March is upon us, which means we’re now less than three weeks from the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. That also means that conference races will soon be decided, and even for those not at the top of the standings, many important matters are also up in the air. Here’s a look at the things to watch in the Southeastern Conference this weekend.
Remember when the SEC used to get a half-dozen teams in the tournament with regularity? Well, even though the league added two teams since last year, times have changed, as the SEC is in a bit of a down cycle. In fact, if the tournament started today, only Florida and Missouri would be assured of getting in, but while the Gators could probably lose out and still make the NCAAs, Mizzouri (whom ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has as an 8-seed right now) has work to do. The Tigers could take a big step by beating LSU this weekend, which they should do given that the game is in Columbia.
Lunardi also has Kentucky and Ole Miss joining the party — but barely. Both teams are listed in his “last four in,” with UK being a 12-seed, and Ole Miss, a 13. Ole Miss should easily dispose of a pitiful Mississippi State team on the road, but with Ole Miss’s RPI being 55th and MSU’s standing at 239, the Rebels could conceivably be in worse RPI shape than if the game were never played.
The problem for Kentucky will be facing an Arkansas team that has not lost an SEC home game yet. The Wildcats need this one badly, because winning on the road at Georgia next is no slam-dunk, and even beating Florida in Rupp Arena after that could prove to be an uphill battle.
The one other team that has a decent shot at this point is Alabama, which at 11-4 is tied with Kentucky for second. Lunardi has the Crimson Tide as one of his “next eight out;” losing in Gainesville to Florida this weekend may not hurt, but should ‘Bama beat the odds and pull an upset, it’s one of those huge wins that could be the difference between playing in the the NCAAs or the NITs in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, Tennessee (RPI: 53) is a bit behind the place, but the Vols are surging at the right time, having beaten Florida this week. A game at 13-15 Georgia is one that UT simply must win to even stay on the fringe of discussion.
SEC Tournament seeding battles
In this year’s conference tournament, the top four teams will get double-byes, and teams 5-10 will avoid first-round games. Florida needs to win just one of three games to clinch a double-bye, which it almost assuredly will do. Meanwhile, those other five teams mentioned above will battle it out for the final three spots.
UK and ‘Bama have already won 11 games, and should both lose while Ole Miss wins, there will be a three-way log-jam for the other three spots, those teams having a one-game lead on Missouri and UT with two to play after the weekend.
At the bottom end, MSU is already stuck playing a first-round game. Auburn and South Carolina are already three games off the pace of 10th-place, where Texas A&M and Vanderbilt (both 6-9) both reside, so both are almost virtually assured of a Wednesday game, also.I
n all likelihood, either Vandy, A&M or Georgia will join them on Wednesday. VU can help itself by winning at Auburn, especially since it would own head-to-head tie-breakers vs. A&M and Georgia. The Aggies need to defend their home court vs. South Carolina this weekend, and Georgia must do the same vs. the Vols, to help their chances.
Incidentally, the games remaining for those teams after this weekend are as follows: Georgia (Kentucky, at Alabama); A&M (LSU, at Arkansas) and Vanderbilt (at Florida, South Carolina).