Harris: Positives on horizon for SEC basketball

A sign of the impending apocalypse will unfold in Brooklyn on Thursday night at the Barclays Center.

Striding on to the stage to a hearty chorus of boos, David Stern will herald it as at the archangel, with fates revealed from the inside of a greeting-card sized envelope.

How he will mount the steps isn’t known, but Nerlens Noel will join the anointed ranks of one-and-done millionaires.

Then, hail and fire will rain down upon Lexington and burn up Bluegrass: Only one Kentucky Wildcat will likely be selected in the first round of the NBA draft.

And in doing so, a year that has Southeastern Conference fans volunteering for selective amnesia will mercifully end without headlines of John Calipari’s NBA Developmental League program shipping off another batch of freshman to collect paychecks.

On Monday, the conference’s coaches fielded calls from reporters and steadily drummed a talking point: Last year was about transition. This season is all about “upswing,” or so says Auburn coach Tony Barbee.

If Barbee, whose Tigers went 3-13 in the SEC, can be a font of optimism, that’s saying something.

A reporter queried each coach about the influx of talent coming to SEC programs, represented by nine McDonald’s All-Americans filling in rosters. He neglected to mention six of those will be donning royal blue for John Calipari, but the SEC did place five teams in the nation’s top 20 classes — a positive tidbit moving forward.

More importantly, the SEC didn’t experience a mass exodus to the professional ranks.

Tennessee kept Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McCrae. LSU held on to Johnny O’Bryant III. Kentucky expected to lose Noel, while Calipari hinted Archie Goodwin should prepare to land in the second round. But Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress exercised prudence.

Arguably, Arkansas was socked the hardest when Marshawn Powell and B.J. Young, their two-leading scorers, made the questionable decision to bolt. How questionable? Here was a scout’s assessment to Sports Illustrated scribe Seth Davis on Young: “I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.”

Let’s stop the meandering, though, and tie the threads together: The SEC should be better.

There was no coaching turnover. There’s enough quality recruiting classes — six in Rivals’ Top 30 — to blend with veterans who stayed. After a year of shameful nonconference scheduling that collectively killed the conference’s RPI, Commissioner Mike Slive and the SEC office in Birmingham are reviewing potential slates.

Honestly, ripping the conference lost its allure around the time a paltry three teams picked up NCAA tournament bids, because the SEC should be better than what it showed this season.

Freshmen have reported to campuses. Nonconference schedules are being released. Players such as Stokes and Florida’s Michael Frazier III are getting critical international experience with USA Basketball.

No, the conference won’t immediately become a brawny brother to the Big Ten or as deep as the now defunct Big East overnight.

But at least trekking to an SEC arena this season won’t leave you feeling you’re watching the world come to an end.