Barnes calls SEC “best basketball league” in country — and there are numbers to back up that claim

Nothing comes easy in the SEC this year for any team, including Kentucky. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes obviously is a bit biased when it comes to Southeastern Conference basketball, especially with his team coming off a win over Kentucky.

Still, he didn’t hide his feelings about the league Monday during the SEC Coaches teleconference.

“I think this is the best basketball league in the country right now,” Barnes said. “The league has improved a lot. Leagues cycle. You see it over time. And the SEC is great right now.”

How great?

Well, good enough that Kentucky coach John Calipari said the SEC champion could have six or seven regular-season conference losses. Kentucky and Tennessee are both 2-1 in SEC play. Twelve of the 14 SEC teams already have at least one loss in league play and five have multiple losses. Texas A&M, who some picked to win the league, is in last place at 0-3. 

The only teams without a league loss are Florida (3-0) and Auburn (2-0). The Gators already have road wins at Texas A&M and Missouri.

“When you look at our league, you’re talking eight, nine, 10 teams. Really, all 14 (teams). Teams that we thought would struggle are leading our league,” Calipari said. “Teams that you thought would be in the middle are up. Teams that have had issues as far as injuries and everything have taken a little step back, but they’ll be back. So, this is a six-, seven-loss league – you could lose six or seven (games) and win the league. That’s what it looks like to me.”

How good is the SEC?

— Six SEC teams rank in the top 30 of the Jan. 8 NCAA RPI: No. 10 Tennessee, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 13 Auburn, No. 17 Arkansas, No. 28 Texas A&M and No. 30 Missouri.

— Eleven teams in the Top 70 of the RPI leads the nation.

— Nine SEC schools have played schedules that rank in the Top 50 according to the Jan. 8 NCAA RPI.

— Thirteen SEC schools have a Top 150 SOS.

— Seven teams are receiving mention in the Associated Press Top 25 highlighted by Kentucky (21st), Auburn (22nd) and Tennessee (24th). Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia and Arkansas are receiving votes.

— SEC basketball teams entered the start of league play having won 76.1 percent of their non-conference games. That is the best winning percentage at the start of league play since 2006-07 (77.8 percent).

—  The SEC is the only Power Five conference to have all of its league members ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, with seven in the top 50.

—  According to Joe Lunardi’s most recent Bracketology post, the SEC is second to the ACC with eight teams projected to make the NCAA this season. 

“We just try to learn from our losses and just try to apply them to the next games and just focus on what we did wrong and make that better for the next games and just play hard and just continue to do what we do,” Kentucky freshman forward P.J. Washington said Monday.

Vanderbilt will play Tennessee and Kentucky this week. Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew knows better players and veteran coaches have made the SEC “just flat-out better” than what it has been.

“I think when you have bigger, better players the game will be more physical and that’s why the SEC has done so well in non-conference (games) and is why this league is a battle every night no matter who you face,” Drew said Monday.

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