Ruler for a day
Several SEC basketball coaches were asked Monday what rule they would change were they the czar of the sport:
› Vanderbilt’s Bryce Drew: “They did so many last year that I would have to see what’s left not to change. I still look at the lane being kind of tight in there, so I would be for opening up the lane a little bit more and taking away some of that physical contact around the rim.”
› LSU’s Johnny Jones: “I would take the shot clock down to 24 (seconds). We’re an up-tempo team, so you would get more possessions, and I think it would provide more excitement for the fans having the game at a quicker pace.”
› Alabama’s Avery Johnson: “I would move the 3-point line back and try to limit a lot of non-shooters from taking a lot of 3s. I think that would open up the lane a little bit more, and I would like to see the shot clock go down to 24 to speed up the game even more.”
The Southeastern Conference has used several measures in recent years to enhance its men's basketball standing in NCAA tournament bids.
Divisions were done away with after the 2011 season, and tinkering with the nonconference scheduling has occurred ever since. No adjustments have worked to this point, as reflected by the SEC providing just three NCAA tournament teams three of the last four seasons, and the latest league hope is the addition of former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese as a special adviser to conference commissioner Greg Sankey.
Tranghese, a former NCAA tournament selection committee chair, sat in with the league's 14 basketball coaches several weeks ago at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
"I'm excited about our league, and I think you're going to see some drastic changes in the Southeastern Conference over the next couple of years," Tennessee second-year coach Rick Barnes said Monday on a teleconference. "The bottom line is that people are going to ask what it will take to get more teams into the NCAA tournament. Mike Tranghese said it well, because you're going to have to schedule well and you're going to have to win some of those games.
"We've got to come into conference play with a higher RPI, but I thought it was a great meeting from the standpoint of having Mike in the room. His presence in that room from start to finish made it one of the best coaches meetings I've ever been a part of. We all left there very energized and with the belief that good things are going to start happening."
That would certainly be welcomed by the SEC, which sent Kentucky, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt to this year's 68-team NCAA field, with the Commodores relegated to a "First Four" game in Dayton, Ohio. Vanderbilt was thumped by Wichita State, leaving just two SEC teams among the final 64 for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 in 1985, and there were no league teams left by the Elite Eight.
The SEC has produced eight at-large bids to the last three NCAA tournaments, well behind the Big 12 (18), Big Ten (17), ACC (16) and Pac-12 (14).
"We have to do a better job on our own campuses of this league in believing in our product and promoting all the good to overcome all the nonsense negativity that people put out there," South Carolina's Frank Martin said. "When I got here, everybody said, 'Wait until January, and your fans will come.' Well, that doesn't work.
"November and December need to be promoted, because the games count."
The league's lackluster performance in this year's tournament became all the more baffling last week, when the SEC had five first-round selections in the NBA draft, more than any other conference. LSU's Ben Simmons went No. 1 overall despite missing his only opportunity to experience the NCAA tournament.
Late-season faltering doomed LSU, while South Carolina set a program record with 24 regular-season victories but was denied by the NCAA selection committee due to its schedule that ranked 126th in difficulty by the RPI. Martin was bothered this past season about "top 50" wins being such a prominent factor and not "top 75," and he continues to scoff at the notion scheduling is the reason for the lack of SEC participants in NCAA play.
"The truth be told, 50 and 75 are one in the same," Martin said. "It's not a different game. We need more concrete things. We need more, 'These are the criteria,' and put them in place so it's not a moving target every year.
"You think Rick Barnes doesn't know how to put a schedule together to get in the NCAA tournament? I think he's got that one figured out."
The SEC has revamped its basketball front office in recent weeks, naming former Temple assistant Dan Leibovitz as an associate commissioner and Mark Whitehead as its new coordinator of officials. Yet it's Tranghese, the Big East commissioner from 1990 to 2009, who has league coaches buzzing most.
"His track record is phenomenal," new Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said, "and as he dives into this job, I really feel it's going to benefit SEC basketball. The common thing is to win, because if you win, a lot of those things will happen.
"Hopefully, we can all have great nonconference starts and great nonconference records, so when we do get to the league, there will be no bad losses."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.