Following Missouri’s first Southeastern Conference teleconference with men’s basketball coaches, it was clear the Tigers’ new neighborhood was one thing: top-heavy.
The SEC is home to reigning champion Kentucky and has taken three of the past six titles. Still, the league is not typically perceived as one of the nation's most dominant.
That might come down to depth.
Yes, Wildcats coach John Calipari and his “fabulous freshmen” cut down the nets in New Orleans, but only three other SEC schools (Alabama, Florida and Vanderbilt) went dancing into the NCAA tournament. The Big East, the Big 10 Conference, the Big 12 Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference each had more (with nine, six, six and five, respectively), and the Atlantic 10 Conference and the Mountain West Conference each had four teams in the field of 68.
The league’s coaches think the days of having a few very good teams and a bunch of also-rans are over, as made evident during a teleconference at the end of June.
"I'm excited about the future of the SEC," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "We've got some very good teams. There's the potential for this year to be one of the best in quite a while for our league."
Grant also said he thinks other SEC coaches feel the same way.
"If you would poll the coaches across the league, I think you'd hear consistently that this could be a banner year for our league, in terms of how many teams we can potentially get into the postseason," he said.
Calipari wasn’t afraid to give a number to how many teams could get into the postseason.
"You think about our league and the teams that we had, now you add Texas A&M and Missouri — think about what happens now,” Calipari said. “Now we start moving up a notch in where everybody is. I think, again, seven teams in our league, half of our league is going to be in the NCAA tournament. That's what I believe. And I think that will be from here on in."
The SEC has never had more than six teams make the tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but for the fourth time in four years, Calipari’s Wildcats are reloading with one of the nation’s most heralded recruiting classes. But they should have some stiffer competition than last year when they ran the table in conference play.
Though Florida lost freshman dynamo Bradley Beal, the Gators have plenty of experience returning. Coach Kevin Stallings has built a consistent contender at Vanderbilt, Alabama landed one of the country's top recruits in Devonta Pollard, Arkansas made strides under coach Mike Anderson last year and South Carolina hired the reputable Frank Martin from Kansas State.
For Missouri, which just had multiple players selected in the same NBA draft for the first time in 23 years, things seem to be looking up, too.
Gone are five of last year’s seven players in the rotation, but the return of former All-Big 12 senior forward Laurence Bowers, coupled with an influx of transfers, could keep coach Frank Haith’s Tigers among the nation’s top 20 in his program’s inaugural SEC season. Led by junior point guard Phil Pressey and senior guard Mike Dixon, Missouri could be a contender to knock Kentucky from its conference throne.
"It's going to be a special year for the SEC, no question,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “It's as strong as any conference in the country … I think this year coming up could be a banner year, the best ever in the SEC, where we're looking at getting six, seven, maybe even eight teams into the NCAA tournament."