Beyond the question of who gets to Hoover and who wins each division, there's also a third relatively important race to keep an eye on as the final regular-season SEC baseball series begin over the next few hours: Who goes into the conference as the third and fourth seeds. That's because the top four teams get first round buys -- while the other eight teams play single-elimination games on Tuesday. After that, the tournament returns to a double-elimination format until the semifinals. In other words, there's a lot more margin for error for the top four seeds.
Keep in mind that whichever team has the best record in the conference is the No. 1 seed, and the other division winner is automatically the No. 2 seed. After that, the teams are seeded by their SEC record, regardless of which division they're from.
|Race for the Top 4|
|Ole Miss||17-10||+1.0||at Texas A&M|
|Mississippi State||16-11||--||at Alabama|
|South Carolina||16-11||--||at Vanderbilt|
|Vanderbilt||16-11||--||vs. South Carolina
|Alabama||14-12||1.5||vs. Mississippi State|
For now, that's what the race looks like. (Arkansas and Texas A&M are out because at least four teams will end up with at least 17 SEC wins, and the Hogs and Aggies can't get more than 16.) But there's a catch: Because South Carolina and Vanderbilt play each other, we can go ahead and assume that the race looks more like this:
|De Facto Race for the Top 4|
|South Carolina-Vanderbilt winner||18-12 or 19-11|
|South Carolina-Vanderbilt loser||17-13 or 16-14|
In any case, a few observations:
- Florida is going to be one of the top four seeds. We've already talked about the improbability of Florida losing the SEC East this weekend, but even if that were to somehow happen, the Gators will have 19 wins when the season is over. Only three teams can catch them: The Vanderbilt-South Carolina winner (and South Carolina would lose the tiebreaker against Florida), Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Florida is guaranteed a first-round bye regardless of what happens.
- The South Carolina-Vanderbilt loser isn't out of it. It's complicated, but there are still paths to the top four for the South Carolina-Vanderbilt loser. But the loser can't get swept, and Ole Miss has to get swept by Texas A&M for it to happen. (South Carolina would win a tiebreaker against Ole Miss; it's less clear that Vanderbilt would.)
- An Alabama sweep could put them in -- unless LSU sweeps. Because the South Carolina-Vanderbilt loser can't finish better than 17-13, and Mississippi State is playing Alabama this weekend, a sweep by the Tide would put them at 17-12, a half-game ahead of the third-place team in the SEC East and well ahead of Mississippi State at 16-14. But if LSU sweeps, the Tigers would be 17-11-1, a half-game ahead of the Tide. The problem for LSU is that a sweep of Auburn doesn't take down one of the teams ahead of them -- the Tigers would still need Alabama to win at least one against Mississippi State to put them in.
It could get messier based on how things play out, but we'll leave it at that for now.