Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Conference Selling The Brand
The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball brand is one of NCAA success. When the SEC gets multiple entrants in the field of 64, other conferences wish they could do they same for what has been the entire NCAA history.
From top to the middle, the SEC has teams that can compete with league champions of other conferences. Upsets showed this week the top teams are not immune to unranked conference foes.
The NCAA Seeding Committee knows this. There are five teams with 20 or more wins. There could be a sixth and even a seventh. Maybe a 20-win season and a winning mark in conference gets you to the next level.
Think how strange it is that the league leader was the third-ranked team in the league until now. No other conference has that possibility.
The top SEC teams are national contenders even if none of them are No. 1 seeds. The1-3 seeds are pointed to the Sweet 16. When LSU hosts a sub-Regional this year, that gives the unranked, middle-of-the-pack Bengals a real shot at getting in, especially now with a marquee win over Kentucky, even if a higher seed is in Baton Rouge, simply because they come out of the SEC.
And they would be the sixth SEC team with 20 wins (at 17 now after an OT victory over league newcomer Missouri and then the upset of Kentucky).
They have won four straight.
Vanderbilt has 18 and Arkansas 17 wins (but a losing record in conference for Arkansas) so the league tournament run could mean a 20th win for another team and some national consideration.
The strength of the league also automatically designates strength of schedule for those unranked teams. The five ranked teams are assumed to be in. The post-season SEC conference tournament, with no byes for the first time, is the chance of a lightning in a bottle upset and a ticket to the national stage show.
THE RANKED SEC TEAMS
•No. 8 Kentucky continued its problematic play. UK has three league losses after falling behind at LSU and never really finding a rhythm. For them to defend their regular-season title for the first time ever, they need Tennessee to lose twice. That could happen as UT has the toughest close.
UT has one loss with two to go but the last one is at UK and the possibility of a tie would be broken by the only head-to-head this season. Last season, UK gave itself a challenge by losing three in February. They have lost two in February this season. A third loss would doom them.
The Wildcats took a week off after the road win at A&M and it did not help at Baton Rouge. They were down by 11 at intermission after a 21-6 home run to close it. Somebody solved the vaunted UK defense.
A 14-8 run in the first seven minutes after intermission cut into the halftime deficit for the visitors. Last season, LSU broke their ankles with a 10-point win at Baton Rouge.
A'dia Mathies scored 20 and Jennifer O'Neill 15 for Kentucky.
The star was LSU guard Jeanne Kenney. She overcame personal loss by hitting all five 3-pointers she attempted on her way to a career-high 22 points.
"We needed this win. I was going to play," Kenney said, allowing for a slight, appreciative smile. "I needed my team and my team needed me."
Kenney had missed her grandfather's funeral because of a snow storm that kept LSU adrift in Missouri a day longer than expected and was unsure if she would play against the Wildcats because of a sore left foot. She did not start.
Theresa Plaisance hit her fifth double-double this season with 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Bianca Lutley added 15 points for LSU. But LSU center Shanece McKinney was helped off with a knee injury.
The ’Cats are at Ole Miss before ending the season with the wham! game against Tennessee.
•No. 10 Texas A&M, after the devastating home loss to Kentucky, welcomed a chance to break out of any slump by welcoming in woeful Ole Miss. Kelsey Bone had 24 points and a career-high 17 rebounds to help the Aggies to a 29-point blowout.
Bone remains among the conference’s best scorers (a trio averaging 17 and change) and is the best rebounder by average (10) without being in the top 10 of minutes played due to the blowouts. Her teammates can reward her leadership with a closeout of wins and perhaps make her the Player of the Year and Gary Blair the Coach of the Year, each of which would be deserved.
Next up was Vanderbilt, part of the Tennessee road two-step. And there came the 10-point loss to an unranked team. So, all three top contenders now have lost on the road in conference to unranked teams. A&M can say farewell to the Top 15 until tournament time.
Tiffany Clarke scored 30 for the Commodores, 25 after halftime. She took 25 shots, the most taken in a dozen years by any Vandy player. She hit 12 of them. All this with reigning SEC scoring champ Christina Foggie out with injury for a fourth consecutive game.
The Commodores are 2-5 against ranked teams.
A&M now goes to Knoxville in the second-to-last game of the season A&M would be the first team to win conference in its first year of competition since the NCAA sanctioned the league. The UT game is its last tough matchup.
•No. 11 Tennessee completed is streak of three winnable games and was the only one of the top three to not lose.
Auburn at home and at Arkansas were not challenges. Tennessee went 6-of-7 from 3-point range in the first seven minutes of the Auburn game and eventually coasted after a 33-7 lead.
Arkansas was competitive, but is 5-9 in the league and showed why. The Lady Vols fell behind by double-digits in the second until steady scorer Meighan Simmons came up with 18. UT’s five-game winning streak is the best in the league.
As UT looks back at this season the mystery of losing big at Missouri will be the forever unanswered question. Had they won there (after demolishing them in the first meeting of the season) the conference would have been won by now. No way should that be a loss, but it is and has kept the race close.
The other weird UT stat is it leads the league in scoring (79.3) in a tradition that always takes defense first. But that does lead to the second-best scoring margin (16.5).
Now A&M comes to Knoxville and Tennessee comes to Lexington to close the regular season. The Lady Vols will have to earn a title. They were the fifth (and final) league team with more than 20 wins. Then again, they came second last season and then won the automatic league bid to the NCAAs in the conference tournament before losing in the Sweet 16.
•No. 13 Georgia is in cruise control and showed it against Ole Miss in their string of winnable games.
To start the second half of the Ole Miss game it was 18-6. It ended as a 19-point blowout. Jasmine Hassell, a strong all-SEC player, was 10-of-15 from the field and scored 23.
Andy Landers won his 900th game as a women’s college basketball coach, 818 as the only coach Georgia has ever had. Among active coaches, he is ahead of C. Vivian Stringer, Tara Vanderveer, Geno Auriemma, Jim Foster and Muffet McGraw. And of course, he has now coached more SEC games than any other coach.
Georgia has three league losses but can win out at Mississippi State and against Vanderbilt at home on Senior Night. With A&M and UK losing, the Lady ’Dawgs are elevated by their misfortune and are in that bunch in second place.
•No. 15 South Carolina had three home winnable games to close out. They dumped Mississippi and have only the continually flaming Missouri on the road and Florida at home before the league tournament as the certified No. 4 seed and an NCAA entrant in back-to-back seasons for the first time in a decade.
The Ole Miss game started 0ut 20-8 and never was much challenging.
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