MIAMI - The page turns.
Alabama concluded the SEC football season Monday night in the BCS championship game, and the Crimson Tide will open the men's basketball league schedule tonight when they visit Missouri. The SEC won its first national championship since 2007 when Kentucky topped Kansas last April, but the exodus of eight NBA first-round draft selections in June has left the league in a sizable rebuilding phase.
The SEC provided the top three overall picks for the first time ever with Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Florida's Bradley Beal.
"There are a few teams like us that are in a transitional mode," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who lost John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli in the first round and Jeffrey Taylor in the first pick of the second round. "I think, as a whole, our league had quite a bit of turnover. That can happen from time to time, but when all is said and done, I think you'll see at the end of the year that our league is very competitive.
"When the NCAA tournament rolls around, our league will be in its customary position of being one of the best in the country."
The SEC enters head-to-head play with fewer teams in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index -- Florida (16th) and Missouri (34th) -- than outside the top 200: Georgia (201st), South Carolina (222nd), Auburn (227th) and Mississippi State (283rd). There have been grisly losses, most notably Alabama against Mercer, Vanderbilt against Marist, Georgia against Youngstown State and Mississippi State against Alabama A&M.
League coaches were insisting Monday that the SEC should not be judged solely on nonconference results.
"In the months of November and December, it's almost like teams sometimes form their image and identity of how good or bad their league is, and I've never really agreed with that," Florida's Billy Donovan said. "When you thrust new guys in new roles against pretty good teams or just OK teams, you're always going to be vulnerable to a loss. What ends up happening is you get labeled as a down league, and I don't think that's fair to do until you see the whole thing play out."
Said South Carolina's Frank Martin: "We act like the SEC is the only league in the country that lost games in the nonconference."
Missouri will be playing its first game against an SEC opponent as an SEC member tonight, as will Texas A&M on Wednesday night when the Aggies host Arkansas. The opening round of the new 18-game format concludes Thursday night when Vanderbilt (6-6, 153rd RPI) hosts Kentucky (9-4, 59th RPI) in a rematch of last year's SEC tournament championship won by the Commodores.
"The guys I'm coaching may not even know that game happened," said Wildcats coach John Calipari, who is starting four freshmen.