How the SEC Could Send Only One Team to the Dance
I commented on a recent bracket projection article that had only two SEC teams as locks to get in. Surely a conference that is regarded as one of the six "power" conferences would get more than two teams in the NCAA tournament.
But after last night's performances, I took a closer look at the conference and realized the error in my ways, though there is a likely scenario that still doesn't account for two bids from the former Confederate territories.
I could easily see the SEC getting only one team in. That's right. One, the loneliest number you'll ever do.
First off, this scenario can only play out if LSU wins the SEC tournament. They are the only ranked team in the conference and should stay that way despite their stumble to Vanderbilt. But based on that assumption, let's take a look at the other candidates that can consider themselves dance-worthy.
If the Gamecocks win tonight, they get the SEC East and, more importantly, a win over a team that is in the top 50 of the RPI. But if they lose, they slip to second.
Let's say they lose early in the SEC tourney. That means their résumé includes an RPI of 41 at the moment, a loss to College of Charleston, and a strength of schedule rating of 85. According to Jerry Palm at collegerpi.com, only one team has gotten an at-large bid to the Dance without beating a top 50 RPI team (Oklahoma in 1998).
The Wildcats take getting to the tournament like most people accept death and taxes. Not this year. They have dropped four of their last five games, tied a record for most home losses in a season, lost to VMI, and have an RPI of 78 following the nadir that is a loss to Georgia. Let's be honest, this team needs to win the SEC to get in. Next.
The Gators' profile is eerily similar to the 'Cats with the exception of a slightly better RPI. I don't buy most prognosticators' remarks about Saturday's "bay of pigs" matchup with Kentucky as being a "play-in" game. Whoever wins still has serious work to do, and you can forget about either team getting fitted for a tuxedo with an early SEC tourney loss.
In reality, the Vols have the RPI and SOS to be safe as kittens (21 and three, respectively). Also, the at-large pool has been more abysmal than the offerings at an all-you-can-eat buffet with health code violations.
But let's say Tennessee loses their last two. That puts them at 18-12 overall and 9-7 in the SEC. They will have lost four of their last six. They got swept by Kentucky (and didn't look good in either loss). Outside of Marquette, their "good" non-conference wins are Georgetown and Siena.
If they proceeded to lose their first tournament matchup, one could make a strong case for kicking them out, especially since their RPI would likely to take a hit into the mid or even lower 30s.
So, there you have it—a recipe for Southern fried apocalypse with a side of humble pie. Rolaids not included.
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