SEC March Madness Watch: Signs of Life

USA TODAY Sports

The candidates are set. Let's see if we can bring them home.

The March Madness bubble is still an unsettled situation, but things are coming into focus a little better. The real SEC long shots saw their hopes fade for good on Saturday, as LSU lost badly to Florida and Ole Miss got a bad loss to Texas A&M. If those teams had any faint chances for an at-large bid on life support heading into the weekend, then the plug got pulled.

We have three bubble teams left: Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. The good news for the conference is that all of them took care of business against weaker competition on Saturday. Every win this time of year is important (or, at least, avoiding bad losses is), but Mizzou really had to beat Mississippi State after losing two straight to Alabama and Georgia. Arkansas also needed to follow up its big win at Kentucky with a victory over Georgia to show that it plans to hang around for a while.

The bad news in Arkansas's case is that South Carolina beat Kentucky on Saturday. It was only the Gamecocks' fourth SEC win of the year and their first over a team that is currently above .500 in league play. Frank Martin's team not only took some shine off of the Razorbacks' win, but it also added some real doubt about UK and its seeding going forward. It's hard to credit Arkansas with a statement win if the team it beat will end up an 8-seed somewhere. The Hogs really need the Wildcats to get it together and beat Alabama on Tuesday.

With the calendar now turned to March, we must now focus on stolen bids from mid-major conference tournaments. If you're new to this, every conference gets one automatic entrant into the NCAA Tournament. Most award them to the winner of their conference tournament; the Ivy League gives it to the regular season champ as it has no conference tournament. You always root for someone who is safely in the tournament anyway to win each of them, because if some bad team makes a surprise run and wins a tournament somewhere, that is one less at-large bid available.

Blogging the Bracket has a handy schedule up of all the conference tournaments. A few of them begin this week, although many of them are for one-bid conferences (leagues with no serious at-large candidates). There are a few to watch, though.

In the Horizon League, root for Green Bay to win the thing. It's a pretty fringe bubble team that very well could get knocked off of the bubble with a loss to any other Horizon opponent, but it's probably best for the conference's sole at-large candidate to go ahead and lock down the auto-bid. In the Missouri Valley, it's Wichita State all the way. No one else is close to the field of 68. Finally with the West Coast Conference, root for Gonzaga and against BYU. The Zags are safely in and the Cougars are squarely on the bubble. A loss to Portland or Loyola Marymount in BYU's first game would be awfully handy.

As for who's in if the tournament started today, your guess is as good as mine. No one agrees on anything right now. When I declared the SEC a two-bid league a week ago, that was as much based on a lack of faith in the bubble teams being able to win consistently as anything. Well, they went 5-1 collectively over the past week.

For right now, I am tentatively going with three in the field. Mainly, it's because I really am not sure the conference deserves more than three. I am also very tentatively giving the third bid to Tennessee because the Vols have the best win of anyone (Virginia) and are the highest in the mock RPIs. Not that the RPI is any good, but the committee still probably does use it more than anything else, unfortunately.

The biggest game of the week is Missouri at Tennessee on Saturday. UT can stake a bigger claim on the third spot with a win, but a victory for the road team would give two-game sweeps to Mizzou over both Arkansas and the Vols.

Current prediction: Three bids—Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee

Key games: Tennessee at Auburn, Wednesday; Texas A&M at Missouri, Wednesday; Ole Miss at Arkansas, Wednesday; Arkansas at Alabama, Saturday; Missouri at Tennessee, Saturday

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