ATHENS - As good as the SEC is in football, it continues to get more mediocre in men's basketball.
Here are a few facts that sum up the current state of the conference that has won three national titles in the past decade, the conference of Charles Barkley and Adolph Rupp, but where most teams are now in a state of struggle:
- The SEC is only the eighth-best conference in the nation, according to the RPI. In football terms, that would make the SEC as good as the Mid-American Conference.
- Half of the SEC's 14 teams are 2-4 entering this week's games, including Georgia. Another, LSU, is 1-5. Nobody is winless, because getting at least one conference win is apparently easy enough.
- Four of the 14 teams have losing overall records (Georgia, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Mississippi State). And teams like LSU (10-7), South Carolina (12-7) and Tennessee (10-8) will be in big danger of finishing below .500 if they don't turn around their conference records.
- Alabama, which went just 7-5 in non-conference plays, with home losses to Mercer and Tulane, has started 4-2 in conference play.
And we could go on.
This week it was reported that the SEC-Big East Invitational is no more, being replaced by a series between the SEC and Big 12. If it weren't for Florida, Missouri and Mississippi, the conference's only near-certain NCAA teams this year, the SEC's more appropriate conference challenge would be with the SWAC.
Even defending national champion Kentucky, with all its typical NBA-bound talent, has struggled to get going. The Wildcats (13-6 overall, 4-2 in the SEC) have an RPI rank of 62 and own just one win over a team even on the NCAA bubble (Maryland). Kentucky lost at Rupp Arena to Texas A&M - which has since lost four in a row, most recently on Saturday at home against Georgia.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox had a chance Tuesday to take the sunny route and talk up the parity of the SEC, all that competitive balance after the top three teams. But to Fox's credit he turned it back on his own team.
"I wouldn't write it all off on parity. I do think there's a lot of parity in college basketball and in the SEC," Fox said. "But I think there's some inconsistency there with our performance."
The struggles of the SEC are also why Georgia, as much as it has struggled, still has a chance to have a decent conference record. Here is the remainder of the Bulldogs' schedule:
Wednesday: Auburn (8-11, 2-4)
Saturday: at South Carolina (12-7, 2-4)
Feb. 6: at Tennessee (10-8, 2-4)
Feb. 9: Texas A&M (12-7, 2-4)
Feb. 12: Alabama (11-7, 4-2)
Feb. 16: at Ole Miss (17-2, 6-0)
Feb. 21: at Arkansas (12-7, 3-3)
Feb. 23: South Carolina (12-7, 2-4)
Feb. 27: at Vanderbilt (8-10), 2-4)
March 2: Tennessee (10-8, 2-4)
March 7: Kentucky (13-6, 4-2)
March 9: at Alabama (11-7, 4-2)
That's eight games out of 14 against teams that currently have losing SEC records. And it's only one game against one of the top-tier teams, having already played (and lost) to Florida twice and at Missouri.
So if Georgia can play the way it did Saturday against Texas A&M, and the first half of last week's Florida game, a halfway-decent seed in the SEC tournament is on the table.
And at that tournament, in Nashville the second weekend in March, it appears that anything can happen.