College Basketball Nation: SEC

College basketball might be in for a bit of conference-tournament realignment. The issue, of course, is money -- and determining where conferences and host cities can make the most of it could force a few tournament-location changes in coming years.

College basketball tournaments are multimillion-dollar moneymakers for conferences and host cities. Some cities, like Las Vegas and New York, experience a windfall every year, but others like Atlanta and Kansas City are fighting to play host to tournaments more often. Other cities are simply trying to hang on to the tournaments that call them home.

The Big East’s tournament is one of the most successful each year and is in its 30th year at Madison Square Garden. And though it’s in the first year of a five-year extension at MSG, the conference appears close to signing a deal keeping it there through 2026.

Last year, the conference saw its most-attended tournament in total attendance and ranked second, behind the ACC, in average per-session attendance.

The ACC tournament, which annually ranks first or second in total attendance and average per-session attendance didn’t sell out this year ahead of tournament play, even though games are being held in the 19,300-seat Phillips Arena in Atlanta instead of the much larger Georgia Dome. The 2001 tournament in the Georgia Dome was the most-attended conference basketball tournament in NCAA history for both total attendance (182,625) and per-session attendance (36,605).

Big 12
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireThe Big 12's tournament has rotated between Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Dallas over the past decade, and its future location is not yet set.
The result? The Atlanta Sports Council estimated a total economic impact that year of more than $31 million. But when the Georgia Dome hosted the tournament again in 2009, the impact dropped to $22.9 million.

Dan Corso, executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council, said this year’s tournament will provide greater economic impact than in 2009.

“The economic impact this year, dependent upon how many visitors attend the event, is estimated at approximately $25 million,” said Corso.

The economic impact isn’t as profound for the Big Ten tournament, although it ranks in the top five in terms of attendance each year. John Dedman, Indiana Sports Corp.’s vice president for communications, said the total for the men’s and women’s tournaments in Indianapolis this week is expected to be $12 million to $15 million. “The majority of that economic impact is on the men’s side,” said Dedman.

By comparison, Dedman said the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game, which was held in Indianapolis in 2011, generated $17.7 million in economic impact.

The Big 12’s tournament has rotated between Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Dallas over the past decade. The future site is the source of much debate as Missouri leaves the conference for the SEC. The combined economic impact of both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Kansas City is $14 million.

The men’s tournament is in Kansas City through 2014, but the conference announced in November the women’s tournament would leave for Dallas in 2013 and play in Oklahoma City in 2014.

Another tournament potentially on the move is the Pac-12’s championship. Also a perennial top five in attendance in recent years, it is concluding an 11-year stint in Los Angeles this weekend. Commissioner Larry Scott confirmed this week that moving to Las Vegas or Seattle is possible, though there is also the possibility of staying in Los Angeles.

Las Vegas already hosts three conference tournaments: the Mountain West, Western Athletic and West Coast.

“We have not thought a lot about other leagues,” Scott said. “I think more about TV and what our TV windows would be and how they would match up.”

Mountain West coaches may be hoping the conference’s merger with C-USA will result in a new location for their conference tournament. The games are currently played on UNLV’s campus, which has caused some coaches concern over the possibility of a home-court advantage.

“I think it’s absolutely unfair,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said during this week’s coaches’ teleconference. “It’s not done in any other major conference.

The Mountain West played its tournament at the Pepsi Center in Denver from 2004-06, but attendance paled in comparison to Las Vegas. The highest attended tournament in Denver drew a total of 37,300, whereas Las Vegas has averaged nearly 57,000 each of the past five years. Last year, the tournament drew a record high of 69,913.

In a 2009 study prepared for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the economic impact of the Mountain West tournament brought $6.4 million in non-gaming economic impact to Las Vegas.

Colorado State coach Tim Miles implies it’s the money that has really mattered in the choice of the host city.

“As coaches, we’ve asked for this to be changed and it’s been voted down each time,” Miles said. “When those kids get the bracket and the first thing they do is drop their head because they’re on UNLV’s side of the bracket, or they breathe a sigh of relief they’re not on UNLV’s side of the bracket, it really makes a difference.”

“You can’t tell me any of this was done in the best interest of the student-athletes.”

MWC enters top five of conference rankings

January, 24, 2012
The Mountain West Conference moved into the top five, while the SEC got closer to the Big East in ESPN Stats and Info’s weekly college basketball rankings.

For a complete recap of how we rank the conferences, click <a href="here and here.

The MWC has continued to rise in the rankings this season and is now nearly three full percentage points ahead of the ACC. The conference is getting more respect from the computer polls than the ACC and got a season-high 10.6 percent human bonus this week.

There are just two Mountain West teams in the Top 25, but the San Diego State Aztecs and UNLV Rebels are both ranked in the top 15 in the nation. The Aztecs are ranked 12th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll this week, the highest they’ve been all season.

While the Mountain West moved into the top five this week, the SEC moved closer to the Big East, cutting the gap in half from eight percentage points to four. The conference has three teams ranked in the Top 25, but the Kentucky Wildcats moved into the top spot in both polls this week, slightly helping its human bonus.

