KNOXVILLE, Tenn. —
Each of the top three picks in the 2012 draft came from SEC programs: Kentucky teammates Anthony Davis and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist and Florida guard Bradley Beal. The SEC had 12 players drafted overall. That figure moves up to 15 if you include Missouri teammates Kim English and Marcus Denmon and Texas A&M's Khris Middleton, who went to college while their schools still belonged to the Big 12.
All those departures have made an impact.
Only two SEC teams are ranked in the Top 25: Missouri and No. 11 Florida. Every school in the conference already has at least two losses. Vanderbilt (6-6), Auburn (6-7), Georgia (5-7) and Mississippi State (5-7) are all at .500 or below.
"If we're going to start judging teams on who we are in November or December... let's have the tournament Jan. 1," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "But if the tournament's going to be in March and April, let the season play out and let coaches do their job."
Donovan cited last year's Tennessee team as evidence of how a team can improve over the course of a season. After losing six of its first nine games last year in Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin's debut season, the Volunteers went 10-6 in conference play.
"You cannot argue that Tennessee in February and March was totally different than Tennessee in November and December," Donovan said. "I think that's what you're going to see inside of our league."
Tennessee's 10-6 conference record still wasn't good enough to reach the NCAA tournament because of its subpar non-conference resume. SEC teams are crossing their fingers that the conference's poor early-season performance won't cause problems with the NCAA tournament selection committee this year.
"I think the SEC's a solid conference no matter what," Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said. "You've still got Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, teams like that. ... If you win those games, that should be enough to get you to the tournament."