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When It Comes To SEC Basketball Jobs, Who’s Better And Who’s Best?

Who's_Better,_Who's_BestMick Cronin.  Ben Howland.  Chris Mack, Tim Miles, Archie Miller and Richard Pitino.  For kicks throw in Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart, too.

With the Tennessee and Missouri jobs now open, you can expect to see many of the same names on the Vols’ and Tigers’ lists of coaching candidates.  From our list above, expect Howland to push for both UT and MU, though there’s a reason he’s been passed over by Cal, Marquette, Boston College, Wake Forest, Tulsa, and everyone else he’s contacted this year.  (The reason is likely this.)  On the other side of the coin, Marshall and Smart aren’t likely to being going anywhere at all this offseason (but never say never).

That means Mike Alden and Dave Hart will be probably end up chasing those other guys.  Aware of that fact, Cronin, Mack, Miles, Miller and Pitino will be able to drive up their salary demands accordingly.  Two jobs in the same league open?  It’s called “leverage” and coaching candidates will have it.

But which school has the better basketball program?  Which school is the bigger draw?

Below we present you with our ranking of all 14 SEC jobs as if they were open right now.  We based our selections on facility size (fan support), stability (recent coaching turnover), and overall tradition (titles and tourneys).  We’re not just throwing out names from the top of our heads here.


Coaches would kill for…

1.  Kentucky

All-time:  53 NCAA tourneys, 16 Final Fours, 8 national titles

Last 15 years:  6 Conference titles, 3 head coaches

Arena capacity:  23,000

Upside:  Limitless

UK is clearly the top job in the SEC and it’s in a group of just four or five schools that could make a legitimate claim to being the best gig in the country.  We believe it probably is tops in America, but schools like North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, UCLA and Indiana are all terrific.


2.  Florida

All-time:  17 NCAA tourneys, 5 Final Fours, 2 national titles

Last 15 years:  6 Conference titles, 1 head coach

Arena capacity:  11,548

Upside:  Limitless

Billy Donovan has turned Florida into a national power.  Now, whoever replaces him will have to survive in a legend’s shadow.  But the UF athletic department has been incredibly stable, the recruiting base is large, and most of the heat in Gainesville gets directed toward the football coach.  If Donovan left today, Jeremy Foley could have a new coach by suppertime.


Coaches would be interested in…

3.  Arkansas

All-time:  29 NCAA tourneys, 6 Final Fours, 1 national title

Last 15 years:  0 Conference titles, 4 head coaches

Arena capacity:  19,200

Upside:  Strong

Arkansas eeks into the three-slot based mainly on what’s happened there in the past, just not in the recent past.  The arena is top-notch and the recruiting base includes Memphis (if a coach can tap into it).  When the Hogs are rolling, a good case can be made that UA becomes a basketball school.  It’s also hard to ignore a place with six Final Fours and a national crown.  There’s plenty of upside in Fayetteville and Jeff Long has shown that he’ll spend whatever cash the Razorbacks’ biggest boosters will give him.

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Final Four Florida; Kentucky Gets Its Shot

gfx-hoops-round-up2Florida 62 –  Dayton 52

1. Florida final-four bound.  Gators get 23 points, three assists and three steals from Scottie Wilbekin; named South Regional’s Most Outstanding Player.

2. Gators break through after three straight Elite 8 losses.  Coach Billy Donovan: “I think those experiences maybe helped us be a better team this year than maybe we would have been if we’d gotten to a couple of Final Fours earlier with these guys.”

3. Pat Forde: “The ghosts of Butler, Louisville and Michigan had been exorcised.”

4. The SEC is now 10-1 in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky vs Michigan. 5:05 ET.  Kentucky a 2 1/2 point favorite

5. A Kentucky victory would make UK  the first team with an all-freshmen starting lineup since Michigan in 1993 to make the Final Four.

6. Mike DeCourcy on John Calipari’s NCAA Tournament success: “Since 2004, when he was at Memphis, he has coached in nine tournaments. He has yet to lose to a seed lower than No. 3.”

7. Calipari on Willie Cauley-Stein’s ankle injury: “He’s still in a boot. He’s doubtful.”

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If Kentucky Flames Out Will It Prove That Calipari’s One-And-Done Doesn’t Work?

john-calipari-shockedGet ready.

If/when Kentucky stubs its toe in the NCAA Tournament, you can be sure hundreds of columnists and media types (like us) will opine that we all finally have definitive proof that John Calipari’s one-and-done system won’t work.  An NIT washout in 2013 and a disappointing 2014 will be all many need to see before pronouncing judgement.  And that’s because so many of us questioned Calipari’s recruiting plan from the get-go.  If you doubted it in the beginning, it’ll be a heckuva lot easier to rip it after a pair of humdrum seasons.

That isn’t fair, of course.  Kentucky is 22-9 and the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament.  Yes, 22-9 is enough to make spoiled Wildcat fans yelp for Coach Cal’s scalp on Twitter and messageboards, but to most fans 22-9 would be a pretty good year.  Especially for a team loaded down with freshmen.  Any other big-time program going 22-9 with an inexperienced line-up would be described as “rebuilding” by the press.  But we won’t give Calipari that kind of break.

The reality is that a flameout in the NCAA tourney won’t at all prove Calipari’s system doesn’t work.  It will only prove that fielding teams made up of one-and-doners makes things more difficult for the coach himself.  Each year he has to learn a new group of starters.  Each year has to coax them into buying into a “team first” mentality.  And each year he has to pray that one of his rookies doesn’t go down with an injury.

Since he started pushing Kentucky as an NBA stepladder, Calpari has reached an Elite Eight, two Final Fours, a national title game (which UK won), the NIT, and now another NCAA tourney.  (The NIT bid came in a year in which Kentucky went 4-5 down the stretch after an injury to dominating big man Nerlens Noel.)  Most coaches, schools and fans would take that five-year record and smile.

In fact, isn’t it possible that we in the media overhyped this particular Wildcat recruiting class in the first place?  This was about the fourth year in a row in which America’s best-known basketball gurus declared that Kentucky had landed “The Greatest Class Of All-Time.”  (Pause for trumpets, fanfare.)  And if we in the press — along with rabid Big Blue fans — called it the best class ever, well, by gosh it has to be the coach’s fault he’s only gone 22-9.  To hell with chemistry.

This comes from a writer and website, mind you, that has questioned Calipari’s one-and-done plan.  Specifically, we wondered if fans would connect with any of these drive-thru players.  In 20 years, will anyone in the Bluegrass State remember which 9-month Kentucky residents were on a Final Four team and which were on the NIT team?  We believe all those faces and names will run together.  (For comparison, Florida fans will have a much easier time remembering the four seniors who led them to a perfect 18-0 SEC record this year.)

We’ve also written that toughest part of recruiting NBA superstars-in-waiting will be getting them to play team-first basketball.  Every blue-chipper UK signs was the brightest star on his high school team.  Attitudes have to be adjusted and some are more maleable than others.  Remarkably, Calipari’s first three batches of one-and-doners did yield to the team.  At least well enough to reach Elite Eights and beyond.

But even though we don’t believe a revolving door approach to recruiting is the best way to build a basketball program, we can’t claim that the past two seasons prove Calipari’s system won’t work long-term.  At least no more than we could have said after Calipari’s first three seasons, “Yep, this is going to be a breeze for Kentucky.”

The one-and-done approach makes things more difficult for the coach.  But four NCAA tourneys in five years with an Elite Eight, two Final Fours and a national title in the books doesn’t look too darn bad from where we sit.

Besides, what’s Calipari supposed to do?  Not sign star players who want to slip on a Kentucky jersey?  Please.  Wildcat fans would revolt.

But be ready.  If/when the Cats are ousted pre-Elite Eight from the Big Dance, Calipari’s one-and-done system will come under heavy fire.  Very heavy fire.

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UF’s Donovan Goes For Win #400 Tonight

Tonight when Florida faces Stetson, Gator coach Billy Donovan will be going for the 400th victory of his career.  The 46-year-old coach has been a head coach since 1994 and has served in Gainesville since 1996.  It’s hard to believe that Donovan has been in the SEC that long.

In 16 years at Florida he’s won two national titles, been to three Final Fours and cranked out eight NBA first-round draft picks. 

For comparison’s sake, Mike Krzyzewski is now the game’s all-time winningest coach with 907 wins at the age of 64.  If Donovan continues to coach into his 60s and continues to enjoy his current level of success, it’s likely he’ll finish his career ranked among the top four or five winningest college basketball coaches ever.

Good luck to Donovan tonight.

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Phillips Asked About UK Leaving The SEC

The possibility of a Kentucky exit from the SEC continued to get play today as a reporter asked Joker Phillips during his Monday presser if the Cats should bail on their longtime home.

“I don’t think it’s… it’s not my job or my deal to be thinking about, but I think we are in a good situation right here were we are.”

Seven NCAA Tournament championships, 14 Final Fours and some people actually believe Kentucky would be better off moving to a tougher basketball league in order to aide a football program that’s less important to Wildcat fans in the first place?

Don’t underestimate this angle of the ACC talk, folks — by pointing out just how futile UK’s hopes are in football, reporters are able to twist the knife a bit deeper into Phillips’ back.  Every time he has to answer a question regarding the weakness of his program, Phillips is further painted as incompetent. 

And that’s a little rough on a guy who’s just 17 games into his job.

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Texas Inks $300M Deal With ESPN For Longhorn Network

The rich are getting richer in college sports.

In a move that will cause seismic quakes across the landscape of college athletics (and future conference expansion plans), the University of Texas and ESPN have finally reached an agreement in their efforts to build a television network geared exclusively toward Longhorn sports.

Texas will make $300 million over the course of its 20-year deal with ESPN and its new Longhorn Network will be the first of its kind.  Think Big Ten Network (which is a partnership between that conference and Fox) but with one school earning all the proceeds.

Texas is an IMG school and once that group’s multimedia rights fees are sliced out, the Longhorns should receive about $15 million per year in new revenue.  That’s on top of its existing “biggest piece of the pie” cut from Big 12 revenues.  Which has already helped Texas fund the biggest sports budget in the country for 2010-11.

With this kind of financial advantage — plus a great recruiting base, tremendous facilities, and a history of winning — SEC fans had better get used to seeing Texas in BCS bowls and Final Fours.  The Longhorns are about to become uber-rich… which should help them to become even stronger in athletics.  If that’s possible.

On another front, Texas was very much at the heart of 2010′s conference expansion talks.  The Big 12 nearly broke apart because the have-nots in that league were sick of being controlled (and out-spent) by the one very big have down in the Lone Star State.

The Pac-10 almost expanded to 16 teams in order to land the Horns.  The Big Ten also flirted with Bevo and company.  This summer was all about Texas.  And now Texas has even more power.

At some point the Big 12 will finally come apart.  When that happens, every league out there will race to land the Longhorns.  But Texas will have the power to demand whatever it likes from its new partners, thus setting up a new conference that will face the same revenue-sharing issues that have plagued the Big 12.

In other words, everyone will want Texas because they’re so rich and powerful.  But landing Texas might actually be a bad thing in the long haul… because they’re so rich and powerful.

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