Originally Published: January 14, 2013

The SEC's disappointing season carries on

By Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

On Sunday afternoon, Mark Fox and his assistants stayed in their offices and discussed solutions to the quandaries that continue to plague a young Georgia squad (6-9, 0-2 SEC).

They might have been the only men in the Peach State who weren't attached to a TV during the Atlanta Falcons' thrilling win over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL playoffs.

Fox didn't know the score of that game. He'd missed the drama. At one point in our conversation, he told me that he'd "heard" the Falcons had reached the end zone. But he was too focused to turn on the game and see for himself.

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AP Photo/Dave MartinMark Fox has his issues at Georgia, as does the rest of the SEC.

"We're just so young, and then we haven't had anybody consistently finish plays up front," Fox told ESPN.com. "We're just not a very consistent group. We just aren't."

His program's predicament -- the Bulldogs rank near the bottom of every statistical category in the SEC -- leaves minimal time for pleasure. There are too many problems to fix.

The same can be said of the entire conference, one that's rated below the other power six conferences and even the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West in the current conference RPI ratings. This league is more comparable to the Missouri Valley Conference than the Big Ten or Big East.

Last season, Kentucky won the national title with relative ease. Its place atop the podium in New Orleans seemed like a formality as early as January of last year. Eight months later, Alabama's football program earned its third national title in four years.

A league accustomed to prestige, however, has been humbled through the first two months of the 2012-13 college basketball season. Thus far, both Mississippi State and Texas A&M have suffered losses to SWAC teams. Marist (4-13, 1-5 MAAC) beat Vanderbilt by 17 points.

Plus, the conference's contenders have failed to prove that they're among the elite. Yes, Missouri beat Illinois in St. Louis last month, but it also suffered a 23-point loss to Louisville in November. Florida blew a late lead in a loss at Arizona and couldn't fend off Kansas State. Then there's Kentucky, a program that's essentially made up of NBA prospects who look great in warm-ups but rarely play to their potential after tipoff.

"You can say, 'Well, you don't have this and you don't have that.' Well, we're getting in league play, and it's all going to shake out," John Calipari said during the SEC's first media teleconference last week.

But the first week of SEC play only enhanced the conference's reputation as a mediocre league. Texas A&M topped Kentucky by a dozen points at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Ole Miss dropped a Missouri team that played without Laurence Bowers. The forward, however, doesn't handle the ball for the Tigers, who recorded 19 turnovers. Yet Auburn and Mississippi State both have won their first two SEC matchups.

Try to make sense of that.

"I think what happens a lot of times is, based on November and December your league gets immediately labeled, and then once we all play each other it gets labeled whether or not it is a good or bad league based on what you have done outside the conference," Florida coach Billy Donovan told reporters last week. "Now clearly, up to this point in time our league has had some difficult and challenging losses; we all have.

"I don't think you take our league and just put it in a box and say therefore the league is not as good, because I think teams are going to get better, they are going to improve."

The free fall that began with multiple nonconference losses could lead to a disappointing Selection Sunday. Only Missouri, Florida, Texas A&M and Ole Miss are ranked in the top 50 of the current RPI ratings.

There is, however, some logic behind the decline.

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Dak Dillon/USA TODAY SportsMissouri still has Phil Pressey, but it has taken a step backward from last season.

Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Florida all lost non-senior standouts to the NBA this past summer. In all, the Wildcats represented six of the 12 former SEC players who were selected in the 2012 NBA draft. Missouri returned just one starter -- Phil Pressey -- from last year's team.

In-season injuries to Carl Engstrom and Andrew Steele have affected Alabama, a team that has lost six of its past nine games. Tennessee's Jeronne Maymon (12.7 ppg and 8.1 rpg in 2011-12) hasn't played this season, and the school recently announced that he will redshirt after suffering a knee injury during the offseason.

And the league features seven coaches who've been with their respective programs -- most of those gigs involve rebuilding jobs -- for three or fewer seasons.

One of those coaches, Rick Ray, understood some of the challenges he'd face when he accepted Mississippi State's offer this past spring. But some of the obstacles have surprised him.

A few years ago, Tyson Cunningham was a member of the scout team that faced the Mississippi State women in practice. Today, he averages 22.6 minutes per game for a short-handed Bulldogs squad.

"That hardest thing is not having any sort of a semblance of what you're about to do or who you're about to play because we don't have 10 guys," Ray said. "Even our graduate assistant tore his MCL in practice. We've got eight able bodies."

And that squad is undefeated in SEC play right now.

From the top to the bottom, though, this conference has underperformed. There's still time for improvement, but the collective ditch it's in right now is deep.

And that probably means more Sunday office hours for the conference's coaches in the coming weeks.

THE RUNDOWN

The SEC then (2011-12) and now (2012-13):

Alabama
Alabama Crimson Tide

Then: One of the nation's top defensive units reached the NCAA tournament with the help of former standout JaMychal Green (14.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg).

Now: Anthony Grant has an elite backcourt (Trevor Lacey and Trevor Releford), but his limited frontcourt could make it difficult to climb the SEC standings.

Arkansas

Arkansas Razorbacks

Then: The Razorbacks went 6-10 in the SEC after losing Marshawn Powell for the bulk of the season because of an ACL tear.

