Conference tournaments aren't really that necessary for a league like the SEC. Even an automatic bid isn't really necessary -- the regular-season championship winner is going to go to the NCAA tournament. But the league playoff has other benefits, allowing teams to burnish their national seed, regional host or at-large resume with a few wins. And if a team that's on the bubble or on the outside of the bubble wins the whole thing, it can increase the number of teams who get into the national playoff.
With that in mind, here's a look at how the SEC's 12 tournament participants can help themselves this week in Hoover.
Florida Gators (RPI: 2). Florida really needs nothing out of this tournament. It's hard to see any performance so horrific that the Gators would be knocked out of the running for a national seed. And once you get a national seed, the only real difference between the seeds is (sometimes) the difficulty of the super regional you host. A win or two might make Florida more secure or give them a shot at the No. 1 seed, but losing two games respectably still shouldn't drop them out of the Top 8.
Ole Miss Rebels (RPI: 13). The Rebels are tantalizingly close to that magical RPI of 12 that historically marks the minimum for a national seed. They enter the tournament having won 10 of their last 14 games; Ole Miss hasn't lost two games in a row since April 22. A couple of wins in the SEC tournament would go a long way toward giving the Rebels an inside track toward that national seed.
LSU Tigers (RPI: 16). The Tigers are in a unique position: They're the third seed in the SEC tournament but probably fourth or fifth among conference teams in line for a national seed. Winning their last four games 56-4 can't hurt, but the difficulty of the competition in those games left something to be desired. A deep run in the conference playoff might get them a national seed, but probably only if Ole Miss, South Carolina and maybe Vanderbilt bomb out. Mostly, LSU needs a couple of wins to shore up their case to host a regional.
South Carolina Gamecocks (RPI: 8). Even if I wasn't a fan of South Carolina, this would be one of the most intriguing teams going into the conference tournament. A month ago, you could have basically written the Gamecocks off for a national seed; they had lost seven of nine, with the wins against Furman and Florida and three of the losses against Auburn, The Citadel and Charleston Southern. South Carolina has since gone 14-4 -- though the series loss to Georgia stings. More specifically, the Gamecocks have a history of playing terribly in Hoover, and they want to at least win a game or two, and probably do better than Ole Miss, to lock up a national seed.
Mississippi St. Bulldogs (RPI: 30). It's a bit difficult to see what the Bulldogs have to gain out of this tournament. Last year's Arkansas-South Carolina battle shows that the selection committee takes RPI very seriously when choosing regional hosts, so Mississippi State needs to move up quite a bit to grab a spot in or close to the Top 16. (Like Arkansas last year, Mississippi State has some early-season losses this season that are dragging them down.) They could gain that with a sustained run, but barring that, State is going to be betwixt and between. They're in the tournament and need a lot of wins to do anything else.
Vanderbilt Commodores (RPI: 6). Here's an odd case: This week, the Commodores beat Southeast Missouri State, lost two of three to South Carolina and watched their RPI improve from 7th. It's still hard to see the committee overlooking the shiny object that is Ole Miss' SEC West win and South Carolina winning the head-to-head -- unless both implode -- but it's also hard to see the committee overlooking an RPI that high. Beating Tennessee in the first round might not help Vanderbilt out that much -- but a couple or three wins after that would give them a very good chance at a national seed, as unlikely as it might have seemed last week if you were told what would happen by the end of the day Saturday.
Arkansas Razorbacks (RPI: 41). The Hogs have gained quite a bit in the RPI from last week, when they were ranked 50th. That makes the tournament a lot less urgent for them. There's no chance for the Razorbacks to get a regional, and for now they look like they're on the safe side of in. But they probably need a win or two to be certain of an NCAA invite.
Alabama Crimson Tide (RPI: 24). A deep run could put them on the bubble for a regional, particularly since they have to come through the single-elimination first round and then Florida after that. But the Tide has been in a bit of a slump lately, so getting to host will probably take a lot of work in the conference tournament. Most likely, Bama's just in the NCAAs no matter what happens.
Kentucky Wildcats (RPI: 22). Basically, Kentucky is in the same place as Alabama. There's a little bit more room to entertain the possibility of a regional hosting bid, but it will take a lot and the path to winning their way through the tournament is tough.
Texas A&M Aggies (RPI: 33). There's not much the Aggies can do to muck things up this week. I think they're firmly on the "in" side of the bubble -- the RPI is too high for them not to be right now -- though another win or two would make them a lock for the tournament.
Tennessee Volunteers (RPI: 45). The Vols are the bubbliest of SEC bubble teams. There are already essentially eight automatic bids that are either certain to be taken or almost certain to be taken by teams outside the Top 64 in RPI, which puts us down to the Top 56. And there are plenty of tournaments next week that promise some upsets. Plus, the selection committee hews closely to the RPI, but they don't follow it mindlessly, and the Vols' swoon in the second half of the season won't help. The Vols are on the outside of some projections now. They need at least one and probably two or three wins in Hoover to feel really good about their chances.
Georgia Bulldogs (RPI: 55). It's not just that it's hard to see the Dawgs winning their way into the NCAAs at this point. Basically, by the time the Dawgs will have won three more games than they've lost in Hoover -- a requirement to get to the .500 record that at-large teams have to have -- they'll be on the verge of winning the entire event. For all intents and purposes, Georgia needs to get the auto-berth to make the NCAAs.