Let's start out by acknowledging that the SEC baseball tournament field is either too small or ridiculously large. If you're going to have a beauty pageant among all the conference teams, let them all in; but if you're going to have some sort of merit involved, more than two teams should probably left out when the regular season comes to an end. In any case, one of the few advantages of this screwy setup in terms of the structure of the tournament is that the top four seeds get to set out the first day. So LSU, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Florida all get to take a break Tuesday while the other eight teams fight for their tournament lives in single-elimination games.
The realpolitik reason for having so many teams in the tournament is that it gives NCAA bubble teams a chance to boost their RPIs. And a lot of the would-be bubble teams in the SEC need it. Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina and Alabama all need to make a run this week to have any chance of squeaking into a regional. None of those teams are likely to do all that they need to do with a win on Tuesday, but a loss on Tuesday is probably fatal for all of them. There's still plenty up for grabs for some of the other teams, though. Here's a look at today's games.
Game 1: (6) Ole Miss vs. (11) Alabama -- Winner plays Texas A&M
10:30 a.m. ET | SEC Network | WatchESPN | Sirius 219 | XM 190
With a solid RPI of 24th, Ole Miss is not entirely out of the question to be one of the 16 regional hosts, though it would probably take a couple of wins (at least) in the SEC tournament to sew things up. Alabama, though, is one of the teams that badly needs a run in Hoover to even make the NCAA tournament. At 30-26, the Crimson Tide is guaranteed to end up with a winning record, but an RPI of 50 isn't likely to get you into the field. Beat Ole Miss, Texas A&M and another game or two, and we might be having an entirely different conversation.
Game 2: (7) Missouri vs. (10) South Carolina -- Winner plays Vanderbilt
TBA (based on conclusion of Game 1) | SEC Network | WatchESPN | Sirius 219 | XM 190
The loser of this game is essentially out of the conversation for the national playoff -- and the winner still needs to go on a run in Hoover to think seriously about making it. Missouri's RPI is 57th and South Carolina's RPI is 60th, and nothing close to either of those marks is going to get you into a regional -- even without factoring in the hit those rankings would take with a loss here. The winner then would face Vanderbilt and potentially Texas A&M or Ole Miss if they won that game -- which could give a healthy kick to the RPI. Again, no one's punching their ticket with a win here, but somebody's guaranteeing themselves a spot at home.
Game 3: (8) Kentucky vs. (9) Auburn -- Winner plays LSU
5:30 p.m. ET | SEC Network | WatchESPN | Sirius 219 | XM 190
Fun fact: Auburn is 2.5 games behind Ole Miss in the conference and one place ahead of them in the RPI. But they're also going in different directions. The Tigers fell a few spots in the most recent batch of RPIs, and Ole Miss jumped six places. (And consider Missouri, which is two games up on Auburn in the conference and a whopping 34 places behind them in the RPIs.) I'm not sure how close Auburn is to getting a regional hosting slot -- my guess is not very -- but, regardless, it won't happen without winning this game. Kentucky, meanwhile, sits at No. 56 in the RPI and is the same boat at Missouri, South Carolina and Alabama: Lose this once and they're out. Win this one and they're still a long way from in.
Game 4: (5) Arkansas vs. (12) Tennessee -- Winner plays Florida
TBA (based on conclusion of Game 3) | SEC Network | WatchESPN | Sirius 219 | XM 190
This is a game where neither team can do much to help their cause. Arkansas is ranked 38th in the RPI, and I'd honestly very surprised to see it miss the tournament. On the other hand, the Razorbacks have a lot of work to do if they want to get in the conversation for a regional. And despite the tangible sign of progress the Vols made by getting to the SEC tournament, they are currently 70th in the RPI and a game below .500. Tennessee would have to win two more games than it loses in the Hoover just to be eligible for the NCAA tournament, much less in the conversation. The Vols probably need to win the whole thing to make the national field. On the other hand, if you're going to do that, you have to start somewhere.