The Southeastern Conference Tournament starts next week, and with it, everyone’s talking about postseason tournaments, seedings, and all those sorts of things.
But before we start talking about the NCAAs, and even the NIT, let’s get some basics out of the way.
Of the NCAA’s 351 Division I teams, 68 will be invited. According to BracketMatrix.com, we can eliminate 15 of those 351 already. Those teams, ineligible for various reasons, are Abilene Christian, Alcorn State, Central Arkansas, Florida A&M, Grand Canyon, Incarnate Word, Louisville, Massachusetts-Lowell, Missouri, Northern Kentucky, Pacific, SMU, Southern Miss and Stetson.
Of those, three are notable here; Missouri—not that the dismal Tigers were going anywhere, anyway—and Louisville and SMU, which would have likely been three-to-five seeds if they were eligible and the field were picked today.
Of the 68 bids, 32 are awarded automatically to conference tournament champions; that, of course, includes next week’s SEC event in Nashville.
That leaves room for 36 more at-large teams; if you’re roughly one of the top 36 teams in the land at this point, you’re in decent shape right now.
What bears watching from there is who wins the conference tournaments. If you’re a borderline NCAA Tournament selection, what you want are those teams who are likely NCAA Tournament participants without an automatic bid to win.
That said, here’s a list of teams, by conference, who should be in the NCAAs, no matter what:
Pac-12: Oregon, Utah, Cal, Arizona
Big 12: Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State, Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech
Big Ten: Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, Maryland, Wisconsin
ACC: Virginia, Miami, North Carolina, Duke
Big East: Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall
SEC: Texas A&M, Kentucky
Atlantic 10: Dayton
That’s 27 teams total, across seven conferences. So, if the best 36 teams already get in, you can start adding another team to the list each time one of these teams wins its league.
If that happens, then you’re looking at the nation’s 43 best teams getting into the NCAAs.
Also watch out for the Missouri Valley and West Coast conferences. Wichita State is likely to get an at-large bid to the tournament, but it’s not a slam dunk. Regardless, bubble teams everywhere will breathe easier if the Shockers win.
That also goes for the WCC, where both Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are at-large contenders. St. Mary’s has the better résume´to date, and the Gaels winning would definitely help bubble teams.
So technically speaking, if everything goes to form, the best 45 teams remaining, in the eyes of the committee, all make the Big Dance.
From there, the NIT is left to pick its field of 32. Any regular-season conference champion that doesn’t make the NCAAs automatically gets a bid, and then, the NIT picks at-large teams to round out the field.
That number was 20 last year, and 19 in 2014.
The selection committee looks at everything it can get its hands on. Predominant pieces include the team’s RPI, strength of schedule, record away from home, and the quality of its wins and losses.
It’s also started to look some at both Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings; I’ll include those below.
With that in mind, I looked at roughly 80 teams in the manner that the committee might to shed some light on the picture for the SEC.
Let’s start at the top.
I have Texas A&M (20 RPI, 23 Pomeroy, 21 Sagarin), as a five-seed now. The Aggies have a bit of everything—good computer rankings, lots of good wins and few damaging losses.
Depending on what happens from here, I see the Aggies’ range of possibilities spanning from a three-seed to a seven.
Kentucky (13-11-11) joins A&M in the field already. The Wildcats’ upside is limited by five losses to teams that almost certainly won’t be in the NCAA Tournament, and few marquee wins outside of Duke, Louisville and Vanderbilt.
I have the ‘Cats as a solid six-seed right now—most have Kentucky as a four, but without enough great wins, I think those bad losses are going to loom larger in the committee’s mind than most realize. Still, the ‘Cats are quite talented and could seize a three, or, without another win, perhaps fall to a six or seven.
Vanderbilt (47-24-18) should profile as the league’s next-best team, but the problem for the Commodores is, other than beating Kentucky and A&M, there are no wins against sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams. But, 10 of VU’s 11 losses were to NCAA or NIT-caliber teams and eight of those came down to the final minute.
VU profiles as a nine-seed right now; the ‘Dores could earn as high as a six if they catch fire and though it’s likely they’ll stay in the field, it’s far from a certainty.
Most people thought South Carolina (58-58-54) would have been a near-lock to get into the field before last night. Those people weren’t paying close enough attention. Carolina piled up wins against a pitiful out-of-conference schedule, and outside of wins over A&M, Vanderbilt and Tulsa, has little to hang its hat on.
Of Carolina’s seven losses, six are to teams that probably won’t make the NCAAs, and a home-court loss to Georgia last night knocked Carolina’s RPI down 15 spots. I felt the Gamecocks were about an 11-seed before Thursday’s loss; I see them with the 48th-best resumé now, which would leave them out of the field entirely.
Still, the Gamecocks have some time to make up for that, and will have opportunity to play themselves in within the coming week.
Florida (56-45-40) was in everyone’s field until the last week, but the Gators’ 13 losses right now have UF likely on the outside looking in. I have UF 51st, and it’ll probably need at least two wins in Nashville to be back on the good side of things.
Regardless, the Gators should be an easy pick for the NIT.
Alabama (69-88-86) has played itself out of the field entirely. The Crimson Tide needs a road win at Georgia on Saturday, and then probably needs to knock off at least one NCAA Tournament-bound team next week, just to have a prayer.
Even then, ‘Bama (58th in my rankings) may need help elsewhere. If not, the Crimson Tide should be a virtual NIT lock barring a bad loss somewhere.
LSU (88-78-71) is in the odd position of being able to potentially share the SEC’s regular-season crowd, but be left out of the NCAAs. If the Tigers were to win at Kentucky on Saturday, the Tigers become an intriguing possibility with a win or two in the SEC Tournament. But don’t bet on it; the Tigers are without guard Keith Hornsby for the remainder of the year, and that’ s left a mark.
I have LSU 62nd and the committee is going to have a tough time overlooking five losses of 100 RPI or worse, even with a run. I’m fairly certain the NIT would love the possibility of having freshman sensation Ben Simmons in its tournament.
Georgia (75-70-67) suddenly put itself squarely in the post-season discussion by winning at South Carolina, but I don’t see any real possibility of the Big Dance barring a title in Nashville next week. A respectable finish, starting with a defeat of Alabama on Saturday, likely gets UGA to the NIT.
Ole Miss (91-85-79), with 19 wins, stands a reasonable chance of making the NIT with another win or two. An NCAA bid is out of the question, barring winning the SEC Tournament.
Tennessee, Mississippi State and Auburn have no chance of making the postseason—that includes the NIT—without winning the tournament as well.
We’ll be back next week with more hoops coverage, including our Player of the Year selections.