Now: Powell (14.3 ppg) and B.J. Young (17.1 ppg) lead a strong offense that hasn't proved it can stop any above-average team with its subpar defense.

Auburn

Auburn Tigers

Then: Kenny Gabriel was a key player for an Auburn team that went 5-11 in the SEC in Tony Barbee's second season.

Now: Frankie Sullivan (17.2 ppg) is one of four upperclassmen averaging at least 8.4 ppg for a Tigers squad that has defeated Florida State, LSU and South Carolina in its past three games.

Florida

Florida Gators

Then: Bradley Beal helped the Gators reach the Elite Eight before entering the NBA draft.

Now: The Gators, led by Kenny Boynton and Patric Young, are the team to beat in the SEC.

Georgia

Georgia Bulldogs

Then: Possessed the worst scoring offense in the SEC (60.9 ppg) and finished 5-11 in league play.

Now: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is one of the nation's most talented players, but he's the only player averaging double figures for the struggling Bulldogs.

Kentucky

Kentucky Wildcats

Then: Six future pros anchored a national championship squad that also enjoyed the senior leadership of Darius Miller.

Now: The Wildcats might be the most "talented" team in the SEC, but their inconsistency -- and lack of experience -- has kept the program from living up to the preseason hype.

LSU

LSU Tigers

Then: Lost in the first round of the NIT after achieving an 18-15 (7-9 SEC) record with a defense that was ranked 32nd by Ken Pomeroy.

Now: First-year coach Johnny Jones' program has lost its first two SEC games, but its offense is currently fifth in the league with 74.2 ppg.

Mississippi State

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Then: Arnett Moultrie (16.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg) led one of the nation's top offenses to 21 wins and an NIT berth.

Now: New coach Rick Ray is playing with six scholarship players, but the Bulldogs have won their first two conference games.

Missouri

Missouri Tigers

Then: The Tigers had the nation's most efficient offense per Pomeroy but were upset by Norfolk State in the NCAA tournament.

Now: Frank Haith's nationally ranked program will rely on Phil Pressey, Laurence Bowers (who missed last season with a knee injury) and multiple transfers.

Ole Miss

Ole Miss Rebels

Then: The Rebels won 20 games, but poor defense (163th in efficiency per Pomeroy) hindered an Ole Miss program that reached the NIT.

Now: Juco transfer Marshall Henderson (18.6 ppg) is one of the reasons that Andy Kennedy's program is a contender for the SEC title and an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

South Carolina

South Carolina Gamecocks

Then: Malik Cooke (12.3 ppg) led the Gamecocks (10-21, 2-14 SEC) in scoring in one of the program's worst seasons.

Now: New coach Frank Martin guides a South Carolina team that's already won 10 games but lost to two of the league's worst squads (Mississippi State, Auburn).

Tennessee

Tennessee Volunteers

Then: The midseason addition of Jarnell Stokes helped Cuonzo Martin go 19-15 (10-6 SEC) in his first season.

Now: Jeronne Maymon's knee injury was a blow for a team that's had more lows than highs this season.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M Aggies

Then: Billy Kennedy's health, team injuries and transfers were factors in the team's 14-18 (4-14 Big 12) finish last season.

Now: New SEC member is 2-0 after defeating Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday following Elston Turner's 40-point outing.

Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Commodores

Then: The Commodores had a veteran crew that ultimately reached the round of 32 via one of the nation's top offenses.

Now: Kevin Stallings lost his top six scorers from last year, and he now relies on a young team that's averaging just 57.6 ppg (334th in the nation).

The Weekly Forecast

By Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

A quick look at the temperature of college basketball as we head into a new week:

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Rich Sugg/Getty ImagesAnother season, another quality Kansas team for Bill Self.

Streaks

Hot: No. 6 Kansas will try to extend its current winning streak to 14 games when it faces Baylor on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse. Baylor and Oklahoma State might be the only two teams with the talent to stop the Jayhawks from running through their Big 12 slate without a loss.

Cold: Kentucky had won 55 consecutive games at Rupp Arena before last month's loss to Baylor. The current team won five in a row after that streak was snapped. But Saturday's home loss to Texas A&M means the Wildcats will start from scratch again when they play Tennessee at home on Tuesday.

Hungry teams

Hot: I actually think losses by No. 8 Minnesota and No. 2 Michigan will boost the clash between the two schools Thursday in Minneapolis. Both Big Ten contenders want to erase the taste from respective weekend losses to Indiana and Ohio State. A win over another top-tier Big Ten squad would help them do that.

Cold: Grambling State and Maryland-Eastern Shore, however, just want to win. Once. The Tigers (0-14, 0-5 SWAC) and the Hawks (0-13, 0-2 MEAC) are still searching for their first wins of the season.

Bennett

Hot: Anthony Bennett (19.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc) has been a top contender for national freshman of the year. He could prove to be the undisputed front-runner if he leads No. 24 UNLV to road wins over No. 16 San Diego State on Wednesday and Colorado State on Saturday.

Cold: Tony Bennett's Virginia squad has been up-and-down all season. The Cavaliers have defeated Wisconsin and North Carolina, but they're in danger of losing their first three ACC games (back-to-back road losses to Wake Forest and Clemson) when they face Florida State at home on Saturday.

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