SI Vault
 
They're SECond To None
Curry Kirkpatrick
February 21, 1983
Top to bottom, Kentucky to Alabama, Southeastern Conference teams can claim more good players and greater balance than any other league in the land
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 21, 1983

They're Second To None

Top to bottom, Kentucky to Alabama, Southeastern Conference teams can claim more good players and greater balance than any other league in the land

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

THE PRETENDERS ARE IN LEAGUE WITH THE CONTENDERS

As weekly standings show, as many as six teams have been tied for first, and only LSU and Alabama haven't been there at all

WEEK 1
(through Jan. 8)

WEEK 2
(through Jan. 15)

WEEK 3
(through Jan. 22)

WEEK 4
(through Jan. 29)

WEEK 5
(through Feb. 5)

WEEK 6
(through Feb. 12)

Auburn

2-1

Auburn

3-1

Kentucky

5-2

Georgia

5-3

Georgia

6-4

Kentucky

8-4

Florida

2-1

Kentucky

3-2

Auburn

4-2

Auburn

5-3

Ole Miss

6-4

Tennessee

7-5

Kentucky

2-1

Miss. St.

3-2

Vanderbilt

4-3

Kentucky

5-3

Tennessee

6-4

Vanderbilt

7-5

Ole Miss

2-1

Vanderbilt

3-2

Florida

3-3

Ole Miss

5-3

Auburn

6-4

Ole Miss

7-5

Miss. St.

2-1

Florida

2-2

Ole Miss

3-3

Vanderbilt

5-3

Kentucky

6-4

Auburn

6-5

Tennessee

1-1

Tennessee

2-2

Tennessee

3-3

Miss. St.

4-4

Vanderbilt

6-4

Georgia

6-6

Alabama

1-2

Georgia

2-2

Georgia

3-3

Tennessee

4-4

Miss. St.

5-5

Miss. St.

6-6

Vanderbilt

1-2

LSU

2-3

Miss. St.

3-4

Florida

3-5

LSU

4-6

LSU

5-7

LSU

1-2

Ole Miss

2-3

LSU

2-4

Alabama

2-6

Florida

3-7

Florida

4-7

Georgia

0-2

Alabama

1-4

Alabama

2-5

LSU

2-6

Alabama

2-8

Alabama

3-9

It wasn't weird enough that Mississippi had won four conference games on the road and shot 76.3% from the field in one of them. Mississippi? Or that for almost a month Georgia had been the most solid, stable, disciplined team in the league. Georgia? Or that at one time or another old reliable Tennessee had been 0-for-Saturdays; street-slick Alabama had beaten UCLA at UCLA but couldn't beat Mississippi State at Starkville; and Kentucky, the proud, king-daddy-of-them-all Kentucky Wildcats, had been booed with true-blue, bluegrass boos right there in Lexington. The coach and the players. Boos?

What seemed most outrageously bizarre was that on Sunday, Feb. 6, at the halfway point of the 1982-83 Southeastern Conference basketball season, six schools, most of whom you would not have recognized without their football cleats, were tied for first place with records of 6-4 (see chart, page 20) and that one of them was Auburn. Auburn? And that the Auburn star, quite possibly the most amazing, dynamic and fun-to-watch collegian in all the land, happens to be a humongously plump sophomore who has learned to answer to a variety of monikers, including Fatboy, Breadtruck and Amana, in hostile arenas. Charles Barkley, all 6'6", 272 pounds of him (before breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, supper, snack, dinner, snack, dessert, snack and midnight munchies, by which time he might be up around 400), plays the game like Porky Pig gone berserk on a trampoline.

And if anyone in the SEC environs took a break from the annual prayer meditations over the signing of high school football players last week—in the deep South what it is is football, still—he might have noticed that the conference's basketball race had taken some more improbable turns toward chaos. At Auburn last Saturday, before the Crisco Kid could tear down a single backboard with one of his refrigerator slams or add to his hefty career statistics against Kentucky, Barkley was thrown out of the game, exactly 113 seconds after it started, for deliberately swatting Wildcat Charles Hurt's head from behind.

