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SEC Bracketology and Bubble Watch: The Quest for Six

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The conference has a half dozen contenders in February, which is a better place to be than some past years.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Since it's February, it's time to fire up the NCAA Tournament bracketology and bubble watch business. I'm referencing the most recent updates from Chris Dobbertean of SB Nation and Joe Lunardi from ESPN, both of which went up Tuesday morning. None of last night's SEC basketball results really affect any of this, so the intel is still good.

The SEC has six teams in the running for the Big Dance, which is an improvement over some recent years. Two teams are mostly just playing for seeding at this point. SBN has Texas A&M a 4-seed while ESPN has it a 3-seed, but either way, the Aggies would have to have a seriously disastrous turn to be in any danger of falling out. Ditto Kentucky, which is a 5-seed in SBN and a 4-seed in ESPN. The Wildcats are inconsistent, but they've done enough to not have to worry much about missing the field.

South Carolina was a point of contention in last Friday's updates, when ESPN had the Gamecocks as a 9-seed but SBN had them an 11-seed and one of the four teams barely avoiding the dumb Dayton play-in games. After scoring a win over the Aggies on Saturday, Carolina is up to a 7-seed in both brackets.

Next in line is Florida, which is sitting at a solid 7-seed in ESPN and a 9-seed with SBN. Formulas like KenPom and the RPI have loved the Gators all year, not the least because they've played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. They finally got a signature win two weeks ago over West Virginia, and not losing to Ole Miss eased the sting of getting blown out at Kentucky.

The final SEC team in today's bracket is LSU. Lunardi has the Tigers as a 10-seed, while Dobbertean has them an 11-seed. The latter has LSU in his bracket largely by virtue of it holding the conference's auto-bid thanks to it being in sole possession of first place in the standings. The Tigers were the first team out of SBN's Friday projection—at least until Louisville declared itself postseason ineligible. ESPN is overall more positive on the SEC teams than SBN is, so we'll have to see if that discrepancy holds. Either way, LSU is by no means safe.

The sixth team in real bracket contention is Vanderbilt. The Commodores are ESPN's first team out and SBN's sixth team out. They're on the wrong side of the bubble, but they are in bubble contention. They also don't play anyone big over their next few games before closing out SEC play with Florida, Kentucky, and Texas A&M making up three of their final four opponents. Vandy is in bubble purgatory—provided it doesn't pick up any bad losses—until that stretch hits.

If there is a seventh team sitting out there, it's Georgia. The Bulldogs are ESPN's eighth team out and in SBN's "also considered" section beyond the first eight teams out. The rap on UGA is that the only reason it's anywhere in the discussion is that it has a nice win over South Carolina and has a high strength of schedule. The Bulldogs getting their clocks cleaned by UK only reaffirms the team's place as a team politely hanging out on the periphery, beating teams it probably should and not really making any big statements.

SBN's latest projection includes two other teams: Alabama in the "next four out" section and Ole Miss in the "also considered" section. The writeup doesn't mention why the Tide is so high up there given its record, but I think it has something to do with the team's No. 53 spot in the RPI (as of Tuesday). Bama being No. 53 in the RPI is yet another exhibit in why no one should take that rating system seriously, but unfortunately the selection committee does.

I guess Ole Miss is getting something of a pass on its struggles when it lost several key players to injury, but the Rebels don't have a single win over a team projected in the tournament as of today. They have swept their games so far against the SEC's other not-in-but-in-contention teams in Vandy, Georgia, and Alabama, but again, they lack a truly good win.

Team RPI (Tues.) KenPom (Weds.) Projected Status
Texas A&M 16 20 In
Kentucky 20 15 In
Florida 23 29 In
South Carolina 27 45 In
Alabama 53 90 Lurking
Vanderbilt 57 35 Bubble
Georgia 64 87 Lurking
LSU 74 53 Bubble
Ole Miss 82 92 Lurking

If there is another conference that the SEC is battling with, it's the Pac-12. Washington, Oregon State, Cal, and UCLA are all around the bubble region, some in and some out right now. The ACC also has three pretty bubbly teams in Florida State, Syracuse, and Clemson. Both of those conferences are in the running to get the most teams in, and the SEC may have to knock one of their teams out in order to get Vandy in.