For 13 of the 14 SEC teams, this week’s SEC tournament is a chance to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. Florida goes into Nashville as the only team with no further work to do in terms of securing a spot in the big dance. Everyone else still has games to win, with the sole exception of maybe Missouri. Below is a breakdown of six SEC teams that lie somewhere relatively close to being considered “on the bubble”, and what they will have to do to earn a bid.
Ole Miss (23-8, 12-6 SEC)
Best Wins: Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama
Path Ahead: Ole Miss should hope Missouri beats the winner of Texas A&M and Auburn because the Rebels could use another quality win. Their best win was January 12th against Missouri. Another quality win against the second best team in the conference based on RPI, would be a step in the right direction towards a tournament bid. If they could add another win against Kentucky in the semifinals, Ole Miss could be in good shape for an at-large bid, even if they would lose to Florida in the SEC championship. If their semifinal win would come against someone other than Kentucky, Ole Miss still may be in good shape with a season total of 25 wins going into Sunday’s championship.
Kentucky (21-10, 12-6 SEC)
Best Wins: Florida, Missouri, Maryland, Ole Miss, Tennessee
Path Ahead: After defeating Florida, the general consensus is that Kentucky should be in the tournament if it wins one game while it also avoids a bad loss this week. If Texas A&M or Auburn would knock off Missouri, and then beat Ole Miss, then Kentucky couldn’t afford to lose to either one of those teams in the semifinals. If Kentucky wins its first game, but loses to Missouri in the semis, then Kentucky would exit the SEC tournament with a win, avoid a bad loss, and should sit okay for an at-large bid. If Kentucky falls to Ole Miss in the semifinals, then it becomes more complicated, because Ole Miss would likely have played itself into a bid that would be taking somebody else’s spot away (perhaps Kentucky’s). For UK’s at-large chances, it would be better to lose to Missouri in the semis than it would be to lose to Ole Miss. A first-round win would still put UK in the tournament in all likelihood.
Alabama (20-11, 12-6 SEC)
Best Wins: Villanova, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas
Path Ahead: Two wins this week for Alabama could really shake things up, but it will likely have to defeat Tennessee and Florida to make the NCAA tournament, which is no small task. Among Tennessee, South Carolina or Mississippi State, it doesn’t really matter who Alabama’s opponent will be in its first game. Alabama must beat whoever it plays first, and then beat Florida to get to the championship game. A win over Florida could be enough for an at-large bid, but if Florida would lose its first game and not play against Alabama, then the Crimson Tide may need to win the whole conference tournament to secure a spot to the big dance.
Missouri (22-9, 11-7 SEC)
Best Wins: Florida, VCU, Illinois, Ole Miss, Bucknell, Arkansas, Alabama
Path Ahead: Despite losing an extra SEC game than the teams ahead of them on this list, Missouri’s non-conference wins and RPI puts the Tigers in good shape provided it beats Texas A&M or Auburn. Like Kentucky, Missouri is trying to win at least one game and avoid a bad loss. It’s not likely Missouri would see a situation where they could have a bad loss past its first game. To feel comfortable on Selection Sunday, Missouri needs to win its first game. Even with a loss, a top-40 RPI is probably too high to leave out the Tigers.
Tennessee (19-11, 11-7 SEC)
Best Wins: Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama, UMass, Wichita State, Xavier
Path Ahead: If Tennessee loses to either South Carolina or Mississippi State in its first game, they are done. Tennessee must win its first game and likely will need to win its second against Alabama, in order to knock the Crimson Tide out of any chance of a bid. A loss to Florida in the semifinals, if the game is competitive, may put the Volunteers right on the bubble. Tennessee has to win its first two games, and beyond that they must pass the eye test. If they win the first two and lose to Florida competitively, they may possibly be in. If Tennessee loses badly to Florida, or anyone else after the first two games, they could be left out depending on how everything unfolds.
Arkansas (19-12, 10-8 SEC)
Best Wins: Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Path Ahead: Arkansas has the toughest road to an at-large bid of anyone in the SEC. In the first round, they have to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. In the second round, they have to beat Kentucky in what will essentially be a road game. Even if Arkansas wins each of those games, they still will have to win one more just to reach the championship. Arkansas’ RPI of 72 isn’t good enough for an at-large bid, and even after a strong SEC tournament, it’s not likely it will be high enough. Arkansas would probably actually benefit if they had Florida on its side of the bracket, just so that it can add another major quality win and improve its RPI. It will not play Florida until the championship, however, so the harsh reality for the Hogs is that they may have to win the entire tournament for an automatic berth.
Everyone else, except for Florida of course, must win the SEC Tournament to secure an automatic berth to the big dance. LSU (18-11, 9-9), however, may be in good shape to receive a bid to the NIT.