Last year, just three SEC teams made it into the NCAA Tournament and just one advanced to Sweet 16.
In the 2017 NCAA Tournament, four teams won their first-round games and the fifth, Vanderbilt, very nearly made it 5-for-5. Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas were those that reached the round of 32.
It’s the first time since 2007 that four SEC teams have advanced past the first round. Yes, it’s been a decade since this many teams in the SEC (Missouri and Texas A&M didn’t join the conference until the 2012-13 season) won a first-round game.
Sure, the ACC got six teams to the second round and the Big Ten five, but the SEC is slowly making progress. And the conference will have a chance to further help the brand of SEC basketball. South Carolina, Arkansas and Florida get a chance to take down ACC heavyweights in Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. Kentucky, meanwhile, gets matched up with Wichita State.
There’s a very real chance that the SEC only gets one team to the Sweet 16 again, but that doesn’t mean the conference is just as bad as last year. And with programs like Alabama, Auburn Mississippi State and Georgia expected to make a leap next year, the conference seems to be moving in the right direction.
And if Cuonzo Martin, who was the last coach to take Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament, can turn around Missouri with the help potential help of No. 1 overall recruit Michael Porter Jr., Missouri could possibly make it 10 teams that play in the NCAA Tournament next year. That might be a little unrealistic — the ACC got nine teams in this year and was widely considered the best conference in the country — but the fact that John Calipari mentioned the possibility of having as many as nine SEC teams get in makes you stop and ponder the thought.
While Kentucky might be the only SEC team this season that’s a legitimate national title contender, the improvement by the remainder of the SEC’s NCAA Tournament teams thus far is a sign that the league is headed in the right direction.