MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The chant ”S-E-C” so well known around football across the South is coming to the Elite Eight.
The league best known for winning national titles in football has the most teams still alive and playing for a trip to the Final Four. Kentucky and Florida have been joined by upstart South Carolina in the Gamecocks’ first ever trip to a regional final.
”No,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said sarcastically when asked about three SEC teams advancing. ”There are not three SEC teams in the Elite Eight. We’re supposed to be a bad league. That’s got to be all these other leagues, right?”
Nope. The SEC, which struggled to get three teams into the NCAA Tournament a year ago, now has two more teams playing on than any other league, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, which sent nine teams to the tournament.
Seventh-seeded South Carolina throttled third-seeded Baylor 70-50 in the first semifinal of the East Region in New York. Kentucky followed by knocking off No. 3 seed UCLA 86-75 in the South Region to set up a final with North Carolina on Sunday. The Tar Heels already were the only ACC team to reach the second weekend.
And back in New York, Florida needed overtime and a buzzer-beater by Chris Chiozza for a thrilling 84-83 win over Wisconsin to continue the SEC’s postseason success.
De’Aaron Fox noted Florida blew the Kentucky Wildcats out in Gainesville and South Carolina was ranked when they played.
”I mean right now they’re just showing them how strong our conference is,” Fox said. ”Three teams in the Elite Eight. Man, that’s tough to do. That’s almost 50 percent of the field.”
The SEC currently is 10-2 with an 83.3 percent winning percentage that is the best so far of any league in this tournament, a number that will change Sunday with South Carolina and Florida facing off for a berth in the Final Four at Madison Square Garden. And yes, the SEC has been making sure people in the Big Apple know the league is in town with ads in case anyone is missing the action on the court.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey made sure he was at the Garden and enjoying those ”S-E-C!” chants. The commissioner brought two ties with him to the arena. He wore garnet for South Carolina in the first semifinal, then changed to blue and orange for Florida in the nightcap.
Florida coach Mike White said the SEC is a conference known for football along with basketball, gymnastics and softball. But the Gators won the 2006 and 2007 national titles, and Florida is tied with North Carolina for the most Elite Eight berths since 2006 with seven. Kentucky is just behind with six.
White also believes the SEC has some momentum even with some negativity about the conference possibly underachieving over the last couple years.
”We know the potential and I think that our conference … is full of good coaches, tremendous talent, a lot of young talent, recruiting classes continue to get stronger and stronger and we have three in the Elite 8,” White said. ”And who knows, I mean, I think the SEC’s going to be better next year, I really do. With the guys that are coming back, and again the young talent that will continue to grow within our league.”
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