Tonight, Texas A&M gets an opportunity to finally get a signature win in facing Arkansas in Fayetteville. The Hogs are a top-20 RPI team and a top-30 KenPom team, and no matter how you slice it, beating them would do more as a singular win for A&M than either of its victories over LSU.
Win or lose tonight, Texas A&M will end up telling us exactly what the selection committee thinks about the SEC.
The reason, simply, is because the entire case to be made for the Aggies' inclusion in March Madness rests on their performance in conference play. Their best two non-conference wins are Arizona State and Sam Houston State, neither of which is all that impressive. The two best teams they played in the non-conference were Baylor and Dayton, and both of those games ended up losses. They also lost to Kansas State, which still looks pretty bad despite the Wildcats' upset of Kansas last night. In short, their non-conference schedule wasn't all that rigorous and didn't yield a resume defining win.
In SEC play, A&M has done very well. Its worst conference loss was its first game, a 65-44 defeat to Alabama. The Tide hasn't made that loss look good since then, but it at least A&M was on the road for that one. The Aggies followed that up by taking UK to double overtime, and only a road match at Ole Miss and a home game against Georgia have added to the loss column since. TAMU has avoided horrible losses to the dregs of the league, have held their own against the middle class just fine, and pushed mighty Kentucky as hard as anyone has. Playing at Arkansas presents an opportunity to get that signature win to shore up the resume.
But even if they do get it, it'll still be against an SEC team. The argument for the Aggies will continue to revolve around the SEC and its teams. Only beating Kentucky in the SEC Tournament would be something set apart from the league, as the Wildcats themselves are set apart from both the league and most everyone in the country. Barring that, basically the entire case for the team will be SEC-centric.
That's why I say that Texas A&M's seeding—or even its inclusion or not in the Field of 68—will show what the selection committee really thinks of the SEC. The other marginal contenders have confounding factors with differences in non-conference schedule strength and multiple bad losses. A&M has just the one bad loss (K-State), and, with the sole exception of that Alabama loss (and with a little future outcome projection), it'll probably have defeated everyone below it in the league standings and lost to everyone ahead of it. With as messy as college basketball resumes can end up, TAMU will probably be about the purest test of a conference's standing in the committee's eyes as we can get.
If A&M ends up in the NIT or a First Four game, we can know the committee took a dim view of the conference. If it ends up with a 9-seed, then we'll know the committee saw the league as more formidable. At least, that'll be the case if A&M keeps up its current pattern. It's up to Billy Kennedy's bunch to not blow any future games to make sure it remains the perfect conference strength barometer.