The promising NCAA Tournament weekend that was naturally has SEC basketball supporters looking toward the future. With three teams in the Sweet 16 and a handful of programs on the rise, who wouldn’t?
But to properly size up where the conference is headed, we also need to remember its basketball roots. That means putting the SEC’s 2017 March Madness performance in historical context.
Let’s examine what this year’s tourney has already meant for the South’s college basketball rep.
When was the last time the SEC put 3 teams in the Sweet 16?
Don’t think too hard. The SEC actually accomplished this three years ago, when Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee — as a play-in team, no less — all made it to the second weekend.
The top-seeded Gators would win their region with relative ease, cruising past Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Cinderella squad Dayton for a trip to the Final Four. UK also made it to the Final Four thanks to its monster upset of No. 1 seed Wichita State, followed by wins over Louisville and Michigan. The Vols beat Iowa, upset UMass and then stomped Mercer.
Impressively, those were the only three SEC teams to receive a tourney bid.
The conference has accomplished this feat three other times in the past 20 seasons, and two of them came at the tail end of the 1990s glory days.
- 2007 (Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt)
- 2000 (Florida, LSU and Tennessee)
- 1999 (Kentucky, Florida and Auburn)
When was the last time the SEC won at least 7 NCAA Tournament games?
Obviously, getting two teams into the Final Four is hard to beat. The SEC won 12 tourney games in 2014, with Kentucky and Florida both losing to the eventual champion UConn Huskies.
Beating that mark would be pretty unlikely this time around, since South Carolina and Florida were placed in the same region. Who would’ve imagined the potential for an all-SEC Elite Eight game?
Other notable recent performances:
- 2007: 11 wins, with Florida accounting for 6 of them
- 2000: 11 wins, with Florida accounting for 5 of them
- 1994: 12 wins, with Arkansas and Florida accounting for 10 of them
When was the last time the SEC pulled off an upset of South Carolina-Duke caliber?
Going strictly by seeding in this case, South Carolina (No. 7 seed) beating Duke (No. 2 seed) certainly isn’t unprecedented.
That the Blue Devils were among the hottest teams in the country — and that many felt the Gamecocks had been over-seeded in this case — is what made this win so impressive for Frank Martin’s squad.
Kentucky’s 2014 upset of Wichita State would technically qualify here, as it was an 8-1 upset. But seeding aside, it was also a premier program knocking off a mid-major. So we’ll jump back to 2013, when Wisconsin — a No. 5 seed coming off consecutive Sweet 16 trips — lost to Ole Miss in the first round 57-46.
Marshall Henderson dropped 19 points in that one, despite going 3 of 12 from 3-point range. The Badgers making it to the Final Four in each of the following two seasons only makes the Rebels’ upset more impressive.
Other recent upsets of note:
- 2010: No. 6 seed Tennessee upsets No. 2 seed Ohio State 76-73
- 2006: No. 4 seed LSU upsets No. 1 seed Duke 62-54
When was the last time the SEC gave a major opponent the Florida-Virginia tourney treatment?
Florida put the hammer down on the Cavaliers in a 26-point win last weekend. Virginia, a No. 5 seed and a top-15 team nationally per KenPom, held wins over Louisville, Notre Dame and North Carolina.
As far as top-5 seeds go, Kentucky obliterated West Virginia in a 39-point victory two years ago. The Mountaineers shot 24 percent from the field, while the Wildcats made 26 of their 78 points from the free-throw line.
Beyond that blowout, however, the SEC really doesn’t have many truly dominant wins against top tourney teams in recent memory, and the ones it does have involve the Gators. In 2006, Florida beat UCLA by 16 points in the national championship game. And in 2000, the Gators whipped Illinois, a No. 4 seed, by 17 points.
But then, Florida has been a juggernaut come tourney time.
Also of note: Florida beat Virginia 71-45 in the first round of the 2012 tourney in a 7-10 matchup.
The SEC has three big opportunities to add to its tourney resume this weekend. Baylor-South Carolina, Florida-Wisconsin and Kentucky-UCLA all tip off on Friday. You can check out my thoughts on those games here.