NEW YORK — That whole storyline about SEC basketball being disrespected nationally has only grown more pronounced now after the conference put three teams in the Elite Eight.
No other conference has more than one team left in this NCAA Tournament.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin was especially eager to feed into that conversation Saturday.
“I’ll use an example, and it happened during the conference tournament. Kentucky beat Alabama in the semifinals. Alabama had just beaten us the night before, and Kentucky beat Alabama in an absolute brawl, just a game that came down to the very end. And the opinion was, well, ‘Kentucky just sneaks by again. They’re playing with fire. When they play real competition, it’s going to burn them.’ That’s disrespectful,” Martin said. “That’s the kind of rhetoric that exists out there. Not just for the first time, it’s just consistently, and it gets old and boring.
“But there’s only one way to change it, and it’s by doing what these guys are doing. … I just let people know I don’t appreciate that negativity, but the only way to get people to shhh is by doing what these guys have done.”
Florida (27-8), a No. 4 seed in the tournament, meets No. 7 South Carolina (25-10) on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden with a Final Four berth on the line.
Meanwhile, No. 2 Kentucky plays No. 1 North Carolina in Memphis, Tenn., in another Elite Eight matchup.
Martin, Florida coach Mike White and players from both teams were prodded with lack-of-SEC-respect questions during their media sessions.
White hit some of the same tones as Martin.
“I can speak to Florida more specifically than any other place. I mean, this place, we have won a ton of championships [in multiple sports]. So to call it a football school is, I think, a slap in the face to all those other sports,” he said. “And to coach [Billy] Donovan, who won a couple national championships himself. And we’re not the only school, there’s a high level of success in all sports in our league. Is football incredible? Absolutely. We love watching it. But SEC basketball is pretty special as well.”
It sure is this month. The conference is assured of at least one Final Four team and could wind up with a pair.
Whatever the outcome, the teams involved feel they’ve made a statement already.
“I think it’s starting to [get more respect] now that we have three teams in the Elite Eight,” Gators guard Canyon Barry said. “I think we were kind of overlooked a little bit this year. People were picking other teams over SEC schools. So hopefully this shows people that the SEC is a big-time league and you play tough competition night in and night out.”
Florida point guard Kasey Hill took it a step further.
“It’s not just a football school anymore … or a football conference. It’s turning into a basketball conference,” he said.