Criteria befuddle SEC coaches

Kentucky’s Calipari: ‘You can’t keep moving the goal posts’

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Kentucky head coach John Calipari reacts to a call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Vanderbilt at the Southeastern Conference tournament, Friday, March 15, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Photo by The Associated Press
Kentucky head coach John Calipari reacts to a call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Vanderbilt at the Southeastern Conference tournament, Friday, March 15, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

FAYETTEVILLE - SEC basketball coaches sang the blues on Monday after a sour Selection Sunday saw the 14-team conference place three teams in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.

Florida (32-2), winner of 26 consecutive games, had no complaints after receiving the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, but No. 8 seed Kentucky and No. 11 seed Tennessee, which must face Iowa in a play-in game Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, were feeling slighted by the NCAA Selection Committee.

Conference hierarchy?

Conferences with more than one team in the NCAA Tournament with conference’s total teams in parentheses:

BIG 12 (10) 7

ATLANTIC 10 (13) 6

ATLANTIC COAST (15) 6

BIG TEN (12) 6

PACIFIC-12 (12) 6

AMERICAN ATHLETIC (10) 4

BIG EAST (10) 4

SEC (14) 3

MOUNTAIN WEST (11) 2

WEST COAST (10) 2

“First of all, you’ve got to figure out why in the world did this happen,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said on the SEC coaches’ teleconference Monday. “Someone’s got to find out how you have a strength of schedule of 2, and that’s all they keep talking about, what did you use to make that team an 8 [seed].”

“Tennessee played as well as any team in the country down the stretch. Do you take in how teams are playing at the end, or how we were playing at the end? Not in your case. Well, what did you take in our case? … That’s the kind of stuff our league - not me and not the ADs - our league needs to find out what in the room, who in that room, what were we basing this on? Because you can’t keep moving the goal posts.”

The Wildcats (24-10) had the No. 2 strength of schedule as determined by ESPN.com’s rankings, and were the No. 17 team in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index rankings.

Tennessee (21-12), which won six of its last eight games, was eliminated by Florida 56-49 in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The Volunteers are ranked No. 42 in the RPI and No. 31 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and have the No. 11 strength of schedule per ESPN.com.

“Do I think we did enough? Yes, to avoid the play-in game,” Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin said. “When you look at Tennessee’s RPI and Tennessee’s strength of schedule and you look at some of the other teams that were that high of seeds, if that’s the scenario. It goes back to what’s really the criteria. Every year it’s something different.”

LSU Coach Johnny Jones said the SEC gets evaluated in a different light.

“Other teams get credit for players being either suspended or injured and they can come back and they’re credited for whatever setbacks and losses they had,” Jones said, without specifying any teams.

Arkansas (21-11), which is No. 41 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, pulled down a No. 3 seed in the National Invitation Tournament, joining No. 2 seed Missouri (22-11), No. 2 seed Georgia (19-13) and No. 5 seed LSU (19-13) in the NIT.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan said there was a point late in the conference season when it appeared the SEC was close to getting five teams in.

“Obviously I think Arkansas and Missouri were right there to get in and they came up a little bit short,” Donovan said. “I said this after our game [Sunday] … when I look at the NCAA Tournament, could Missouri, could an Arkansas go into the NCAA Tournament and win games? And the answer is, without question, they could. But obviously there’s a full, complete body of work the committee takes into consideration and they came up a little bit short.”

The SEC’s three NCAA bids were lowest among the top eight power conferences. The SEC ranks seventh in conference RPI rankings.

The Big 12, which ranks No. 1 in the RPI, led the way with seven NCAA selections, while the No. 2 Big Ten, No. 3 Pac-12, No. 5 Atlantic Coast and No. 6 Atlantic 10 each placed six teams in the field. The No. 4 Big East landed four berths and the No. 8American Athletic Conference received four, even as SMU from that league got what most analysts considered the biggest snub.

“I think our league is a lot better than what it gets credit for,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “I really, really do.”

Missouri Coach Frank Haith’s Tigers were ranked in the AP Top 25 after beating three eventual NCAA Tournament teams: UCLA (Pac-12 champion), Western Michigan (MAC champion) and winning at North Carolina State (at-large bid) in the nonconference schedule, their only loss coming to border rival Illinois on a last-second shot in St. Louis. But the Tigers were 12-1 when they lost to Georgia in the SEC opener and struggled to stay above .500 from that point on, finishing 9-9 in conference and 1-1 in the SEC Tournament.

“It is disappointing, because I think our league is better than it is perceived to be and that’s unfortunate that we don’t get the kind of respect as some other leagues,” Haith said. “Even when I saw the seeding of our teams, Tennessee and Kentucky, that was disappointing too.”

Said LSU’s Jones, “We need to go out and win basketball games. I think at the end of the day, that’s where things will turn and … whatever the myth is and the perception of our league, we’ve got to change it and that’s got to come about by winning.”

Tennessee’s Martin said his team’s NCAA Tournament credentials stack up like that of a No. 8 or No. 9 seed, the inference being the SEC didn’t get its due after Florida’s No. 1 slot.

“It’s just unfortunate, because you talk about two or three other teams in my opinion that should have been NCAA teams,” Martin said. “It’s just unfortunate. What do we do? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out myself.”

Sports, Pages 17 on 03/18/2014

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