BIRMINGHAM, Ala.- With college basketball season just weeks away from tipping off, the SEC held their annual media days on Wednesday at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Birmingham.
All 14 league coaches were on tap, as well as two players from each school to preview rule changes for their own respective upcoming seasons and the state of hoops in a conference long known for football.
Here are the takeaways from SEC Tip-Off 2019:
SEC continues commitment to basketball
The new faces in SEC basketball are a sign that a lot of teams in the conference have become destination jobs.
Among them is Buzz Williams, the former Virginia Tech head coach that took the Hokies to the Sweet Sixteen last before filling the Texas A&M vacancy.
Even for an outsider like Williams, who spent six seasons coaching in the ACC, the SEC’s commitment to basketball was evident.
“From an outsider looking in, being specific to the SEC, you can tell that over the last 4-6 years there’s been a commitment to basketball,” Williams said. “It has translated to the institutions and the administrations who now have the commitment they wanted to have to men’s basketball. I think what the league has done in football since I was born speaks for itself. Now there’s visible commitment (to basketball) at each institution.”
Georgia head coach Tom Crean has been in the league a year, but previously coached nine seasons with college hoops blue-blood Indiana.
Like the ACC, the Big Ten is highly regarded as one of the game’s premier college basketball conferences.
After a season in the SEC, Crean has now experienced the league’s basketball commitment first-hand and thinks it is transitioning into a conference that takes basketball as seriously as anyone else.
“I think this league is tremendous,” Crean said. “I think this league is tremendous because of the way it’s ran (in basketball). That goes back to Commissioner Sanky. That’s something I noticed as soon as I got here and I’m not just saying that because this is SEC media day.”
Coaches and players weigh in on new three-point line
Back in June, the NCAA determined that the college three-point line would be moved back to the international basketball distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches for the 2019-20 men’s basketball season.
SEC head coaches and players had their own opinions of the rule at media days. According to them, it’s something they’ll just have to adjust to.
“It will be impactful,” Auburn head coach, Bruce Pearl said of the new rule. “Especially in the corners because kids will be stepping out of bounds. Your good shooters won’t be affected by it, but your shooters that are just ‘OK’ will be affected by the distance.”
In preparation for the change, Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner immediately began shooting from the new distance in off-season workouts.
According to him, it won’t phase the Vols’ guards too much this season.
“As soon as (the three point line) changed, the next day we were working on it in the gym,” Turner said. “We work on NBA threes anyway, so I don’t think it will affect us as much. I think it benefits us because we put a lot of work in shooting the ball.”
SEC, a coaching destination
The SEC’s commitment to basketball has made the league a desirable location for some of college basketball’s best coaches.
Even more evidence of that fact is that those coaches are ending up at programs with history that doesn’t include a lot of championships.
Rick Barnes spent more than a decade in the Big 12 at Texas before winding up in Knoxville to coach a Tennessee men’s basketball program that has one Elite Eight to its name.
Since taking over the Vols in 2015, Barnes has lead Tennessee to an SEC regular season title, tow SEC Tournament Championship finals and a Sweet Sixteen finish.
Barnes is just one example of coaches coming into the conference and changing the landscape. Since joining the SEC, Barnes himself has seen how much elite coaching has changed the perception of basketball in the southeast.
“I was asked about the coaches in the league,” Barnes said. “This league has great, great coaches. When you’ve got great coaches, they understand talent. That helps them win games. Every year I expect our league to put a lot of teams in the NCAA Tournament.”