The SEC saw a three point jump in the computer rankings this week and was helped by two out-of-conference wins on Saturday over Big Six conference teams. The Arkansas Razorbacks beat the Michigan Wolverines 66-64 while the Tennessee Volunteers took care of the Connecticut Huskies, giving the SEC big wins over the Big Ten and Big East.

The Murray State Racers are ranked ninth in the ESPN/USA Today poll and 11th in the AP poll, but the Ohio Valley Conference remained in the number 22 spot in the power rankings this week.

No conference moved up or down more than one spot in this week’s rankings.

Big Ten No. 1, Summit League makes leap

December, 20, 2011
The top 11 conferences in ESPN Stats and Info’s weekly power rankings remained the same this week, but it was the Summit League that made the biggest leap.

For a complete recap of how we rank the conferences, click here and here.

The Summit League continued its strong movement from last week and moved up four spots in this week’s rankings, largely due to two major wins on Sunday. South Dakota State, which sits on top of the Summit League at 10-4, dominated Washington 92-73.

Despite playing a depleted Xavier team, Oral Roberts scored another big win for the league when it defeated formerly eighth-ranked Musketeers 64-42 in Cincinnati. The Summit League has been a strong conference all season, amassing a .561 winning percentage against all other conferences, the 10th-best mark in Division I.

The Big Ten remained at the top of the conference rankings, although its lead over the Big 12 was nearly cut in half this week. The Big 12 will be hurt by Kansas’ loss to Davidson, but Baylor and Missouri remain undefeated. Kansas State also had a big win over another major conference team, Alabama, which will help the Big 12’s standing.

The SEC saw the biggest drop from the human polls this past week. Two teams fell out of the both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Top 25 polls (Alabama and Vanderbilt), leaving the conference with just three teams in each poll.

As you can see from the rankings below, the Atlantic Sun had the biggest fall this week, dropping four spots from 15 to 19.

A&M, Missouri see the nation in SEC move

November, 15, 2011
Of all the conference realignment possibilities, debates and related goings-on, Missouri’s move to the SEC may have gotten the least attention -- in large part because of the ongoing Penn State scandal.

No doubt that’s fine for Missouri officials now -- and recent SEC addition Texas A&M -- but not being in the national dialogue won’t stand once the teams begin SEC play. Where some fans see both moves as lateral for the teams, university leaders see otherwise: moving to the SEC with play starting in 2012-13 is a chance to grow their brands nationally.

“The top decision factor for A&M going to the SEC was about increasing national visibility and exposure,” said Jason Cook, A&M’s vice president of marketing and communications. It’s no coincidence, he said, that six of the top 10 and nine of the top 25 top-selling brands for IMG College are SEC members.

Cook said looking no further than your TV screen underscores the opportunity: the recent Aggies game against Iowa State was the game selected by Big 12 first-tier rights holder ESPN, which showed the game on ABC regionally. Cook said it wasn’t even shown across the entire Big 12 footprint, much less nationwide. But that week’s game on CBS, the SEC’s first-tier rights holder, appeared in homes from coast to coast.

Referring to the Big 12’s new, second-tier television deal with FOX set to begin next season, Cook said: “While some look at the Big 12’s contract and see it as good from a financial standpoint, from an exposure standpoint, it doesn’t get coast-to-coast coverage.” This would put A&M in the same situation it was in for the Iowa State game, when broadcasts are via regional network and not nationwide.

Increased exposure nationally through athletics can help educate prospective students learn about the university, too, he said. A&M is still thought of by many to be an all-male military institution. One other important advantage: “We can set the marketplace in the state of Texas for the SEC,” Cook said, as the school will be the conference’s lone Texas brand.

From a licensing standpoint, Cook said consultants have projected revenue to increase by up to 60 percent as a result of the move.

Missouri officials have mentioned similar benefits, but Chris Koukola, assistant to the chancellor for university affairs, focused mostly on academic benefits in a recent interview.

Officials from the admissions office will look at extending their out-of-state reach, particularly in Florida, where they have a large number of alumni. Koukola also mentioned the expanded research opportunities available for faculty.

What Koukola said she most looks forward to is the opportunity to participate in a group the SEC has formed of administrators in a similar communications position. She said the Big 8 had such a group, but it was never active once the Big 12 was formed. This cooperative element adds value to their move that often goes without mention, she said.

SEC coaches react to Mizzou addition

November, 6, 2011
If the Southeastern Conference is correct in its assessment, Texas A&M will bring Houston and the state of Texas, while Missouri will be its link to St. Louis and the Midwest.

But what will they bring on the court?

