Sunday, November 6, 2011
In adding Missouri, SEC boosts hoops
By Eamonn Brennan
Say what you will about Missouri's decision to leave the Big 12 and head to the SEC. Accuse Mizzou of greed at the expense of tradition. Say it achieves nothing but the addition of $12 million or so to the Tigers' athletics department's bottom line. Call it what you want. You're probably not wrong.
But whatever the vitriol involved, however much wailing and gnashing of teeth you're inclined to provide, at this point it's basically a waste. It's official now: Missouri is leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, and that, as the immortal Stone Cold Steve Austin might say, is the bottom line. (Because Stone Cold said so.)
The more pertinent question, at least for college basketball fans, is how this will affect the on-floor performance of conferences involved.
Missouri won't become a SEC member until the 2012-13 season at the earliest (and possibly later depending on West Virginia's arrival date in the Big 12), and with a new coach and so many seniors on this year's team, it's difficult to predict how strong Tigers basketball will be in the next few years.
But what if Missouri joined the SEC right now? Could the conference -- a football-dominant league where basketball has almost always taken a backseat -- be the best in the country?
You can certainly make that argument. In a hypothetical world in which Missouri and Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference tomorrow -- just go with it, guys -- the league would have an impressive roster of league title contenders and top-25 teams. The 2011-12 versions of Missouri and Texas A&M are ranked No. 25 and No. 19 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll, respectively. Both have questions, but both could very well compete for the Big 12 title. That would likely be the case in the SEC too, where both squads could at least hang with the likes of No. 2 Kentucky, No. 7 Vanderbilt and No. 10 Florida.
More than anything, the SEC would receive a boost in its middle-regions. As of now, the league is one of haves and have-nots -- the very good programs listed above contrasted with the likes of likely doormats like LSU, Auburn, South Carolina and (suddenly) Tennessee. And both would be better than Arkansas and Misssissippi State, two talented teams with sleeper potential in 2011-12.
In this hypothetical, if those two teams pan out, the SEC would have, count 'em, eight potential NCAA tournament teams out of 14 members. It would have six teams in the preseason top 25 (tying the Big East for the most) -- and three in the top 10. That's a pretty high ratio, one few conferences could match. And in the long view, if Tennessee recovers from the Bruce Pearl mess and Mark Fox's recruiting continues to go well at Georgia, the SEC could be a very, very deep league.
In the meantime, the Big 12 would take a major hit. To be sure, the addition of West Virginia -- whenever that kicks in -- is a boon for Big 12 hoops; the Mountaineers are likely to remain competitive as long as Bob Huggins is at the helm, and probably longer. But the addition of TCU is a hoops non-starter. The Horned Frogs have made just two NCAA tournament appearances since 1987. Since 2005, when it moved to the Mountain West, TCU hoops has failed to post a single .500 record.
After Nebraska and Colorado left the conference last season, the Big 12 arguably became the best pound-for-pound hoops league in the country. But the real-world 2011-12 season is the only time we'll get to see that kind of league play out. By 2012-13, realignment will have watered the league down -- if only marginally -- once again.
Of course, this is just hypothetical short-term noodling. We don't know how Missouri's move could affect recruiting, how the loss of its traditional rivalries -- especially the century-old Border War showdown with Kansas -- will change the way the Tigers target and land players. The same goes for Texas A&M.
It could hurt. It could help. It could have no discernible impact whatsoever. And, as stated above, both programs have new coaches and a smattering of seniors; by the time they join the SEC in real life, their teams could look drastically different.
But in a realignment world that cares only for football and TV revenue, the SEC could get a nice little bonus from its additions of Missouri and Texas A&M.
That bonus? Better men's basketball. Whatever your thoughts on Missouri's move -- or realignment in general -- for SEC hoops, the outcome is undeniably positive.