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How the SEC Has Transformed into a Power Basketball Conference

Ashton Hagans & Kentucky
Ever since their original formation nearly an entire century ago, the Southeastern Conference has been defined by what they can do on the gridiron. Programs at Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and more have given us some of the most memorable players and coaches in the history of collegiate football. They've also combined for a total of 41 claimed National Championships on the gridiron, including an impressive amount of success the past two decades. Naturally, the conference has tailed behind in the other main revenue-earning sport, basketball. Outside of Kentucky, no program has risen to a consistent status of a "blue blood" and even schools that have had significant success tend to see it short-lived (see Florida following their two consecutive National Titles in '05-'06). However, as we go deeper in the 2019 college hoops season, it has become clear that the SEC is likely the best conference in the sport. This comes one year after the sport placed eight teams in the NCAA Tournament and two years after the league got three teams in the Elite Eight during March. Its clear the SEC has risen to one of the most consistently strong leagues in the country, but how did it happen? Will it last? It appears it will, particularly with the talent that continues to flock to the league every summer.

The most defining change in SEC basketball over the past few seasons has undoubtedly been on the sidelines, where the conference has brought in some of the best and brightest minds in the sport. There is now an interesting mix of old, well-respected names as well as guys who seem to only be getting better. Look no further than names like Rick Barnes, Ben Howland and Avery Johnson, three guys who enter their fourth year with their respective programs. Barnes went from exiled at Texas to leading Tennessee to a No. 1 ranking in less than five years, Howland fell out of favor at UCLA but has done an impressive job at Mississippi State and then there is Johnson, who has done a superb job at an unquestionable football school. Then there is the younger guys who seem to be getting better by the passing day, such as LSU's Will Wade, Vanderbilt's Bryce Drew and Ole Miss' Kermit Davis. Wade has rose quickly from VCU to LSU and continues to gain momentum, Drew keeps on landing big names on the recruiting trail and Davis' first season with the Rebels has been quite the success after coming over from Middle Tennessee. These new additions to the sidelines down South have been the largest reason why the league's profile has improved so rapidly. Teams are better coached, better disciplined and in turn, they just play better basketball. Outside of perhaps the ACC, there isn't a better collection of head coaches and this league appears to go deeper than their main rivals in the Southeast.

Just as crucial to the success of the SEC has been how well these new coaches have hit the recruiting trail, and taken advantage of the fertile recruiting grounds in the area. Sure, John Calipari has been reeling in top recruiting classes for a decade now, but its the guys that are going to unexpected schools that have really boosted the conference. For example, Avery Johnson beat out other blue bloods in the sport to bring in two five-star recruits at Alabama, and that was not a lone aberration. Missouri landed former No. 1 overall recruit Michael Porter Jr., Vanderbilt and Drew brought in two five-star recruits to this year's recruiting class, Will Wade landed the fourth best class in the country also with multiple five-star recruits and Tom Crean appears to be doing magical things at Georgia. Crean, who is in his first season with the Bulldogs, managed to keep future five-star recruit Anthony Edwards in-state, possibly the biggest recruiting victory in UGA basketball history. Edwards, who is from Atlanta, is currently the No. 2 player in the 2019 class according to 247 Sports and could be a future No. 1 overall draft pick. These types of players just simply aren't what the conference used to be able to land, but now they're coming in waves. Even if not every prospect lives up to lofty expectations, the talent level in the SEC is still shooting up. When you have five and four-star prospects regularly playing each other, it not only improves the level of play but also brings in new eyes to what this conference can continue to be.

From top to bottom, the league and its programs have invested in the sport like we haven't seen them do really ever. Kentucky is no longer carrying the conference; they have to fight for every single recruit and in every single game they play. Look no further than the money Mississippi State has poured into their program to get an idea of how much this league has committed to basketball. The program just announced an impressive renovation of their Humphrey Coliseum basketball arena, and has seen their attendance numbers skyrocket to over 3 million last season. With all the money that is currently flowing in college basketball, its evident to see the league take advantage of rich TV contracts and revenue streams. It has risen the league's profile to brand new heights, and it doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon.

Football probably will still be the life blood of sports fans in the Southeast for the future, but its impressive how SEC basketball has had such a meteoric rise. The thing is, with such young, talented head coaches the conference could get only be getting better. Will they follow up this continuing momentum with a strong March? With Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU all playing some superb basketball, it certainly appears so.

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