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March 17, 2013

HURT: SEC has been sent a message

The Southeastern Conference was sent an unmistakable message Sunday.

As a league, the SEC was told that whatever it did in 2012-13, it needs to do something different.

The rebuke, in terms of bids (three) and seeding, was a clear message that SEC teams need to schedule more road games and win a few of them.

They don't all have to be against Duke and Kansas. Middle Tennessee didn't beat a single top-100 team on the road but did get credit for playing some and winning against lesser teams.

Those games are going to have to come in November and December, when 13 of the 14 league schools have football on their mind. They will have to come against teams from solid conferences which will hold their RPI value.

There has to be an understanding that "conference play" in basketball is only a means for scheduling 60 percent of a team's games and that the other 40 percent of the schedule matters.

The powerful SEC office can help in these matters. It can also help to assure that winning league games on the road - which will always be difficult - isn't the near-impossibility that it proved to be this season. Clearly, it takes more than protecting the home court, as neither Kentucky nor Tennessee got the expected bump from beating Florida at home.

But that all starts in November.

To be fair, SEC scheduling hasn't been terrible.

Alabama played Villanova, Cincinnati and VCU away from home, for one example. But the scheduling needs to go up a notch, and the performance needs to go up two notches.

Fans have to respond to November/December games as well. Generally speaking, fan interest for contending teams - anyone with a spark - is good by February. It just needs an earlier start.

With that said, the SEC can bounce back from the 3-for-14 rebuke (it was bad enough when it was 3-for-12).

Given the likely returning players, plus good November recruiting, several league teams should be better. The bottom three teams - huge drains on this year's league RPI - should not be quite so historically bad.

That was a sort of perfect (and ugly) storm, and the law of averages is against a repeat in Auburn, Columbia and Starkville. Even if the three pull up to 150 level in the RPI, that helps.

At least five SEC teams that didn't make the NCAA field have reasonable hopes of getting their next year: Alabama, Kentucky (guaranteed to get there based on recruiting alone), Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

You might throw Georgia in there if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returns.

For any of those teams that miss again next year, there will be a lot of explaining to do.

Kentucky, in fact, will be a potential top-10 team, too, and Florida should be the same.

That would also help matters, RPI-wise.

It is a good thing that SEC fans are disgruntled with this year's basketball results.

That shows they care. The league has too many resources to be content with three bids, and those three teams on the 3, 9 and 12 lines on the bracket.

A lofty but not impossible goal for next year is seven teams, not three.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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