Throughout the course of this college basketball, the SEC has been pretty universally panned as a weak conference. Some have called into question the validity of that evaluation, but there’s no disputing that the SEC has had better years.
The SEC has but one team in the RPI top 35 (#23 Tennessee) and only three teams currently in the top 50 (UT, LSU, and Florida). Consequently, SEC teams have struggled all year to lock up bids to the NCAA Tournament, and the prevailing thought is that only three teams would make it in if the season ended today (LSU, UT, and South Carolina).
What does all that mean for the SEC Tournament? I think it means that things are wide open. I think that a lot of teams feel like they have a chance to make a run and steal a bid a la Georgia in 2008. Also, since so few teams can really feel safe about an at-large bid, there is a lot to play for.
Every team is probably thinking right now about what they need to do in Tampa to hear their name called by Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday, and Strait Pinkie has you covered…here’s a breakdown of what each SEC team needs to do in the SEC Tournament to make it into the Big Dance:
LSU: SHOW UP
The Tigers lost two in row to close their regular season, but they are the regular season champs, and even if they lose to Mississippi or Kentucky, they should be safe.
TENNESSEE: SHOW UP
Like LSU, Tennessee enjoys a first round bye, and like LSU, they almost certainly can lose their first game and feel safe. Their 23 RPI and 2 SOS allows them margin for error
SOUTH CAROLINA: WIN 1 GAME TO BE SAFE
Now things start to get sticky. The Gamecocks lost two of their last three to close the season, which knocked them to the brink of the bubble…a loss in their first game to Mississippi State or Georgia would make Selection Sunday very nerve wracking, althought it’s hard to see them getting left out with seemingly every bubble team losing lately.
FLORIDA: WIN 1 GAME TO STAY ALIVE, WIN 2 TO FEEL SAFE
Florida survived the “play-out” game with UK and earned a matchup with last place Arkansas in the first round. I think they’re done if they lose that one.
If they win, they set up a showdown with a team that is as ecstatic to find itself on the bubble in Auburn as Florida is disappointed to be on it at all. I think the winner of that game gets in.
AUBURN: WIN 1 GAME IF FLORIDA ADVANCES, WIN 2 IF ARKANSAS ADVANCES
Auburn basically needs one win over a team in NCAA consideration to get in. A win over Florida would qualify, but a win over Arkansas would not. Auburn’s RPI is up to 65, and a 10 win SEC team has never been left out of the Tournament.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: ADVANCE TO FINALS
The weak bubble this season has opened things up for Mississippi State if they can make a run. Winning 3 games into the finals would give them 2 quality wins and 21 total wins, as well as boost their 83 RPI. I think this would be good enough.
KENTUCKY: ADVANCE TO FINALS
I know the popular thought is that UK needs to win it all. I believe a run to the Finals would be enough. They would have likely 3 more RPI top 100 wins (Ole Miss, LSU, and South Carolina).
I think part of the reason people aren’t talking about this scenario just because it seems so far fetched. Can you imagine a 22-13 UK team with Jodie Meeks being left out?
VANDERBILT: WIN THE TOURNAMENT
I think Vandy is nearly in the same boat as UK but two recent home wins over South Carolina and LSU would not be enough with a run to the Finals when you consider that they have only two road wins on the year and a garbage non-conference schedule.
ALABAMA: WIN THE TOURNAMENT
Like I said yesterday, I think ‘Bama is the most likely spoiler to make waves in Tampa, but only tournament title would be enough.
MISSISSIPPI: WIN THE TOURNAMENT
ARKANSAS: WIN THE TOURNAMENT
It’s not out of the realm of possibility for them to put a run together, but its more likely they grab a lead in their opening game, but give it up late.
GEORGIA: WIN THE TOURNAMENT
It’s ironic that the team least likely to pull a Georgia ‘08 is Georgia ‘09.