As you may know, ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes’ continual vouching for the quality of the SEC has been a small but interesting story this season. Both his crusade and my coverage of it began in late January. Dykes disputed the absence of ranked SEC teams, and went on to confuse this very understandable omission with a lack of respect. I concluded that his outcry was unwarranted since only Kentucky was even remotely deserving of a ranking. A few weeks later, inspired by another Dykes-authored defense of the SEC, I checked in with the teams that he had previously described as competitive by any standard. Even with a bigger sample size, the conference appeared to have just three teams worthy of any consideration for a national ranking, and even that was a stretch. Dykes’ impassioned touting of the SEC remained without much credibility.
Shortly after this check-in, Dykes made his most declarative statement regarding the maligned conference. He predicted – in no uncertain terms – that the SEC would get five teams into the NCAA tournament. Specifically, he predicted that the SEC East would get three teams in, the West one, and a fifth would sneak in there from some undisclosed location. I was both deeply skeptical of this prediction and irritated by Dykes’ utter lack of explanation as to his thinking. I promised to return in March and see how his forecast fared. Well, it’s March.
The bracket has been revealed. And do you know how many teams from the SEC made the field? Three – Tennessee from the SEC East (producing two fewer teams than Dykes predicted), and LSU and Mississippi State from the SEC West. Had the Bulldogs not won the conference tournament, the SEC would have had only two teams in the bracket. Furthermore, all three of these teams were given seeds that Dykes would certainly perceive as a slap in the face. Tennessee is a 9-seed, LSU an 8, and Mississippi State a 13. With a full season of data, results, and analysis behind us, it’s clear the the SEC was simply a bad conference this year.
But because Dykes left himself yet another out, my hand-waving about the predictable inaccuracy of his prognosis cannot yet be completed. After declaring that five SEC teams would qualify, he said:
“Everyone keeps ragging on [the SEC], but we’ll see how many teams make the tournament. And we’ll see how many teams make it past that first weekend – because that’s how you really tell what the good teams are.”
We’ve seen how many SEC teams made the tournament, and it was an unsurprisingly low number. Dykes was spectacularly wrong. Now, unfortunately, we must wait to see how far these three teams advance. If Tennessee, LSU, and Mississippi State make it to the round of sixteen, then perhaps Dykes had a point. I suspect, however, that none of these teams will make it to March 23rd. If that’s true, then I’ll really let loose.
Until then, I’m going to do two things. The first thing I’m going to do is re-state just how incredibly wrong Dykes’ prediction was. Not only was it wrong by a wide margin, but even at the time, it flew in the face of all logic, reason, and evidence. It was doomed from its inception, and anyone with a shred of analytical skills could have confirmed its catastrophe. But Dykes – governed by his geographic roots rather than his duties as an analyst – slammed those who perspicaciously recognized that the SEC was a bad conference. With that in mind, the second thing I’m going to do is watch the NIT. Dykes and his partner Brad Nessler are broadcasting several of the games, and I’m interested to see if the former addresses his folly. I suspect, however, that Dykes will wonder why Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina didn’t make the cut, thereby depriving his audience of yet another opportunity to learn something about college basketball.
I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.