In a few short weeks, the NCAA Tournament will begin. I know it’s crazy to say aloud right now, but we’re legitimately about a month away from this transpiring. Can you believe it? Time flies when you’re having fun, and this season’s been a pretty fun one. Well, for some, at least.
As we enter this penultimate week of February, the SEC seems in line to send at least seven teams to the tourney. That probably has a chance to swell up to at most nine, depending on what happens down the road. So before games begin again on Tuesday, let’s take a look at where everyone stands right now.
There are a few certifiable locks to make the NCAA Tournament as it stands right now. Those teams are the Tennessee Volunteers, Kentucky Wildcats and LSU Tigers. Bracket Matrix has the Vols and Wildcats as 1 and 2 seeds at this juncture, with plenty of room to grow for UK. This after Kentucky’s big win over the Vols this weekend in Lexington.
They’ll play once again this season in March, and possibly a third time in the SEC Tournament. If Kentucky picked up a season sweep and pegged the Vols again in the NCAA Tournament, then you’ll likely see a 1 need to Kentucky on the seed line. The Vols can lock themselves into a 1 seed if they finish strongly, but we’ll see how they react to losing their first game since November.
LSU, meanwhile, is currently a 4 seed on Bracket Matrix. The Tigers have been rolling and picked up a major win against aforementioned Kentucky in Lexington. It’s the only meeting of the season between these two teams (minus a possible faceoff in the SEC Tourney) so that was a pivotal victory for Will Wade’s squad. LSU has two remaining matchups against Florida and a showdown with Tennessee this coming weekend at the PMAC. That represents a gigantic opportunity for the Fighting Tigers, and could possibly help to boost them up to the 3-seed line.
Going down the rungs of the ladder, we find our next grouping of SEC squads. The Ole Miss Rebels, Mississippi State Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers are in as of now but their margin for errors vary. Auburn is probably the most in need of a couple big wins. They’re 6-6 in SEC play, and their biggest wins per KenPom are against Florida (currently squarely on the bubble) and a Dayton Flyers squad who’s currently out of the Big Dance. Auburn has one more showdown with Kentucky at Rupp this Saturday, a matchup against Mississippi State on the first Saturday of March, and wraps up the season against Tennessee at home. At this point, an 0-3 run through that stretch may wind up dooming them.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, has rebounded very nicely from a four-game losing streak that saw them get knocked on their heels. They’ve defeated Auburn as well as the SEC’s bottom feeders but they’ll have two chances at getting big wins. They play Tennessee and Kentucky in consecutive weeks, and they’ll have the luxury of playing those two teams at home, as well. They cannot afford, however, to lose upcoming games agains South Carolina, Georgia, and Mizzou, their season finale. Any loss only supplants more pressure on them to win those games against UT and UK.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, are pretty safe at the moment. They have defeated eight teams who are ranked no worse than 67th on KenPom this season. They’ve picked up wins against six teams currently ‘in’ the NCAA Tournament per KenPom. They’re on the 7-seed line and their peak right now is at a five.
The problem with the rest of their schedule is that it doesn’t allow for them to pick up many major victories. They have two remaining chances against Auburn and Tennessee in consecutive games open up March. But they play Georgia, South Carolina, Mizzou and Texas A&M. So basically, Ben Howland’s club can simply not afford to slip up at this point. Their schedule and their resume is what it is at this point and they will simply have to be safe to stay safe.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are currently on the 11 line on Bracket Matrix, but the Tide are pretty fringe at the moment. Their win against Kentucky to open SEC play keeps getting better by the day and they racked up wins against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. However the cupboard is pretty barren otherwise. They did defeat Ja Morant and the Murray State Racers earlier this season but unfortunately that win over the Liberty Flames on December 18 doesn’t boost them as much anymore, as Liberty is currently out of the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama plays LSU and Auburn at the end of the season but apart from that, they are fresh out of chances. They got drubbed by State last Tuesday and that probably hurt them quite a bit, which is why they’re in the spot that they’re in. Like all the others, slipping up is an absolute no-go at this point and any possible loss to Texas A&M, Vanderbilt or South Carolina would likely send them out of the tourney.
Now we go to teams who are currently out but could play themselves in. Those teams right now are the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Florida Gators. Arkansas is in a really bad spot right now. They’ve lost three in a row, including horrific road losses to South Carolina and Mizzou. They also lost to Florida, ironically enough, earlier in the season. Their win against LSU stands up very nicely but it’s so far their only quality win of the season.
They have games against Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama the rest of the way. Those are four chances at getting quality wins that could help boost their cause to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. They cannot take those chances lightly.
Florida has some remaining opportunities that could help them as well. They play LSU twice and end the season against Kentucky. Other than that, it’s three bottom dwellers in Mizzou, Vandy and Georgia consecutively. They’re currently out of the dance but if they were to split the series against the Fighting Tigers and possibly knock Kentucky off in Rupp Arena they could absolutely help themselves before the conference tournament.
Apart from that, the rest of the SEC looks to be pretty stuck in the mud. While the South Carolina Gamecocks are 8-4 in conference play, they’re 13-12 and aren’t even close via Bracket Matrix. They would probably have to take down Ole Miss, Mississippi State AND Alabama consecutively to even think about consideration, and then go on a run in the SEC Tournament (probably an auto-bid or bust situation). And the quartet of the Georgia Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies and Vanderbilt Commodores are firmly in auto-bid or bust territory, also.
All told, this should be a fun ride to the end, with some very exciting and enticing matchups lying ahead of us. It’s the best time of year for college basketball, and it will be fun to see what happens when some of these clubs have their backs against the wall.