published Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Respect still issue for SEC men's basketball

It's never to early to lobby.

Drumming up respect has not been required recently of Southeastern Conference football coaches, who will gather near Birmingham next week for the annual media days extravaganza, but it's a different story on the basketball front. Florida and Kentucky gave the SEC half of the teams in April's Final Four of the NCAA tournament, but only three league teams were chosen for the field of 68.

The SEC ranked eighth among leagues in NCAA men's tournament participants.

"I'm tired of this fallacy and myth that our league is no good," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "I'm tired of it, and I think it's disrespectful to the coaches in this league. We have guys in this league who have had success wherever they have been, and trying to say that our success is not very good because our league is not very good is disrespectful and not true.

"We have been a league in transition the past couple of years, and now I think it's starting to take shape."

Florida and Kentucky were the only SEC schools assured of being among the final 64 teams in NCAA play, which marked the first time that had occurred. Tennessee had to defeat Iowa to be among the last 64 remaining and then whipped Massachusetts and Mercer to advance to the Sweet 16.

That the three SEC participants in the NCAA tournament each won at least three games aided the league's image, yet there doesn't seem to be much carryover in terms of the preseason polls for 2014-15.

ESPN analyst Jeff Goodman recently released a top 50 that has Kentucky at No. 1 and Florida at No. 7 but no other league team in the top 40. Georgia, which returns four starters from a team that went 12-6 in SEC play but got bounced in the second round of the NIT, is ranked No. 43, one spot ahead of LSU.

Kentucky lost Julius Randle and James Young to the NBA draft after one season but returns twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson. The Wildcats also have another stellar signing class featuring power forward Trey Lyles, center Karl Towns, shooting guard Devin Booker and point guard Tyler Ulis.

"For the first time, I've had players return who had the chance to put their names in the draft," Kentucky coach John Calipari said, "so we're in a unique situation where we have veterans. Granted, those veterans are mostly sophomores with two juniors, but I'm excited about it.

"The returning players and freshmen are getting along well, so it's all good."

Florida became the first team in SEC history to go 18-0 in league play this past season and won 30 consecutive games before losing to Connecticut in the national semifinals. The Gators had a veteran quartet of Patric Young, Scott Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete, but they will return Michael Frazier, Dorian Finney-Smith, Chris Walker and Kasey Hill.

The Gators also will be adding small forward Alex Murphy, a transfer from Duke, and power forward Jon Horford, a transfer from Michigan.

"We lost four really good players who meant a lot to our program the last several years and have had a lot of success," Florida's Billy Donovan said. "We have some other guys returning who will have to step up in some different roles than they were in this past season, but I do think it is a good group of guys who I think went through an experience last year that will help prepare them this year."

Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is back in the league at Auburn, which has the SEC's longest NCAA tournament drought at 11 years. Pearl's return should add some pizazz that the conference has been lacking, which could result in added attention.

Pearl's new team is not expected to contend for an NCAA bid, and his former team could be challenged as well under new coach Donnie Tyndall.

"We're certainly going to be the least-experienced team in the SEC," Tyndall said, "and we may be the least-experienced in all of college basketball with just four returning players and only two who played significant minutes with Armani Moore and Josh Richardson. We signed eight guys from all different kinds of vantage points -- two fifth-year guys, a couple of junior college guys and four high school guys.

"We'll be very youthful and inexperienced."

Georgia gets Jackson

Will Jackson, a shooting guard from Athens, Ga., elected Monday to stay at home by committing to Georgia's 2015 class. Jackson previously had committed to UConn.

Rivals.com ranks the 6-foot-4, 180-pounder as the nation's No. 107 overall prospect.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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