri. The Aggies should finish mid-pack, but Billy Kennedy, the guy who brought Isaiah Canaan to Murray State, will do better. Beware Missouri. I spoke with ESPN analyst Stephen Bardo last week. He's seen the Tigers practice. He says they're a Top 10 team.
4. Forty Minutes of Hell, Act II – The SEC was never more fun than it was during the days that Arkansas and Kentucky fans filled the Georgia Dome for the SEC Tournament nearly two decades ago.
Then Arkansas lost altitude, attitude, Nolan Richardson and interest. This won't be the Corliss Williamson/Scotty Thurman/Corey Beck Razorbacks. But they're getting there. Mike Anderson will see to that.
5. Billy The Kid – Sometimes we forget Billy Donovan has won more national titles than Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Bill Self or Tom Izzo.
Donovan has quietly rebuilt the Gators into a team that could make a deep NCAA run – and he's going to sign a Top Five recruiting class next month.
6. Who Needs Bruce Pearl? The Volunteers didn't get the memo they were supposed to collapse in the aftermath of the NCAA mess left by the dismissal of Pearl. Cuonzo Martin looked like a better bench coach – and in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, UT has two of the league's 10 best players.
7. BK Theater – Bob Knight will work Thursday night SEC games for ESPN. Let's make a list of the different ways Knight will find to avoid saying the names of UK players and coaches.
8. The New Kids (Coaches' Edition) – Say goodbye to Rick Stansbury and hello to Rick Ray at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will be awful because Ray gutted the roster of the knuckleheads that Stansbury encouraged.
Say goodbye to Darrin Horn and hello to Frank Martin at South Carolina. The Gamecocks will also be dreadful because Bruce Ellington is still playing football, Damontre Harris bolted for Florida and Anthony Gill left for Virginia.
Say goodbye to Trent Johnson (who left for TCU) and hello to Johnny Jones. Jones played for Dale Brown at LSU. He knows what it takes to win at Les Miles University.
9. The SEC Tournament – It returns to Nashville from New Orleans this season, which is the intelligent play. By the semifinals, it's 19,000 UK fans and 27 guys from the rest of the league. Why make everybody drive the extra miles? In fact, why not just put it in Louisville? We need the events.
10. The John Calipari Show – In the end, the first nine items and other 13 teams are just filler. Calipari has the pieces for another monstrous team, one that should win the SEC and make another prolonged NCAA tournament run. Even Al from Dadeville knows that.