SEC basketball coaches said they were built for March Madness, then got embarrassed

SEC basketball is having a no good, very bad, rotten start to the 2024 men’s NCAA tournament. As upsets have started to inflict the bracket in March Madness, a common theme is appearing: SEC teams are more often than not on the wrong side of a Cinderella story.

Eight SEC teams made the field of 68: No. 2 seed Tennessee, No. 3 seed Kentucky, No. 4 seeds Auburn and Alabama, No. 6 seed South Carolina, No. 7 seed Florida, No. 8 seed Mississippi State, and No. 9 seed Texas A&M. Before the first round ends, five of those teams have already been eliminated.

The SEC’s struggles in March have become even more magnified as fans and media members started to dig up confident quotes from some of the league’s top head coaches before the tournament.

On Friday, Auburn became the latest upset victim from the SEC at the hands of No. 13 seed Yale. The Tigers were in control in the first half, but Yale put on an incredible display of shot-making to get the game close, and then wrestled away the win in the final seconds. Yale beat Auburn, 78-76, for one of the biggest upsets of the tournament so far. Also on Friday, No. 10 seed Colorado knocked off No. 7 seed Florida on K.J. Simpson’s incredible game-winner.

It was even worse for the SEC on Thursday. No. 3 seed Kentucky suffered a stunning upset to No. 14 seed Oakland, 80-76, in the most jarring result of March Madness so far. Oakland reserve Jack Gohlke became an overnight legend by hitting 10 three-pointers in the win. Also on Friday, No. 11 seed Oregon beat No. 6 seed South Carolina, and No. 9 seed Michigan State beat No. 8 seed Mississippi State, 69-51.

The receipts were being pulled up as soon as the losses piled up for the SEC. Take this quote from Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl less than a week before the tournament started:

“Our league is prepared to make a run in March,” Pearl said after an SEC tournament game. Sure doesn’t seem like it!

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talked a lot about how his ‘Cats were made for March. Now he might just be on the hot seat. It was all good just a month ago:

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“I’ve got all my coaching buddies call, and they say, ‘I love your team.’ And I love this team too. We’re built for March,” Calipari said. “Now, real simply, we have to get more physical. We have to get 50-50 balls, and that includes rebounds that are free that we haven’t gotten. We’ve got to get, let’s say 10% better defensively.”

Florida coach Todd Golden also got got:

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“It’s one of if not the best league in America,” Golden said. “Every night you’re going up against NBA players on the other side. If you don’t put your best foot forward, if you’re not competitive, physical, ready to go, you’re going to get popped.”

Okay, maybe that one is fair. The SEC was rated as the fourth best league in DI men’s basketball this year by KenPom’s models, behind the Big 12, Big Ten, and Big East.

Either way, Kentucky and Auburn’s early exits are a black eye for the league. You may notice this post doesn’t touch on the league winner in the regular season: Tennessee. The No. 2 Volunteers earned a blow win, 83-49, over Saint Peter’s. Is this the year Rick Barnes finally breaks through again in March? It feels like now or never with Dalton Knecht in the fold.

Barnes was pretty confident, too.

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The SEC’s story isn’t fully written yet in the men’s NCAA tournament. It sure hasn’t been a very good start, though.

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