Dear Billy Donovan: It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Kevin Stallings and Rick Stansbury: We’re still waiting.
Cuonzo Martin: You’re new around here, but you’re hereby officially on notice. The same is true for all the rest of the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball coaches.
It has been four years since any one of them won a national championship. Four years. Why, in that amount a time a player can enter a college, exhaust his eligibility and walk away with a degree.
What’s the problem? Winning national championships in the most prominent men’s sports is a piece of cake, isn’t it? After all, the conference made it three straight in baseball recently when South Carolina won for the second straight year.
It was more than that, though. Three SEC teams made the final four — a first in the history of the tournament. Vanderbilt made a strong showing in its first-ever appearance, and Florida finished as runner-up — the first time since 1998 that two teams from the same conference met for the title. Plus, the Gamecocks set records for consecutive NCAA tournament and CWS victories.
The last five Football Bowl Subdivision champions have been from the SEC, but it’s not as if one powerhouse has run roughshod. Four different schools, most recently Auburn, have hoisted that crystal football.
The first year the BCS was used to determine a champion, Tennessee won. People should’ve been prepared for what has followed, and by now they have to accept that all other schools play for the right to get whipped by the SEC’s best in the BCS championship game.
The Pac 10 will talk about the fact that it became the first conference ever to win 400 all-time national titles, which it did last month when Arizona State won the softball championship. That was the league’s ninth trophy of the academic year. The first 10 were men’s and women’s water polo, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, women’s indoor track, men’s gymnastics, women’s golf and men’s tennis.
Good for the Pac 10.
But we’re talking about sports people actually watch. Build their weekends around. Make fools of themselves supporting.
I haven’t seen ESPN flood its networks with games from the NCAA water polo tournament the way it did with the College World Series. Heck, the men’s basketball championship is so big that it’s now spread out over multiple networks for the first couple rounds.
Which brings us back to the inexplicable SEC drought.
Donovan did have a nice turn when he pulled off back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007, the first single-school double in 15 years. Plus, there were three titles in five years (two by Kentucky, one by Arkansas) in the mid-1990s. That was nice, too.
The wait has been long enough.
Stallings has the most talented Vanderbilt team in generations — possibly ever. Donovan successfully restocked and made a run at it last season but couldn’t close the deal. John Calipari has shown he will take the best freshman class in the country each year, go at it and then send those guys off to the pros.
Regardless of how it happens, one of them — or someone else among the group — needs to see it through and claim the national championship. And soon.
SEC fans expect their national championships to be high-profile and plentiful. Football and baseball are doing their part. How hard can it be for basketball to do the same?