Does the SEC Have a Fifth Tournament Team?
For a long minute, it looked like the Southeastern Conference was doomed to get just three bids in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years. That doesn’t appear to be a danger any more.
The Arkansas Razorbacks have won five games in a row and although those were mostly just games they’re supposed to win (aside from a road trip to South Carolina), that winning streak has been enough to make them probably safely in the field as bubble teams all around fade down the stretch. The Razorbacks are now up to 29 in the RPI and 41 in KenPom, and they’re a 9-seed in the Bracket Matrix (as of Monday evening).
That doesn’t mean they’re completely safe, of course, but they probably just need to split the final week of the regular season (at the Florida Gators on Wednesday and then the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday) to get in. That’s doable.
Meanwhile, the South Carolina Gamecocks stopped the bleeding with a blowout win over the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday. That snapped a three-game losing streak for the Gamecocks and probably just about punches their ticket to the dance. At 21-8, 11-5 in the SEC and with an RPI of 30 and four top 50 wins, it’s hard to imagine that there will be 36 teams in the at-large pool with better cases than the Gamecocks.
So that’s probably four. Is there going to be a fifth? Well, Tennessee looked like a contender for a while, but the Vols have lost five of seven and are probably out of it. The RPI never liked the Alabama Crimson Tide much and a recent slide has dropped them all the way to 89 — an indication that, regardless of where they finish in the SEC standings, the Tide are NIT-bound at best. Georgia has hung around the fringes of the bubble seemingly all season, but the Bulldogs’ 1-7 record against the RPI top 50 (the one win came against Vandy at home) probably dooms them, particularly now that Yante Maten is done for the season.
No, the SEC’s best hope for a fifth bid now might be the Vanderbilt Commodores, who’s won five of its last six to get to 16-13 overall and 9-7 in the SEC. Granted, the one loss in that stretch was by 20 at Missouri — but that’s really the Commodores’ only bad loss all season, and they have four wins against the RPI top 50. The bad news? The ‘Dores closes the season with a trip to Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, followed by hosting Florida in the regular season finale. No team has ever gotten an at-large bid with more than 14 losses, but I’m willing to bet that if Vandy can split the final week of the regular season and then not do something like lose to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first game of the SEC Tournament, they might be the fifth SEC team.
|Mississippi State at South Carolina
|Texas A&M at Missouri
|Vanderbilt at Kentucky
So, the final week of the regular season means basically everyone is having Senior Night (or Day) festivities, which means guys moving on, which means emotions, which means... weird results, sometimes. Or not so weird, I guess.
In one of the early games, it’s probably the coach’s final home game at his alma mater (Kim Anderson at Missouri). Yeah, nothing is official yet, but things have seemed to be headed that way since December. In another game, two 1,000-point scorers (Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice) are playing their final home game.
And in the nightcap, Kentucky has seniors for once!
Except, well, they’re running into what might be the hottest team in the SEC.
Aside from Kentucky, anyway -- the Wildcats have won six in a row, and Vanderbilt’s won five of six to position themselves squarely on the bubble. UK can also wrap up at least a share of the SEC title with a win. So yeah, that one’s probably going to be a good game.
Odds and Picks
Season to Date: 104-128-1 ATS
- Mississippi State at South Carolina (-11): The Bulldogs have lost six in a row, and frankly, given the emotional Senior Night (with Sindarius Thornwell playing in his last home game as a Gamecock), I would not be surprised to see South Carolina win by 30.
- Texas A&M at Missouri (+4): Kim Anderson will win three SEC games in each of his three years at Missouri, and right now they’re 2-14 in the SEC.
- Vanderbilt (+13.5) at Kentucky: Both of these teams are hot, so 13 and a half just feels like a lot of points.