After Saturday's collection of games, the SEC regular season title is looking like a battle between three contestants: the Kentucky Wildcats, the LSU Tigers, and the South Carolina Gamecocks. UK and LSU have future NBA players aplenty, so them being in the race is not unexpected. Carolina's place in the race is a complete surprise and should get Frank Martin serious consideration for SEC Coach of the Year. Texas A&M had been in this group, but its recent losing streak has pushed it out of it.
UK and LSU are tied on top of the conference standings at 9-3, while South Carolina is alone in third at 8-4. The Gamecocks lead the league in overall wins at 21, while the Wildcats and Tigers will hit 20 with their next victories.
Here is how the three of them have fared against each other as well as the other quality squads in the league. Tier 1 is made of the three contenders. Tier 2 is made of the other teams that are in NCAA Tournament contention: Texas A&M, Florida, Vanderbilt, and Alabama.
|Team||Record vs. Tier 1||Record vs. Tier 2|
Kentucky beat South Carolina 89-62 on Saturday, LSU beat Kentucky 85-67 on January 5, and South Carolina beat LSU 94-83 last Wednesday. The Wildcats' clean record against second tier teams comes from one win each over Florida, Alabama, and Vanderbilt. The Tigers split their games with Texas A&M, beat Alabama and Vandy, and lost to Florida. The Gamecocks split their series with the Tide and also took down the Aggies and Commodores. Strangely, the only team to have defeated two of these teams is Tennessee, which has knocked off both UK and Carolina. Both of those results came in Knoxville, which is where LSU must go next Saturday. Put the Tigers on upset watch, I guess.
Texas A&M used to be in this top group, but five straight SEC losses have pushed it down to the four-way tie for fourth at 7-5. Still, TAMU is in the best position to make a run for the top spot among the teams not in Tier 1 above.
Some of the team's recent slide is simply a scheduling quirk. Despite the poor run of results, the Aggies are still 13-1 at home this year. Four of the five consecutive conference losses came on the road, and the one home loss was to Tier 1's South Carolina. I could see A&M righting the ship and winning all six down the stretch, with four of them being home games and only Mizzou and Auburn on the road.
Five of Kentucky's last six are against Tier 1 and 2 teams, and three of them—A&M, Vandy, and Florida—are on the road. Could the Wildcats drop two between now and Nashville? Sure. LSU has games against a red hot Alabama team, Florida, and a road trip to Kentucky. Finding two losses in there is feasible. South Carolina has the cushiest schedule the rest of the way, with only a home match with Florida coming from the top two tiers. The Gamecocks have already stumbled against Georgia and Tennessee, though, and they only have to drop one more to hit five in the loss column. I will note that A&M can't win a four-way tiebreaker because it can't finish better than 1-2 against the others, but it would have a possibility of winning a three-way tie as long as it beats Kentucky, the Wildcats are one of the three, and UK beats LSU if the Tigers are the third team.
But if the Aggies lose even just one of their last six games, they're probably out of the running. That fact is why I say it's really more of a three-team race. South Carolina may be a game behind Kentucky and LSU, but that nice schedule I mentioned above keeps the Gamecocks right in the thick of the race.
When the final horn sounds on March 5, it's almost certain that the SEC regular season champion will be Kentucky, LSU, or South Carolina.