If you were hoping for an orderly end to the SEC basketball season, today dashed those hopes. Kentucky is the top seed for the conference tournament and a likely No. 1 seed in March Madness. From there, it gets murky.
For starters, Tennessee's defense stifled Vanderbilt and guided the Vols to a 68-61 victory in a raucous Thompson-Boling Arena. UT is 10-5 since freshman Jarnell Stokes made it to the team, and three of the losses came to Kentucky (two) and at Vanderbilt. It's been a very competitive team that right now certainly passes the eye test. It doesn't have the resume to be an NCAA at large candidate without several SEC tournament wins and some help from elsewhere, but it will be the second seed (with Vandy the third seed) in the conference tournament if Florida loses to Kentucky tomorrow.
Such a Florida loss would only result in a three-way tie for second instead of a four-way tie because Alabama fell to Ole Miss 60-51 in Oxford. The Tide played an awful first half and wound up down 11 at intermission, and it wasn't able to battle back in the second half. The outcome lands Bama in fifth place in the conference and secured the seventh seed for Ole Miss.
The Rebels finished in a tie with their arch rivals thanks to Mississippi State hammering Arkansas to the tune of 79-59. The Razorbacks didn't have much to play for while the Bulldogs had everything to play for, and it showed. MSU holds the tiebreaker over Ole Miss no matter what happens tomorrow. They split the season series, so the next step is looking at record versus the top team, and if it's the same then versus the second team, and so on. Both lost their only games against Kentucky and Florida, but State beat Tennessee while Ole Miss lost to the Vols. Either Florida or Tennessee will be the second seed, and if it's UF, then Tennessee will be the third seed.
Alabama's loss puts its status for March back in doubt somewhat, while Mississippi State absolutely had to win its game. The good news is that the mid-major conference tournaments have been bubble team friendly so far. Tourney lock Murray State won the OVC, tourney lock Creighton advanced in the MVC, possible at-large candidate Iona advanced in the MAAC, and long shot at-large candidate Drexel advanced in the CAA. The fewer the bid thieves, the better the chances that the SEC gets five teams (or six, depending on the wild card Vols) in the field of 68.
The impending Kentucky-Florida game will settle the remaining seeding questions for the conference tournament, and the mid-major tournaments will help decide just how many at-large spots are available. The Gators could really use a win over UK to bolster their confidence and March seeding (not to mention to avoid UK as long as possible in New Orleans), and Bama and MSU need to hope chaos doesn't suddenly break out among the one- or two-bid leagues. If it does, they could be sweating it out until the end on Selection Sunday.
More good news for the bubble teams from late last night after I published this post originally: St. Mary's and Gonzaga, both tournament locks, will play each other in the WCC tournament final.