SEC basketball getting much more interesting

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, April 4, 2009

In the Southeast, as we all know, football is king. But if this basketball season and the recent coaching hires are any indication, SEC basketball could be making a move into the consciousness of sports fans.

I know, I know, SEC basketball fans just suffered through what was possibly the conference’s worst season ever. But not all was lost.

LSU emerged under a masterful coaching job from first-year man Trent Johnson. The Tigers were easily the conference’s best team, compiling a 13-3 mark in league play, and should only get better.

It will be up to the rest of the SEC’s Western Division to catch up to LSU, and Auburn is the team in the best shape to do that. Coach Jeff Lebo finally seemed to get things going in the right direction in his fifth year, and the Tigers will move into a new arena in a couple of years that will surely add to their momentum.

Alabama’s program, meanwhile, had slipped somewhat, winning only one game in either the NCAA or NIT tournaments the last five years. The Crimson Tide will look to get back on track with the hiring of Anthony Grant from Virginia Commonwealth to replace fired coach Mark Gottfried. The hire seems to have rejuvenated ‘Bama fans, and understandably so. Grant has a strong resume and would have been a favorite for several higher profile programs with openings—such as Memphis, Virginia and Georgia before the hiring of Mark Fox—before Alabama snatched him up.

Though Grant’s hiring was approved of almost unanimously, it was quickly overshadowed by Kentucky making former Memphis coach John Calipari the highest paid coach in college basketball. Kentucky can never be accused of not taking its basketball seriously, and, by throwing a lot of money around, the Wildcats are back at the front of the minds of college basketball fans.

Now, Calipari only has to find a way to consistently beat perennial coach of the year threats Billy Donovan at Florida and Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. If only Missouri coach Mike Anderson had taken the Georgia job, which would have forever linked the Birmingham native to Grant because Alabama did not pursue Anderson, the next SEC basketball season might have been more anticipated than the next football season. Well, maybe not.