Saturday, April 21, 2018
Sports

SEC seeks to bolster men's basketball image, NCAA Tournament appearances

DESTIN — For a conference known for football, one of the most important things coming out of this week's SEC spring meetings centers on the league's overlooked revenue sport — men's basketball.

Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has been meeting with the SEC's coaches as a special adviser appointed by the league. The goal is to come up with ways to combat the league's image and get more teams into the NCAA Tournament.

"Let's get a little formula right," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "You get running, then you get six, seven teams in the NCAA Tournament."

Except that hasn't happened since 2008.

The SEC placed only three teams in last season's tournament and Vanderbilt had to compete in a play-in game. Every other Power Five conference had at least seven teams in the tournament. The SEC had five teams in the tournament in 2015 but only three in the previous two years.

"It's concerning," Florida coach Mike White said. "I think it's concerning to probably every school in our league and definitely our conference office. We're a better conference than that. We just have to get over the hump."

How to get over that hump has been the major talking point in meeting rooms at the Hilton Sandestin hotel.

Some of the proposals have been radical. Calipari doesn't like the conference's postseason tournament because early losses doom teams and, in his opinion, winning the conference tournament title means little. As an example, he cited last season's SEC tournament title game, when Kentucky beat Texas A&M but ended up being seeded No. 4 in the NCAA Tournament while the Aggies were seeded No. 3.

Calipari's solution: Give the automatic tournament berth to the regular-season champion, and move the SEC tournament to the opening of the season. Give every team three guaranteed games at a neutral site — such as Atlanta's new football stadium, with the field divided into two courts.

"We go somewhere and all the fans come in, and we celebrate our league," Calipari said.

The more likely scenario involves moving the postseason conference title game from Sunday to Saturday to give it a larger impact on the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Commissioner Greg Sankey said those conversations will continue, despite some current contractual obligations that could complicate a move.

Sankey said the athletic directors are being challenged to schedule tougher competition. While seven teams had non­conference schedules ranked among the top 100 nationally last season, two (South Carolina and Ole Miss) were 300th or worse.

The previous expectation was that a team's nonconference opponents would have a three-year RPI average of 175. That figure is being lowered to 150.

"It sets an expectation that I think allows the necessary flexibility in scheduling and sets a higher bar," Sankey said.

And that higher bar could be good for the entire league, not just regular tournament teams like Kentucky and Florida. Calipari said the SEC's image as a football conference doesn't affect its basketball, but its mediocre reputation hurts everyone.

"The issue becomes the perception out there — that you lose a road game in this league, it hurts you badly," Calipari said.

Coaches think that perception could be changing, even without the strategies that emerged this week. UF is in the middle of a $64.5 million renovation to the O'Connell Center. Ole Miss opened a new facility, The Pavilion, in January.

South Carolina missed the NCAA Tournament but was a No. 1 seed in the NIT. White said he thinks UF could have been an NCAA Tournament team if its four-game losing streak had been three. Instead, even with a new coach, the Gators were five points away from a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT's semifinals.

"We're actually really quite good," Sankey said. "We're just not quite there yet."

Comments
Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

DUNEDIN — After losing a four-run lead thanks to a bad sixth inning, it would have been easy for Clearwater Central Catholic to fold against Dunedin in the final of the 49th annual Dunedin Spring Tournament. But quality relief pitching from Gar...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

ST. PETERSBURG — Roughly four hours before taking the field against his former team Friday, Rays outfielder Denard Span spoke admirably about the Minnesota Twins, their organization in general, even hometown icon Joe Mauer.But business is busin...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

BRANDON — Ryan McDonagh blocks shots. He competes for pucks in the corners and wins those battles. He moves the puck up the ice well. He can join the rush. He can shoot from the blue line. He kills penalties."It was a great pickup by (Lightning...
Updated: 7 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 20

Friday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 15, Central 0
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays journal: Miller back from DL, KK surgery successful

Rays journal: Miller back from DL, KK surgery successful

ST. PETERSBURG — For a change, the physically snake-bitten Rays got some vigor, versatility and even a veteran presence back in their lineup  when INF Brad Miller was reinstated from the 10-day disabled list.To make room, they DFA'd INF/OF...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Really, it’s time to look ahead

Really, it’s time to look ahead

BRANDON — Three things that popped into my head as the Lightning and Devils get ready to play Game 5 this afternoon at Amalie Arena.1. I’m going to do something that a hockey team in the playoffs would never do, not in a million years.I’m going to ta...
Updated: 8 hours ago
LeBron James, Cavs show unity with coordinated suits

LeBron James, Cavs show unity with coordinated suits

The Cavaliers, with an assist from a New York-based designer, made their first big play Friday night just by entering the arena. As they paraded into Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis before Game 3 of their playoff series with the Pacers, the C...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

BRANDON – Devils top defenseman Sami Vatanen had not traveled to Tampa as of Friday afternoon, according to coach John Hynes, and his availability for Game 5 Saturday against the Lightning is in doubt.Hynes, however, did not rule out Vatan...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

TAMPA — Private developers would bear much of the cost of a new Rays stadium in Ybor City under a plan Hillsborough County officials are putting together.Developers would benefit by cashing in on commercial, retail and other construction around a ne...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Racing schedules for 2018-19 parimutuel seasons released

OLDSMAR — Eight is not enough at Tampa Bay Downs, at least when the thoroughbred racing facility on Race Track Road opens its 93rd season July 1.The final card of what will be the Downs' sixth annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing will featu...
Updated: 10 hours ago