Yeah, yeah, yeah. The SEC is weak this year. We know. By now, we’ve established that Florida is one of the top ten teams in the nation and will easily make the NCAA tournament, possibly even as a number one seed. But what about the rest of the conference?
Eric Prisbell of USA TODAY asked that question earlier this afternoon, dropping the fun fact that since 1985, no power conference has sent only one team to the tournament. Let’s break down the top teams in the conference (besides Florida) and see who has the best chances of making the tournament.
Alabama (17-8, 9-3 SEC, 2nd place standings)
Signature conference wins: versus Kentucky (59-55).
Bad conference losses: at Auburn (37-49).
Currently second in the SEC, Alabama seems poised to make the cut for the tournament. However, although their conference play has been satisfactory, their non-conference results may make the committee scratch their heads. Early season losses to Dayton, VCU, Mercer, and Tulane don’t look good, and neither does the Crimson Tide’s lack of offensive output (286th overall in points per game). An early win against fellow bubble team Villanova is nice but not impressive enough to merit NCAA tournament status. Without a strong SEC tournament showing, Alabama’s record is just mediocre enough to get them in the conversation for the field of 68- but a lack of signature wins will ultimately be their downfall. NCAA status: Out.
Kentucky (17-8, 8-4 SEC, 3rd place standings).
Signature conference wins: at then #16 Ole Miss (87-74)
Bad conference losses: at Tennessee (58-88), versus Texas A&M (71-83)
It’s been said a hundred times this week, but it bears repeating: the Cats will be judged as a team by how they’ve played without Nerlens Noel, making the above information I included irrelevant. For all intensive purposes, the Cats are 0-1 right now and looked shambles-y against Tennessee. Popular opinion suggests the Cats have to go 4-2 the rest of the way to make the tournament, barring an SEC Tournament Championship that I honestly don’t see happening right now. The Cats need at least one more signature win on their resume to avoid the embarrassment of missing the tournament, and it’s got to happen on Saturday when GameDay and Mizzou come to town. We don’t have enough information to judge Kentucky without Nerlens- I don’t think it’s prudent to judge a team in their first game without their star player and rock- but this time next week I think we’ll have a much better idea of where the Cats stand with the selection committee. Today though? Bubble town. NCAA Status: Uncertain.
Ole Miss (19-6, 8-4 SEC, 4th place standings)
Signature conference wins: versus then #10 Mizzou (64-49).
Bad conferences losses: versus Kentucky (74-87).
It was fun for the media to love on Ole Miss for a little while, but the Marshall Henderson obsession has waned since the Rebels dropped four of their last six. True, two were to ranked Mizzou and Florida, but both of those were absolute drubbings. That, combined with a loss to Texas A&M at College Station that saw Elston Turner have another Kentucky-esque game, make Ole Miss shaky for the Big Dance, especially after they barely escaped against Georgia at home in overtime last night. That said, the rest of their regular season looks pretty easy- USC, Auburn, Texas A&M rematch at home, Mississippi State, Bama at home, and LSU. They could conceivably win out the rest of the way and potentially take over second place in the SEC, which would be a huge benefit once they get down to Nashville. They may not have signature wins, but they have a good chance of avoiding any more bad losses. With that, a double bye, and at least one win in the SEC tournament, I think the Marshall Henderson show continues. NCAA Status: In.
Missouri (18-7, 7-5 SEC, 5th place standings)
Signature conference wins: None.
Bad conference losses: None.
Missouri’s results are incredibly bland. Losses to middling SEC teams on the road define their season (to Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas, as well as a blowout loss at Florida), and that 1-6 road record is pretty unappealing to the selection committee. The Tigers get Florida at home on Tuesday, where they are undefeated so far this season, but they do have a 7-5 record against Top 100 teams and an RPI of 33 before Saturday’s loss. However, they do have a nice little win over Illinois on a neutral court, and according to Patrick Stevens, the Tigers will probably get in just because there aren’t 37 other teams that deserve to get in before them. Even if they do lose to Florida and at Kentucky, it doesn’t seem like the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament appearance will be in jeopardy. NCAA Status: In.
Arkansas (16-9, 7-5 SEC, 6th place standings)
SIgnature conference wins: versus then #2 Florida (80-69), versus Mizzou (73-71)
Bad conference losses: at South Carolina (54-75)
Arkansas has been the subject of a lot of chatter lately after their home dismantling of the teams many consider to be the top two in the SEC; however, once you get over the UnderArmour “WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE!” environment that has become Bud Walton Arena, it gets a lot easier to see that this Arkansas team is less impressive than you’d think. They’ve only won once on the road to Auburn, the third worst team in the league, and with road trips to Florida and Mizzou remaining, you can pretty much guarantee a couple of rematch/grudge losses. A win at home against Kentucky, if it happens, won’t be considered as impressive without Nerlens Noel on the court. Away from home, the Razorbacks’ weaknesses are exposed, and the selection committee dons a Mikayla Maroney face. NCAA Status: Out.
The upcoming week is a crucial one for many SEC teams, and match ups between Mizzou/Florida, Mizzou/Kentucky, and possibly Arkansas/Florida will tell us a lot about the strength and parity of the conference. I do believe that the SEC will send a team or two besides Florida to the NCAA Tournament, but that will happen because of the weak state of college basketball nationwide- not necessarily because the conference has good teams this year. It’s going to be quite the post-season ride, folks. Buckle up.