Well, both programs are expected to challenge for the Big 12 title with first-year head coaches this season, and SEC coaches are confident that both schools will be a hit when they join the league as a tandem in 2012-13, assuming the Tigers can get out of the Big 12 in time.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Howard Smith/US PresswireJohn Calipari likes the SEC's additions, but wants two more.
“We can recruit where we want, but it’s nice to have Texas and St. Louis and be able to say now that those areas you’re going to be in playing in and have press coverage,’’ Kentucky coach John Calipari told on Sunday night. “I just think those two schools are like us -- with solid TV following and great fan support. Texas A&M and Missouri have unbelievable followings and great academic programs. I think they’ll both come in and be NCAA tournament teams.’’

The ACC needed Pitt and Syracuse to help infuse more competition for Duke and North Carolina in men’s basketball. It also took away two of the top five programs out of the Big East.

The Big 12 still has its top program in Kansas. Texas is consistently a national threat. Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State are all steady programs now and the expectation is that Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will be on the rise with first- and second-year head coaches. And adding West Virginia gives the Big 12 a national program under Bob Huggins.

Nevertheless, the SEC undoubtedly grabbed two of the Big 12’s top basketball programs at the moment. Georgia coach Mark Fox said the addition of Missouri in particular is extremely good for the SEC.

“Mizzou adds more territory to our footprint, brings high quality academics and a good athletic program to our league,’’ Fox said. “As a former assistant in the Big Eight, and as a guy who grew up in that region, I think I understand pretty well that we’ve added a good one.’’

Calipari said he still wants to see the SEC add two more schools to get to 16. He said he fully expects to see other major conferences go in that direction in the near future. But in the interim, he wants the SEC to remain as one league in the standings instead of going back to two divisions, a sentiment not shared by every coach. The SEC did away with divisions in men’s basketball for this season but is still scheduling as if there were two divisions in an East-West setup.

“It’s a great addition for SEC basketball since Missouri has great basketball history, tradition and fan support,’’ Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “It creates balance with 14 teams. But we need to revisit divisions in light of the additional teams.’’

Calipari said he would like to see the league stay at 16 league games with three teams playing each other twice. The schedule gets more complicated and a bit more random if the schedule goes to 18 games. Regardless, the SEC has all winter to come up with a plan before the spring meetings.

As for on the court, no SEC coach expects either program to wilt when they come into the SEC.

Mizzou and Texas A&M certainly aren’t Kentucky and won’t be Florida, either. But every other SEC program should expect to be challenged as both schools should be in the thick of the race. Missouri has a passionate fan base, a strong recruiting base and will provide a difficult road game for every SEC team. The same can be said for A&M.

“I think it makes things harder on all of us coaches 1-through-14,’’ Calipari said. “We’re not bringing in two bottom-feeders. We’re bringing in two NCAA teams that have tournament potential this season and will continue to have that.’’

Final: Kentucky 62, Cornell 45

March, 26, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Well, that wasn't what was expected.

If Kentucky was going to win this game, which it did 62-45, I was convinced it would be in a rout, not a game played at an Ivy League speed and score from one of Cornell's rivals like Princeton.

Kentucky's defense in the first half was as impressive as I've seen this season -- maybe even more so than their dismantling of Wake Forest in the second round.

The Wildcats completely took Cornell out of what it wanted to run in the first half after an initial 10-2 lead by the Big Red. The 30-6 run to close out the half was something to observe.

But the Big Red never quit. Kentucky's offense went stagnant and Cornell found away to claw back into the game to get within six on a Louis Dale 3-pointer. But as much as Cornell was on the verge of making it a historic upset, Kentucky still kept the Big Red at arm's length. There was still too much DeMarcus Cousins and Cornell could not keep him out of the lane.

Kentucky survived the Cornell surge to move onto the Elite Eight. But that's hardly unexpected for a Wildcat team formed under John Calipari. The goal has always been a trip back to the Final Four for the first time since 1998.

Kentucky will now face West Virginia Saturday at 7 p.m. ET in the Elite Eight. It will end up being the only No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the bracket in an upset-filled tournament. Neither teams played a complete game but both found a way to win Thursday. They were the most consistent, the most talented and the two teams that seemed destined to meet here in Syracuse.

Let's see if the game can live up to the advance billing.

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 65

February, 27, 2010
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Quick postgame thoughts from Tennessee 74, Kentucky 65:

  • Tennessee won't be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but it has now beaten half the probable field of No. 1s. First it was Kansas, now it's Kentucky. Both in Thompson-Boling Arena, both holding on late, both with the help of huge three-pointers from near the same spot on the court. Skylar McBee did the honors in the last minute against Kansas, Hopkinsville, Ky., native Scotty Hopson did it to the Wildcats.
  • Kentucky made 2-of-22 3-point shots. Every team in March will pack the paint against the Cats and make them prove they can hit jump shots. Kentucky had a nine-point edge at the foul line but was outscored 18-6 from 3-point range.
  • J.P. Prince played a tremendous game for the Volunteers, scoring a game-high 20 points. He made the go-ahead basket after Kentucky rallied from 19 points down to tie the score, then made the final four free throws to clinch it.
  • John Wall had 19 points and six assists, but also five turnovers and was 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He was great much of the game, but flawed for key stretches as well.