Barkley's blow was a retaliatory gesture that came after Hurt, no shrinking violet himself, had knocked Barkley to the floor on Auburn's first possession and then, moments later, had viciously body-blocked him down the side of the lane and all the way into the end-zone press table. But Referee Paul Galvan, one of the best, saw only the Tiger's paw. Barkley's belt hurt Auburn more than it hurt Hurt. Kentucky went on to win the game 71-69 as Wildcat Center Melvin Turpin, whom Barkley routinely eats for lunch along with his four pizzas, scored 25 points. That game may turn out to be the most significant in this conference season. Because Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi all lost on the road, by late Saturday Kentucky stood alone at the top of the SEC with an 8-4 record, while the above losing trio dropped to 7-5 and Auburn to 6-5. If Barkley, the Wildcat-whipper, had stayed in the game, according to the house line, Auburn would have won going away, and there would have been the usual virtual five-way tie for first. Oh, Pancho. Oh, Crisco.

This new parity doesn't necessarily mean the best basketball is played in the SEC, only the most competitive. Just now the league appears not to have any North Carolinas or Indianas, contenders for the national championship, and its top two teams—whoever they may be—might lose to the strongest pair from a handful of other conferences. But below that, don't come messing with the SEC.

At week's end, SEC teams had won 81 and lost just 18 against non-conference opponents, and every SEC club except LSU had won a holiday tournament. Moreover, Jeff Sagarin, the computer wizard from Bloomington, Ind. who punches scores and schedules into his terminal to come up with a ranking that is biased by neither geography nor media hype, recently had nine, count 'em, nine, of the 10 SEC teams in his Top 30.

For sure, the Southeast's middle-rung schools would blow out the third or fourth place teams from anywhere else. The trouble is, the SEC has been so closely bunched for so many weeks that it would be difficult to find the middle rung. But last place? Forget it. Alabama has been there almost all year. The Tide, which last week won only its third game in league competition, was once ranked seventh nationally by SI at the same time it ranked 10th in the SEC, where it yet remains. At home in the cozy SEC one night, 'Bama fell behind Vanderbilt by 23 points; away from home, the Crimson Tide has defeated Penn State, Southern Cal and Georgetown (by 21 points), in addition to UCLA. The last three of those games were played in Los Angeles. 'Bama Coach Wimp Sanderson has not scotched the rumor that he will relocate his team out west and call it UALC, the University of Alabama at La Cienega.

The reasons for this vast shift of roundball power in a conference in which only 15 years ago Mississippi announced that Head Basketball Coach Eddie Crawford was being "promoted" to assistant football coach are few and rather obvious: big money, good coaches and black players.

After years of Kentucky white rule, the SEC began to change in the mid-'60s. Athletic directors realized that meaningful revenues could be enjoyed from a basketball program if a school had a sizable place to play. Tennessee was the first to build an arena to rival Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum, and Georgia, Alabama, LSU and the two Mississippi schools soon followed. Now everybody has the big tent. After Kentucky escalated the building war and moved into the 23,000-seat Rupp Arena, in 1976, Tennessee began planning a 25,000-seater, or at least a building one seat bigger than Kentucky's.

If bigger wasn't automatically better, blacker certainly was. In 1966-67 Vanderbilt broke the league's color line with Perry Wallace. Two years later an Alabama athletic director named Bear Bryant hired little-known C.M. Newton out of tiny Transylvania College, a few blocks away from Rupp Arena, to coach basketball at Tuscaloosa. Newton immediately recruited a stream of talented black players, and soon all those quality athletes from the South, the "home boys" who had gone off to the Big Ten and the Missouri Valley and the WAC, or had opted for smaller local black schools, were integrating SEC lineups. On current SEC starting teams, 42 of the 50 players are black. And what a fertile recruiting territory the SEC is. The state of Georgia, for example, furnished Louisville with two-fifths of its starting national championship team in 1980 in Derek Smith and Wiley (One Thumb) Brown, and this season four different Georgians are playing key roles on SEC teams outside Georgia: Dale Ellis at Tennessee, Jeff Malone at Mississippi State, Odell Mosteller at Auburn and Kenny (Sky) Walker at Kentucky.

Continue Story
1 2 3