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SEC Basketball Picture Only Gets Muddier

It was a strange weekend that capped off a relatively mundane week in SEC hoops. Vandy hammered Tennessee out of nowhere on Tuesday, but other than that, none of the results were all that surprising except for Auburn blowing out Georgia.

Ah, but then Saturday came.

The only thing that went perfectly to script was Kentucky's 73-62 win over Tennessee. The Vols played the 'Cats close, as they trailed by just one at the half before UK pulled away in the final eight minutes. Kentucky's the better team. Tennessee, being pretty good itself, played the 'Cats tough. Makes sense. Xavier toppling Florida also made sense, as the Musketeers are solidly in the tournament and the Gators are a permabubble team. The only surprise was that with about 4 minutes to go, it looked like UF was in store for one of those buzzer beater finishes it has become so good at getting into, but it didn't happen. Instead, a complete collapse in the final three minutes ensued.

The weirdness began with Vanderbilt having to fight off LSU. Yes, projected 6 seed Vandy having to go all 40 minutes to beat 0-11 in conference play LSU. It was at home even, in Nashville. You know it was an odd game when the Tigers actually had someone outside the Mitchell-Spencer-Warren trio scoring in double digits (Dennis Harris, with 10). Vanderbilt's a good squad, but its ability to nod off against lesser competition is troubling.

Next, Georgia upset South Carolina to pull within two games in the conference standings. This was just days after the Gamecocks knocked off Florida, and it was depsite Devan Downey and Brandis Raley-Ross each going for 18 points. Trey Thompkins went for 21 and 10 for the Bulldogs, who somehow manage to play the tough teams tough but also go and lose badly to teams like Florida and Auburn who never blow anyone out.

In the nightcap, Alabama surged back from nine point halftime defecit to take down co-SEC West leader Arkansas, and other division leader Mississippi State needed overtime (and 32 points worth of heroics from Dee Bost) to hold off Auburn. It was a fitting end to a chaotic day that saw unusual results go beyond this conference's borders.

When the dust settled, no one in the SEC West had a record better than 6-4 and only Kentucky and Vandy in the whole league has a record better than 6-4. In the latest SB Nation bracketology, only Kentucky (1 seed), Tennessee (5), and Vanderbilt are safely in with Ole Miss (10), Mississippi State (11), and Florida (third out) on the bubble. Joe Lunardi at ESPN is less kind, with the Rebels, Bulldogs, and Gators all on the first four out list.

It's very tough to say how many SEC teams will be getting in the tournament. The top three are pretty well secure. Ole Miss really only has one chance left to make a statement, and that's with Thursday's bout with Vanderbilt. The next best opponent on the Rebels' slate is Florida, a team that's in dire trouble. The Gators still have games at Ole Miss, versus Tennessee, versus Vandy, and at Kentucky to go, and the game at Georgia looks dangerous too since the Bulldogs are undefeated there in SEC East play. Mississippi State's remaining schedule is somewhere in between, with UK and UT to go but no one better than South Carolina after that.

I'll give Ole Miss the best shot of getting in of the three borderline teams, simply because the Rebels have the easiest schedule the rest of the way. Mississippi State could probably get in if it splits the two tough ones and doesn't lose the rest, so I give those Bulldogs the next best shot. It's hard to predict Florida getting in since the team has no depth, no wins over the Big Three in conference, and a history of fading down the stretch. The Gators have the most chances to impress, but there's nothing about their play in 2010 that suggests they'll be able to take advantage of it.