When we think of the SEC, we generally think of football. We think of the seven championships in seven years for the conference. We think of the great coaches running up and down the field on Saturdays: Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and now even Jimbo Fisher.
However, the conference is no longer just about football. For the second straight year, the SEC has sent at least seven schools to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. If we look at the scheduling of the SEC, we see Commissioner Greg Sankey continuing to push the coaches to have competitive schedules which can garner bids to the NCAA tournament.
Not only has the mindset of the SEC schools changed, but the prestige of the coaches hired has also greatly increased. All 12 of the current coaches officially still on staff at an SEC school have been to the NCAA tournament. Highlighted by coaches such as John Calipari, Ben Howland, Tom Crean, Bruce Pearl, Frank Martin and Rick Barnes who have combined for 11 final fours, the SEC is clearly placing high value in coaching accolades.
After several vacancies became open this year due to mediocre results, we knew the athletic directors of those schools were no longer playing games. Now, as the hirings have started and some premier names start filling those seats, we know the SEC will continue to grow.
The most premier of these is Texas A&M stealing another high profile coach from a really good university. After scoring Jimbo Fisher in football last season, this year, after a down year in basketball, they have landed coach Buzz Williams, who will try his hand at coaching in the SEC. After getting into the NCAA tournament each of the last three years and finishing fifth in the ACC, even though his star point guard out for half of the ACC regular season, Williams is an exciting hire for Texas A&M.
Another insane hire this year in the SEC is Eric Mussleman. The former NBA head coach, who took Nevada to three straight NCAA appearances, is going to be at the University of Arkansas. Another guy who has shown tremendous potential and seems very capable of developing talent is coming to this very robust conference. Mussleman seems to be another coach that is ready to move from the minor leagues of mid-major success into a league where there will surely be a tough competitor in every arena.
Even Vanderbilt University, with its academic rigor and funky gym, has attracted a rather interesting hire. Jerry Stackhouse, the former NBA player who spent 18 years in the league, and since 2015 has been working on his craft developing into a coach, has taken the reins at Memorial Gymnasium. The two time NBA All-Star and 2017 G-League Coach of the Year, will surely make a quick impact on the conference. It will be interesting to see Stackhouse’s style in college as well as a head coach.
With hires like these, the conference has nowhere to go but up. The all-powerful football conference is no longer going to be just sending Kentucky and Florida to the national tournament. The high level of coaching pedigrees in the conference for next season looks like this conference will have some exciting games every single game day. Those mediocre teams getting by with feeding off of the lower tier teams, or those in an off year, will need to find another way to stay afloat in the conference.
Can the SEC be the new Big East? We have the coaches, the talented players and the venues to be the next great basketball conference. One question remains. Will the new wave of coaches and potential high turnover in SEC Men's basketball equal the same amount of greatness that SEC football has? In a league where one bad season, even if it means the National Invitational Tournament or making the tournament three straight years before that, can equal unemployment, coaches should be on high alert as the frontier is open, and the stakes are high.