By LARRY VAUGHT
Saturday it was time for South Carolina and Florida to get to answer the questions about the lack of respect for Southeastern Conference basketball that UK coach John Calipari has answered in recent weeks.
Remember all season Calipari pounded the SEC drum saying the league was much better than it was given credit for nationally. With three teams in the Elite Eight, it’s hard to argue with Calipari now.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin was asked what was the most disrespectful thing he’s heard about the SEC this year.
“I’ll use an example and it was it happened during the conference tournament. Kentucky beat Alabama in the semi-finals. Alabama had just beaten us the night before. And Kentucky beat Alabama in an absolute brawl. Just a game that came down to the very end,” Martin said.
“And the opinion was, well, Kentucky just sneaks by again. They’re playing with fire. When they play real competition, it’s going to burn them. That’s disrespectful. That’s somebody that — that’s the kind of rhetoric that exists out there, not just for the first time, its just consistently and it gets old and boring.
“But there’s only one way to change it, and it’s by doing what these guys are doing. We can sit and gripe and mope and complain and blame, they’re not about that. And I’m not about that. I just let people know I don’t appreciate that negativity, but the only way to get people to shhh is by doing what these guys have done.”
Florida players got the same question.
CHRIS CHIOZZA: “Probably just the amount that other conferences get talked about, being the best conference. They don’t really give the SEC any credit for being the best conference, but we have three teams in the Elite 8, so that speaks for itself right there.”
KEVARRIUS HAYES: “It’s for like, kind of proves the point that we can actually can compete in terms of being a power conference, having three out of the eight teams that would be from the SEC has proven that we have made it here.”
KASEY HILL: “I would say pretty much the same thing they said. It’s not just a football school anymore, I think it’s turned into becoming — or a football conference, so it’s turned into a basketball conference.”
Florida coach Mike White understands the perception of the SEC as a football league.
“As the perception continues to increase and we are more welcomed amongst the higher level leagues in the country, we have been there before, and we’re certainly on our way back in our opinion, I don’t think it hurts at all. But honestly, it’s not something that I put a lot of stock into,” White said.
“It doesn’t affect recruiting much for us, it doesn’t — these guys, their approach to East Tennessee State, Virginia, Wisconsin, now South Carolina, that approach has nothing to do with what people say about our league. It really, a lot of it — even if the computer rankings had us first in the country, say mid next season, which we very well could be, and people continue to say this about the SEC and this about the ACC, whatever.
“I don’t know how much any of that matters, I really don’t. The selection committee’s going to do a terrific job regardless, we’re going to be the Florida Gators regardless and do the best we can do.”