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Recent SEC basketball hires show league trying to catch up to ACC, not surpass it

There’s talk that recent SEC coaching hires put the league on top, but that’s not how this works, necessarily.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Virginia Tech vs Duke Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not even into the offseason yet and we’re already at peak #content as recent SEC coaching hires have given way to a rash of hot takes about the state of that conference.

For those not paying attention, Alabama already went and hired Buffalo coach Nate Oats, while Texas A&M managed to lure Buzz Williams away from Virginia Tech. The Vanderbilt and Arkansas jobs are currently vacant but both seem to be targeting “bigger” names. Around the rest of the league, you’ll find a reasonable amount of success from recent hires (of which there are many), plus the long-term stability of John Calipari at Kentucky.

Coupled with two SEC teams (Kentucky and Auburn) in the Elite 8 and one (Auburn) in the Final Four this year, it’s given birth to a narrative about the league that claims national dominance — at least from a coaching standpoint.

While six coaches (Calipari, Pearl, Barnes, Martin, Howland, Crean) with a Final Four bid sounds nice, those coaches only have a single title to show for it in Cal’s 2012 championship with the Wildcats. Compare that to the ACC, and you can see how crowning the SEC’s coaching tree superior already might be a bit overblown.

For those that forgot, somehow, the ACC’s coaches currently has:

  • 9 titles — 5 for Coach K, 3 for Roy, 1 for Jim Boeheim
  • 28 Final Fours — 12 for Coach K, 9 for Roy, 5 for Boeheim, and one each for Tony Bennett and Jim Larranaga
  • Three Hall of Famers

So sure, there are more coaches in the SEC with Final Four experience, but just three of those have that at their current school and the total number is nowhere near the ACC’s. The title count also speaks for itself, even if you took away K’s five at the top. On his own, Jim Boeheim has just as many national titles as a coach as the entire SEC’s current group of coaches does.

This isn’t to belittle the SEC, though. It’s simply to point out that the league’s recent moves are the effort to catch up, not surpass. You surpass what the ACC’s done when you find the success on the court versus just hiring what seem like the right guys for the job. If they fall short, you’re sort of back at square one.

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-West Virginia vs Syracuse Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC should be familiar with this dynamic from the football field, where the league made a ton of smart hires between 2013 and 2016, and most of them have paid off pretty well. They’ve also been bolstered by national titles won by both Clemson (two) and Florida State (one) — all over SEC teams as well. As a league, they haven’t surpassed the SEC because a lot of the success is attributable to just a handful of programs and the depth sort of dropped off last year beyond Clemson and Syracuse. But still... it’s easy to understand how the ACC is still in the middle of the process of challenging the SEC as a football conference. And that’s a league that’s already taken home several trophies.

Looking toward the future, there’s a chance that the dynamic could change. Aside from Bennett, the ACC’s top coaches are on the older end. So when K, Roy and Boeheim retire, it does create a bit of a void at the top. Beyond Bennett there’s coaching talent like Kevin Keattes (NC State) and Chris Mack (Louisville), plus Duke, UNC and Syracuse could all hire well when they eventually move on. But looking at what we know right now, the SEC could be poised to overtake the ACC down the road. Emphasis on “could,” however.

For now, the SEC’s made some smart hires and positioned itself well for the future. We’ll see what happens from there.