When last we did this exercise, the SEC appeared to be in contention for six NCAA Tournament bids. Since then, the Alabama Crimson Tide beat both the Texas A&M Aggies and Florida Gators to expand that possibility to seven teams.
Seven is a remarkable place to be considering it was looking like four in late January. It would nominally be the most teams ever, with the conference hitting six teams on eight past occasions but never more than that. Proportionately, it would match the 50% of members that six out of 12 used to be.
Getting seven in would also be a ringing success for the conference's recent push to get more teams in. After putting at least five teams in the field between 1997 and 2008—yes, kids, four used to be a low number for the SEC—the conference did it just once over the next five seasons. It only got three teams into the bracket in 2013 and 2014, which is awful considering the league had gone to 14 teams by then. And if not for expansion, it probably would've gotten only two into the 2013 tournament considering that Missouri was one of the three.
But then in 2013, the league office took oversight of non-conference scheduling. Getting a number of good non-con games (and wins) doesn't just help perception, but it specifically helps in the RPI measure that the committee leans on come Selection Sunday. The RPI doesn't just care about a team's strength of schedule; it also looks at a team's opponents' strengths of schedule. When a few SEC teams slack off in the early scheduling, it hurts everyone.
The plan began to work last year with the conference putting five teams into the bracket. It's working again this year, as seven looks like a possibility. So: how do we get to seven?
Well for starters, seven is not assured whatsoever. Looking at last night's update to the Bracket Matrix, which synthesizes a whole bunch of bracket projections, only four conference teams are actually in the field of 68: Kentucky (a 4-seed), Texas A&M (6), South Carolina (7), and Florida (8). LSU and Alabama, in that order, are the first two teams out. Vanderbilt is fifth in line among those not in yet.
I will note that 20 of the matrix's 92 sources haven't updated to include last Saturday's results, so some are a bit behind. LSU, for instance, is only in seven of the 20 stale projections (35%), while 41 of the 62 (66%) newer ones put the Tigers in the bracket. LSU's percentage among the more recent set is higher than Alabama's 61% and Vandy's 26%.
There is going to be some SEC bubble-on-bubble crime with Alabama playing at LSU tomorrow. It's probably more crucial for the conference's bid number that the Tide come out on top in that one, considering that Bama's only other big win opportunity is a near-impossible road trip to Kentucky. LSU also plays at Rupp before all's said and done, but it has a decent win opportunity when it hosts Florida a week from Saturday.
Vandy is still largely in a holding pattern for the next week, as it goes to Starkville and hosts Georgia. Its task in those games, as well as its future game against Tennessee, is simply to avoid unfortunate losses. All three bubble teams have at least one RPI 100-150 loss: Bama lost at Auburn, Vandy lost at Arkansas, and LSU lost to Marquette, NC State, and Wake Forest. UGA is hanging in there with an RPI in the 60s, but the Commodores really should beat the Bulldogs to keep their hopes afloat.
Going off of the matrix and last Friday's SBN bracketology update, Georgia and Ole Miss are still on the radar but well in NIT land. Both avoided missteps on Saturday with the Rebels beating Arkansas and the Bulldogs beating Mississippi State, but we're a long way from calling either even a bubble team.
|Team||RPI (Mon.)||KenPom (Tues.)||Projected Status|
The dream of seven teams in the bracket is alive. It's going to be tight, and big SEC Tournament wins—along with a dearth of mid-major bid thieves—will probably be needed for a couple of teams to get in. But seven is possible, and that's something the SEC hasn't been able to say this late in the season in a long time.