March Madness: It’s time to talk nice to the SEC as Mississippi State’s race boosts conference strength

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If the SEC has a “talk nice to me” The list of those who counted their confederation, the papyrus scroll of names would not end. In modern terms, this wouldn’t fit in a TikTok video.

South Carolina went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country and are heavy favorites to win their second consecutive title. No one questioned this. But as they slumped to a 26.1 average points per win rate in conference wins, conversation about the strength of the rest of the SEC was a constant. It’s a down year for the SEC. The competition is not that high. How do you measure a group of teams that sets themselves apart from the rest when it comes to playing a team? Can they all really win in March?

The ball doesn’t lie and neither does the result. The SEC is a collective 7–1 through the first round, led by No. 11 seed Mississippi State becoming the first First Four team to reach the second round in tournament history. The Bulldogs were in the first game of this NCAA tournament, kicking off a post-season that could have started and closed with a win for an SEC team.

Mississippi State’s Sam Purcell, a first-year head coach who spent nine years as an assistant under Jeff Walz building the Louisville program into a Final Four contender, said his phone rang with messages after that first win. is starting.

“You know who it was? It was every SEC head coach,” Purcell said after scoping out Illinois, rising an impressive Big Ten team. “We have a thread, and they’re all like, ‘Sam, you set the tone, man. Good luck to you.’ Which again, it’s a special conference because you have special people.”

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The day after the Bulldogs advanced, Purcell released a “Talk to Me Nice” list of athletes and presidents (current and former) who did not pick their team to win. It was meant in jest, but rings as a parting shot to all those coaches on the thread.

We are just as competitive as all of you in March. maybe better.

Mississippi State (22–10, 9–7), which finished fifth in the SEC, was one of only four teams with a single-digit final margin against South Carolina this season. He ranks in the top-50 in field-goal and 3-point percentages, assists and blocks per game. After finishing fifth in the regular season SEC standings, they entered the tournament as the last of the seven teams in the conference.

The Bulldogs pulled off an even bigger shock by upsetting mid-major favorite No. 6 Creighton in the first round. He was 11-of-19 from 3-point range, tying his season high in 3s made. And their chances of reaching another weekend are solid because No. 3 Notre Dame is without point guard Olivia Miles and operating with a short bench at Greenville 1.

Ole Miss (24-8, 11-5) was the other SEC team within striking distance of South Carolina, having lost 7 in overtime last month. The Rebels were seeded eighth in a matchup that, going by the seedings, should have gone either way. Instead, Ole Miss crushed Gonzaga 23 to meet Stanford in Seattle 4–0.

Georgia (22-11, 9-7) joins them as double-digit seed winners, overcoming No. 7 Florida State to meet Iowa at Seattle 4. At the top of the table, No. 1 South Carolina, No. 3 LSU and No. 4 Tennessee all did impressively well on Friday. The only one of the seven teams that did not was No. 10 seed Alabama in a 4 point loss to Baylor. The Crimson Tide went up 22–4 in the first quarter, but could not end it.

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The SEC retconned the entire season with every other Power Six conference taking a turn at the wheel. The ACC had fierce competition from top to bottom, going 6–2 in the first round. Their one loss was to an SEC squad. The “Pac-12 After Dark,” as it is affectionately called by East Coast fans, throws upsets all the way through its conference title game. They went 4-2.

The Big 12 – Well, maybe the SEC was always above them. The conference surprisingly fielded six teams and went 3–3, including losses to No. 5 seed Iowa State and close losses to No. 7 Baylor. The Big East felt loved beyond UConn, but lost to all three bottom seeds in the first round at 2–3, including the Bluejays’ L.

The SEC was certainly not above the Big Ten, which had the most teams (four) seeded third or better and the highest point averages of any major conference. They went 5–2, and again one loss to an SEC squad.

Mississippi State's Jerkela Jordan shoots over defense of Creighton's Carly Batchelor during the first round of the women's NCAA tournament on March 17, 2023 in South Bend, Indiana.  (AP Photo/Michael Caterina)

Mississippi State’s Jerkela Jordan shoots at Carly Bacheler of Creighton during the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament on March 17, 2023 in South Bend, Indiana. (AP Photo/Michael Caterina)

It’s hard to look away from a conference in which teams routinely break 80 points and five teams rank top-15 in the division. Conference collective averages of 74 ppg, 16.1 apg, 41.4% from the floor and 33.6% from 3-point range. Even in blowouts, there was always something to see.

While we all marveled at the beauty of full-court passes, graceful ball movement and showers of 3s, we forgot the old adage that defense wins championships. Go ahead, ask South Carolina and Don Staley about it.

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The Gamecocks (33–0) ranked No. 1 in defensive rating (72.6), leading five SEC teams in the top five in that category. LSU is sixth, Ole Miss is 15th, Mississippi State is 24th and Georgia is 25th. Tennessee ranked 78th and Tennessee 127th rewarded with the No. 4 seed for playing an incredibly tough schedule.

Mississippi State was able to set the tone for the SEC due to its defense, holding Illinois to nearly 20 points below its season average. This was 4 points away from the Fighting Illini’s lowest score of the season. Georgia did the same by holding Florida State to 15 downs, and Ole Miss held Gonzaga to 23 downs.

One set of games can’t really determine the best conference. Nor can there be a tournament where an unfortunate mix of styles can end a season. Nevertheless, the SEC has shown that this is not a year of decline. It may win in March. And we all should have spoken well of him because we shouldn’t have risked hearing our name in his TikTok promotional video next season.