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SEC Tournament Bracketology, Two Games to Go

Here is where we stand heading into the last week of basketball action.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC Tournament outcomes narrowed a bit thanks to Saturday's action, so it's time to go over what the field looks like again before the midweek games happen. We have kind of an odd fit right now as there are multiple two-game gaps in the standings, not to mention a five-way tie in the middle.

To begin, here's a peek at how things would look if the season ended today. I used the conference's tiebreaker method to sort out the ties.

First Round

12 Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. 13 Auburn Tigers

Second Round

8 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. 9 Georgia Bulldogs

5 Vanderbilt Commodores vs. MSU/AU

7 Ole Miss Rebels vs. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks

6 Florida Gators vs. 11 Tennessee Volunteers

Third Round

1 Texas A&M Aggies vs. Bama/UGA

2 Kentucky Wildcats vs. Miss/Ark

3 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. UF/UT

4 LSU Tigers vs. VU/MSU/AU


11/12-seed at 6-10: Tennessee is 1-0 against Mississippi State.

6/7/8/9/10-seed at 8-8: Against the other tied teams, Florida is 5-1, Ole Miss is 3-3, Alabama is 1-1, Georgia is 2-3, and Arkansas is 0-3. Those records set the 6, 9, and 10-seeds, while the Rebels being 1-0 against the Tide sets the 7 and 8-seeds.

3/4/5-seed at 10-6: Against the other tied teams, South Carolina is 2-0, LSU is 1-1, and Vanderbilt is 0-2.

1/2-seed at 11-5: Texas A&M is 1-0 against Kentucky.

Initial Reaction

UK's loss is A&M's gain, as the Aggies can now secure the regular season championship by winning out. South Carolina gacking one up at Mississippi State prevented a far more messy three-way tie at the top between teams that are all 1-1 against each other.

One of the three teams in the 10-6 tie will be sad about not getting a double bye, and that team is Vandy.

The clump of five teams tied at 8-8 is attention grabbing, but it's not quite as complex as it might look. Florida's sweeps of Ole Miss and Georgia make it the clear winner, while Arkansas's futility against the rest keep it at the bottom. It's a three-way tie disguised as a five-way tie, and Alabama still having games left against Georgia and Arkansas means this group is far from settled.

Tennessee is still holding onto the final first round bye for now, but that is a crazy situation that I'll break down below.

The Top Spot

Texas A&M holding the tiebreaker over Kentucky makes it the new favorite to win the league. The schedules the teams have the rest of the way solidify TAMU as the leader.

The Aggies have the single toughest game between the two according to the KenPom ratings, as Vandy's 23rd rank is actually higher than A&M's 25th. Even so, it's a home game for A&M, and Vandy's a miserable 3-8 on the road this year while the Aggies are 16-1 in College Station. The next toughest game is UK's Wednesday road trip to Gainesville, where the 44th-rated Gators are 12-3 this year. UK, for its part, is only 3-7 on the road.

A&M has a road game at Auburn before hosting Vandy, and that should be a win for the Aggies. Kentucky closes with a home match against LSU, which has a tougher degree of difficulty despite the 'Cats having a perfect record at home this year. The Bayou Bengals can boast road wins at Vandy and Alabama, so they have beaten decent teams away from home. I still heavily favor Kentucky, though, but LSU grabbing that win is more thinkable than A&M losing at Auburn.

Both teams would have to lose at least one game for anyone else to have a chance to come into the picutre. I don't see a reason to go through those what ifs right now, but we'll reassess after the midweek games.

The Final Double Bye

Just looking at the way the tiebreaker worked, it's clear that South Carolina is the most likely team out of SC-LSU-VU to earn a double bye. They also close with Georgia and at Arkansas, two winnable games. I realize I leaned on the schedule argument in Carolina's favor last week and then the Gamecocks went out and lost to Mississippi State, but just going 1-1 this week will probably clinch the team a double bye.

LSU and Vandy are in similar situations to each other. They each have winnable games on Wednesday: LSU hosts Missouri, while Vandy welcomes Tennessee. UT is dangerous but generally only in Knoxville. You can probably pencil in wins for both the Tigers and Commodores there.

The weekend is where it gets dicey as LSU travels to Kentucky and Vandy goes on the road at Texas A&M. If only one springs a Saturday upset, then that team gets the last double bye. If they both lose, then they fall into a tiebreaker not just with each other but with any of the presently 8-8 teams that win both their games this week. Those counterfactuals are even larger and more varied than the ones we're looking at if UK and A&M both lose at least one game, so I'm putting them aside for now as well.

Long story short: any of these three teams that goes 2-0 this week is probably going to earn a double bye. South Carolina definitely will get one with a 2-0 record, and 1-1 is probably enough because it's unlikely that both LSU and Vandy go 2-0. The Tigers and Commodores probably will get a double bye with 2-0 because, again, it's unlikely that the other will have gone 2-0 as well. Anyone who goes no better than 1-1 is giving up control over its fate, and VU is at the disadvantage because it loses any two or three-way tiebreakers involving South Carolina and/or LSU.

The Final Bye

Tennessee didn't help its cause by losing at home to Arkansas on Saturday, but Auburn did give the Vols an assist by falling at Alabama. UT has no guaranteed wins the rest of the way, with it having to play at Vandy before hosting one of the conference's few not-terrible road teams in Ole Miss.

MSU and AU don't have any guaranteed wins either, except that they play each other on Saturday and presumably one of them will emerge with a victory. MSU travels to Ole Miss while Auburn hosts Texas A&M in the meantime.

It's difficult to describe all the tiebreakers at work here, except to say that Tennessee locks in the 11-seed with a 2-0 week. Anything short of that and it gets messy. It's too messy for words, so here is a chart of all of the possibilities for the final spot:


I believe this is correct, but let me know in the comments if I messed something up. It's hard to get these things exactly right. Also, this assumes that only Texas A&M and Kentucky fill up the top two spots of the conference in some order.

I'll also admit that it's possible for UT and MSU to go 2-0 and end up tying any of the 8-8 teams that go 0-2 this week. I'm not going to get into that, though, as the most likely teams to go 0-2 in my estimation are Georgia (1-0 over each of UT and MSU) and Arkansas (2-0 over UT, 1-1 vs. MSU). I did include consequences for Ole Miss going 0-2 because there is some certainty here given that it's tangled up with these three teams due to scheduling, but I'm not getting into scenarios that involve UGA and Arkansas.

Because one of MSU and AU must win this week—due to the fact that they play each other—Tennessee cannot get the final bye with an 0-2 record. If the Vols lose out, they finish 6-12. Even if Mississippi State and Auburn both lose their midweek games, one of them will pick up a win on Saturday. Either a victorious MSU leaps UT with a 7-11 record, or it'd force a three-way tie at 6-12. UT and AU would be 2-1 against the others with MSU being 0-2, making it a head-to-head tiebreak between the Vols and Tigers.

Auburn and Tennessee split their season series, so the tiebreaker then goes to the 1-seed and on down. If it's Texas A&M, either Auburn trumps Tennessee because it's 1-0 against the Aggies while the Vols are 0-1, or they move on to 2-seed Kentucky because they're both 0-1 versus the 1-seed. AU is 1-0 against Kentucky while Tennessee is 1-1, so whether UK is the first or second seed, the Tigers win the tiebreaker over the Vols in comparative record against the Wildcats.

The Vols are the only team with any degree of certainty here. Win out, and they get the final bye because they're 1-0 against Mississippi State. Lose out, and they cannot get the final bye. All MSU and Auburn can do is try to take care of their own business and hope that, for a start, Vandy beats Tennessee.