Is it possible Texas and Oklahoma will make their biggest impact on the SEC in hoops?

·4 min read

A decade ago, the scuttlebutt was that the Southeastern Conference had a grand plan for conference realignment.

Back then, word was that the end game in conference musical chairs for then-SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was to get to 16 teams by adding Texas and Texas A&M from the Big 12 and — wait for it — North Carolina and Duke from the ACC.

In that way, the SEC would gain a footprint in two growing states in the south plus become not only the best football league but also the preeminent men’s basketball conference.

I thought about that speculation last week as the SEC officially reached 16 teams when Texas and Oklahoma accepted invitations to join the league starting (wink, wink) after their financial obligations to the Big 12 expire in 2025.

When you view college sports from a state of Kentucky perspective — meaning, a viewpoint in which college hoops really matters — it is disorienting to realize how little consequence basketball holds as football-focused forces are reshaping college sports.

Oklahoma and Texas are being added to the SEC for football, or more specifically because of the projections of financial bounty that the current 14 Southeastern Conference schools can reap by bringing the Sooners and Longhorns into their league’s television contract.

In the sphere of competition, however, conference realignments don’t always track expectations.

When the SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri for the 2012-13 school year, the conventional wisdom was that the Aggies would boost the league’s football while the Tigers would bolster conference basketball.

As it has turned out, Missouri has won two SEC East football titles (2013 and 2014) but has had a winning league record in men’s hoops only twice (2012-13, 2017-18) in nine years.

Conversely, as a member of the SEC, Texas A&M has had the same number of wining league records (three) in men’s hoops as its had in football. The Aggies have yet to win an SEC football championship but shared the 2015-16 regular-season basketball title with Kentucky.

So brought on board for football, it’s possible Oklahoma and Texas will make the bigger competitive impact in men’s hoops.

SEC men’s basketball is already on the ascension.

From 2009 through 2016, Southeastern Conference programs averaged 3.75 NCAA Tournament bids per year. Since 2017, the SEC has averaged 6.5 NCAA tourney teams per season.

Of the six major basketball conferences (the football Power Five plus the Big East), the SEC and the Big 12 employ the highest number of coaches who have previously led teams to the Final Four — there are six in each league.

With the retirement of Roy Williams, the ACC has only four active coaches who have taken teams to a Final Four; the Pac-12 and Big East each have two such coaches, while the Big Ten has Tom Izzo.

Two of the Big 12 coaches who have previously taken teams to the Final Four — new Oklahoma head man Porter Moser and new Texas coach Chris Beard — are now at schools on the way to the SEC.

It will be interesting to see if the hard-charging Beard can overcome what has been a perceived Texas penchant for underachieving in hoops. Whether the former Texas Tech head man can fulfill the potential of the Texas program could have a profound impact on Kentucky.

Under John Calipari, UK recruiting has had a heavy reliance on the Lone Star State. Think Julius Randle (Dallas), Aaron and Andrew Harrison (Richmond, Texas), De’Aaron Fox (Katy, Texas), PJ Washington (Frisco, Texas), Jarred Vanderbilt (Missouri City, Texas), Tyrese Maxey (Garland, Texas) and Daimion Collins (Atlanta, Texas).

Job one for Beard will be to lure more of the best home-grown Texas players to Austin.

If he succeeds, Beard could do at Texas what Billy Donovan did at Florida — win at the highest level of basketball while coaching at a self-identifying “football school.”

We think of Oklahoma for its football prowess, but four different men’s hoops coaches have taken the Sooners to the Final Four.

After toiling at the mid-major level throughout his head coaching career, Moser must prove he can successfully recruit at the top level of college basketball. If he does, the ex-Loyola coach should be an ideal fit to replace the understated Lon Kruger atop the Sooners’ program.

Moving forward, with Texas pledged to join Texas A&M in the SEC, the league will soon have realized half of the grand plan that Slive — who retired in 2015 and died in 2018 — allegedly held a decade ago.

If current SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey is willing to turn the Southeastern Conference into a 20-team, college sports Death Star, might he direct his focus toward the ACC next?

What I wonder: If the Southeastern Conference were to make a play for premier ACC football brands Clemson and Florida State, does basketball matter enough in the big picture of conference realignment for the SEC to at last woo Duke and UNC, too?

With Texas coming to the SEC, are hand gestures like ‘L’s Down’ on the way out?

Vote no on Texas and Oklahoma? UK long ago prioritized $EC cash over football viability.

In 2021-22, one faction of UK basketball fans is finally getting what it wants

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