Maybe the SEC isn’t so bad after all?
Remember when I said last week that the Big 12 looked to have a great showing vs. the SEC in the annual showcase showdown?
In fact, only one of the ten games this week looks to be a clear mismatch in favor of the SEC (No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 53 Oklahoma) — and even then, the Sooners are still a Bubble Team. That “struggling” Sooners team? They went to the 0-Dome, beat Florida by 11, and held the Gators to just a shade over 50 points.
In fact, only two games appear to even be a tossup: No. 6 Texas vs. No. 3 Tennessee, and Auburn/WVU. If I’m Greg Sankey, I’m readying myself for a lot of Maalox this weekend. That, or tar heroin.
Advanced stats reckon the SEC goes 3-7 this weekend…and that’s assuming Auburn can win a nasty road game against Huggy Bear’s suffocating Mountaineers; that the Vols defense can hold against the skilled Longhorns; and that Alabama handles its business — not a trifecta I would place any amount of money on.
Every single game on the schedule this weekend is a losable one for the SEC; because the B12 is playing a different sport at a different gear than the rest of the nation.
Well they did...but we may have also undersold the SEC.
At the end of the day, the B12 went 7-3 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, including winning all five home games. That shouldn’t be a surprise; in eight of those ten matchups, the Big 12 fielded teams ranked higher in the KenPom index — and they did field six teams that were overall ranked in the Top 25.
Final result for those ranked guys? Not great — just .500: TCU, Iowa State, and Texas all took Ls. More impressively, two of those losses were to SEC bubble teams.
So, the biggest takeaway wasn’t how much more dominant the Big 12 was, despite the record, it was how much more important the home floor was. Every team in the Challenge except LSU and Kentucky won on their home floor. And for the B12, that was particularly momentous because much of the officiating was...well...let’s just say generous. Many of the Flyover teams were allowed to play a very aggressive, downright-goonish sort of ball on their home floors. When they were on the road, and the physicality was being whistled both ways (or not), the going got a lot tougher — Ask No. 10 Texas how hard it is to bang bodies in Thompson Bolling; ask No. 13 Iowa State how tough it is to get a W in CoMo; see if No. 15 Iowa State wants to tussle with Great Value Baylor again over in Starkville — not only did the B1G 12 lose all three of those games, it lost them handily, by double-digits.
But that cut both ways. In four of the five home games for the B12, three of them were outright blowouts, though only one was really an upset. And whistles set the tone early.
Not that officiating was the cause of all of the SEC’s woes — Alabama was always going to lose in a contest where the home team hit 11 of 13 perimeter shots in one stretch. But there were also several contests where the stripes controlled much of the outcome down the stretch. Arkansas once again was the biggest beneficiary of the screwjob this weekend (though I suspect no one is upset at the karma earned by Eric Musselman acting like a clown).
West Virginia’s aggressive defense drew just 13 whistles all game against Auburn — and just once in the final four minutes, as the ‘Barn was narrowing the gap. Ditto for Oklahoma State...who shot twice as many free throws as Ole Miss. Arkansas did not shoot a free throw in the second half until there were three minutes remaining. With just 4:14 remaining in the game, Baylor had been whistled for four fouls...total. The Bears also shot twice as many free throws as the Hogs.
Fine. But realize that turnabout is fair play: next year, when #SECOfficials come out to play, don’t be surprised at how horrendous the whistles are on the other end. In their case, however, it won’t be hometowning anyone. It will just be ineptitude.
The biggest news this week is what is happening off the floor. Greg Byrne told a gathering of the REC on Wednesday that there was an announcement coming out this week that will make Alabama basketball fans “very happy.”
And, lo and behold, just a few hours later, Potter announced on Twitter that the University of Alabama Board of Trustees are meeting on Friday. The agenda item? “Employee compensation.”
The UA System Board of Trustees will meet Friday. On the agenda?— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) February 1, 2023
"Consideration of Employment Contracts at UA" for Nate Oats.
That can almost certainly only be about extending Nate Oats, as well as better compensation for he and the staff (better do it before he wins a natty, huh? #GumpSoHard).
For Nate Oats, what does that presage? Well, it almost certainly means he will be the recipient of one of these de facto “lifetime contracts” we’ve seen at other schools (Auburn, Kansas, Kentucky all come to mind). That usually entails a long-term deal, fully guaranteed, with generous performance incentives, a Top 10 salary...and probably with a monstrous buyout.
It’s not a true “lifetime contract” in any legally enforceable manner, no (Statute of Frauds, holler!) But it is a financial commitment and administrative reassurance that the door will always be open for the coach, that the University will invest in the staff and program, and that the University will do its damnedest to ensure that compensation will not be the reason it loses a coach.
All the things that an in-demand head coach needs.
Because make no mistake, basketball schools will come sniffing around like a 17-year-kid with a fake ID turned loose on Bourbon Street. Names? How about Michigan? Louisville? Scheyer isn’t exactly lighting it up at Duke. Indiana is still underperforming. Not a basketball school per se, but Texas has the money and impetus to crack open the piggy bank. UConn is playing .500 ball in Big East play. Villanova has fallen off a cliff after Jay Wright’s departure. Illinois still hasn’t gotten over the hump. And let’s not forget that until 2-3 weeks ago, Wildcats fans were ready to run Cal out on a rail.
A “lifetime contract” scares off all-but the most deep-pocketed, basketball-besotted programs with Alabama Football-level money to throw at hoops. So, in 2023 Alabama may not be able to match the prestige or salary of a job like Duke or Kansas or Kentucky, but it can at least write the checks, commit to the resources, and let Coach Oats try and build this program into precisely one of those destinations.
And that’s one thing we’ve never faulted Greg for — if he excels at anything, it’s in writing checks...even if it’s not always for the right reasons, to the right people, or for the right things.
That said, while this bit of uncertainty has been cleared up before the stretch run and a title chase, we must also concede that merely fending off suitors for Coach Oats almost certainly means that UA will ultimately not be able to retain do-it-all recruiting rock star Antoine Pettway, or longtime Nate acolyte Brian Hodgson for very much longer. When your head coach is in demand, teams are always going to come sniffing after some of that magic, particularly for a coaching system that is analytics-driven and where knowing the system is every bit as important as the intangibles in this case.
And that’s going to be our discussion question today: