The Southeastern Conference has never gotten more than six teams in the NCAA Tournament in a year, but that may very well change this year.
With the SEC hitting the midpoint of conference play last night -- every team has played nine conference games and has nine remaining — how does everyone’s resume stack up? Who still has work to do?
Auburn Tigers (20-2, 8-1 SEC)
RPI: 7; KenPom: 10
In one of the more shocking developments of the season, Auburn is in first place in the SEC standings and is pretty close to an NCAA Tournament lock on February 1. The Tigers are 5-2 in Quadrant 1 games, and 5-0 in Quadrant 2 games. And per KenPom, they’ll be favored in all nine of their remaining games, so the odds of a complete collapse — what it would take for them to miss the tournament — are slim.
Tennessee Volunteers (16-5, 6-3 SEC)
RPI: 12; KenPom: 9
This is another team with very little to worry about. The only knock against the Volunteers’ resume is that their record against Quadrant 1 teams is just 4-5 — but that’s still four high-quality wins, including one of the season’s best resume scalps, a November 22 win over Purdue in the Bahamas. And there’s nothing even resembling a bad loss. Like Auburn, Tennessee should be favored in each of its remaining games (you can quibble with KenPom’s algorithm saying they’re favored to beat Kentucky at Rupp), which makes the likelihood of the kind of collapse it would take for them to miss the tournament slim.
Kentucky Wildcats (17-5, 6-3 SEC)
RPI: 13; KenPom: 28
Yeah, Kentucky is not the top-5 team that some envisioned in the preseason; they’re also a far cry from being a bubble team. But that could change. They’re 3-3 against Quadrant 1 — okay, but hardly great — and 6-2 against Quadrant 2. And their remaining schedule is a bear. The Wildcats’ next four games are at Missouri, Tennessee, at Texas A&M, and at Auburn; throw in road trips to Arkansas and Florida, and that’s six games in which (according to KenPom) the Wildcats will be an underdog. I don’t think they’ll miss the tournament — their overall strength of schedule numbers and performance to date will make that difficult — but their seed line could drop a few spots if they don’t play better down the stretch.
Arkansas Razorbacks (15-7, 4-5 SEC)
RPI: 29; KenPom: 50
Here’s where we start getting into the “solid, but flawed” resumes. The Razorbacks are 3-6 against Quadrant 1 teams, with a neutral-court win over Oklahoma and a home win over Tennessee being the main draw. There’s also the black mark of a Quadrant 3 loss -- and that loss being by 21 points at home to LSU on January 10. The good news is that five of the Razorbacks’ remaining nine games are at home, where they generally play well, and barring a home loss to Vanderbilt there aren’t any opportunities to pick up a bad loss. Assuming they go at least 4-5, it’s hard to imagine there actually being 36 teams in the at-large pool with better resumes.
Texas A&M Aggies (14-8, 3-6 SEC)
RPI: 30; KenPom: 33
The good news for the Aggies? They did enough in nonconference play that even after their recent slide, their resume still looks good: 3-5 against Quadrant 1 teams and 2-2 against Quadrant 2. There is a Quadrant 3 loss (to LSU at home, like Arkansas), but the slide has mostly taken this team from a potential 2-seed to something more like a 9- or 10-seed. That said: it has to stop. Texas A&M is favored in five of its remaining nine games according to KenPom and probably needs to win at least that many. Otherwise we’ll have to have some really awkward conversations about Billy Kennedy. (Actually we really should be doing that now.)
Missouri Tigers (14-8, 4-5 SEC)
RPI: 35; KenPom: 42
I had a bit of a chuckle last week when I saw Missouri fans saying that a loss to Auburn knocked them out of the tournament. News flash: If a loss to a top-10 team “knocked you out,” you were never in to begin with. But it’s hard to understate the importance of last night’s win at Alabama. Missouri’s now 4-6 against Quadrant 1, which is fine, and 1-1 against Quadrant 2. There is an eyesore — a neutral-court loss to Illinois in December; the Illini are now 2-8 in the Big Ten. But KenPom says Missouri should be favored in 7 of its remaining 9 games, meaning this resume should improve. There won’t necessarily be a ton of heft in there, but winning games usually helps.
Alabama Crimson Tide (14-8, 5-4 SEC)
RPI: 41; KenPom: 59
When I look at Texas A&M’s resume and say “this is fine,” here’s why. This is what a real bubble team looks like. Alabama is 4-3 against Quadrant 1, which is fine; they have wins over Auburn, Rhode Island, and Oklahoma, which is very good. They have an equal 4-3 record against Quadrant 2 — which, okay. But they also have two Quadrant 3 losses. That’s kind of unfair, because Minnesota was a Top 25 team when Alabama lost to them on November 25, but the Gophers have fallen apart since (and, well, also Alabama spent much of the second half playing 3-on-5.) They also had a one-point loss at Vanderbilt last month. The real danger? KenPom has the Tide favored in just two of its remaining nine games, so if they actually continue to play like the 58th-best team in the country, they’ll probably wind up on the wrong side of the bubble. Of course, there’s also opportunity, and with the exception of a home game against LSU they can’t pick up any more bad losses.
Florida Gators (15-7, 6-3 SEC)
RPI: 42; KenPom: 29
Florida is your annual “huh? That team is ranked that low in the RPI?” team. The Gators have shown plenty of upside, with a 5-3 record against Quadrant 1 teams. That’s hard to spin as a bad thing. Their 3-4 record against Quadrant 2 is less good, but a December home loss to Loyola-Chicago (who’s currently 18-5 and 55 in the RPI) hurts less than you think; Loyola’s computer numbers are actually better than South Carolina, who also beat Florida at home. They’re also favored in seven of their nine remaining games, and that kind of run would help smooth out the edges of their resume. This feels like it should be a tournament team.
Georgia Bulldogs (13-8, 4-5 SEC)
RPI: 55; KenPom: 58
And here’s where we start getting to the fringes of the bubble. Georgia has two Quadrant 1 wins: a neutral-court win over St. Mary’s (which looks great!) and a road win at Marquette (which is fine.) They also have two Quadrant 3 losses: a neutral-court loss to San Diego State (who’s actually better than the RPI makes them look) and a road loss at UMass (who is as bad as their 204 RPI makes them look.) The good news: they can improve this profile, with a home game against Auburn, a road trip to Florida, and two games against Tennessee remaining. The bad news: they’re favored to win none of those games.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (16-6, 4-5 SEC)
RPI: 61; KenPom: 67
This one is speculative, because there’s not much on Mississippi State’s resume to suggest they’re a tournament team. They have no bad losses, but nine of their 16 wins came against Quadrant 4 teams, and their win over South Carolina last night was just their second Quadrant 1 win. But they have a few opportunities to add to that, with road trips to Missouri and Texas A&M, and a home game against Tennessee. Will they win all of those? Probably not, and it would probably take winning all three and the games they’re supposed to win to make this an NCAA Tournament resume. But weirder things have happened.
South Carolina Gamecocks (13-9, 4-5 SEC)
RPI: 62; KenPom: 72
There are some decent parts to this resume, with three Quadrant 1 wins and two more Quadrant 2 wins, and no bad losses. There just isn’t a ton of heft here, and the Gamecocks are favored in just two of their nine remaining games. The short version is that losing to Mississippi State last night, at home, probably killed their at-large chances. Their next five: at Texas A&M, at Arkansas, Florida, at Tennessee, Auburn. We’ll talk if they win two of those.
LSU Tigers (12-9, 3-6 SEC)
RPI: 82; KenPom: 69
Ole Miss Rebels (11-11, 4-5 SEC)
RPI: 85; KenPom: 77
Vanderbilt Commodores (8-14, 2-7 SEC)
RPI: 126; KenPom: 87
We can probably write off these three. LSU and Vanderbilt, which both have top 10 recruiting classes coming in, are fine waiting until next year. As for Ole Miss, we get to spend the next month and a half having awkward conversations about Andy Kennedy.