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“When you have coaching changes, when you have player turnover, when you have departures of really good players, it’s going to take some time,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “The unfortunate part with all those transitions going on is you really pay the price in November. … What happens is your league gets labeled in November and December.”

Donovan believes the league got better as the season wore on, but it couldn’t prove that because its members were facing one another instead of playing teams from other conferences.

But it’s tough for SEC teams to schedule non-conference foes later in the year, particularly now that it has adopted an 18-game league schedule. If SEC teams don’t schedule quality non-conference foes later in the season, they must deliver better results against better teams early in the year.

Five of the SEC’s 14 teams ranked lower than 230th in non-conference strength of schedule. Not only did the SEC schedule weak teams, it occasionally lost to them. Mississippi State fell to Alabama A&M, a Southwestern Athletic Conference team that finished 11-20. Vanderbilt lost to Marist, a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference program that went 10-21.

The importance of non-conference performance was apparent from the fact that Missouri earned a bid despite getting the No. 6 seed in the SEC tournament. Missouri beat NCAA tournament participants Illinois and VCU at neutral sites early in the season.

“What happens with mid-major teams is they schedule aggressively because they know the best-case scenario to get into the NCAA tournament is you’ve got to go play teams,” Martin said. “So maybe we need to schedule like mid-major teams.”

SEC coaches realize they must do something to stop the conference’s declining total of NCAA bids. Their futures could depend on it.

“At the rate we’re going, if we don’t get it corrected, in some way, shape or form, you’re looking at three different new (coaches) every year” in the conference,” Martin said. “Something has to give.”