SEC Tournament Chase

SEC Tournament Chase

SEC Tournament Chase
By Joe Nelson

In the past three NCAA tournaments the SEC produced three Final Four teams (Florida ’06, ’07; LSU ’06). In that time frame the much more talked about and presumably stronger conferences, the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and Big 12, have only produced one Final Four team each. So far this season the SEC does not appear to have a championship contender and in reality the conference does not have a team that is a complete lock to even earn an at-large bid into the tournament.

These are the SEC teams in the mix for tournament spots but no team appears to be in great shape. All of these teams would be best served to finish the season strong as this conference is not likely to secure a great deal of bids with poor overall rankings by most measures. The East division will be an interesting race with four teams likely on pace to finish with very similar records and there could be a lot on the line in the SEC tournament.

WEST:

LSU:
The Tigers lead the West Division at 6-1 and own an impressive 18-4 overall record but this division could be shutout of the NCAA tournament. LSU played a very light non-conference schedule, going 1-3 in the games against respectable opponents with a win against Washington State and losses against Texas A&M, Xavier and Utah. LSU also lost to Alabama early in conference play and with the conference down so far this season the wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Tennessee do not mean a lot. The remaining road games will be challenging and the games against Kentucky and Florida could be critical for a tournament bid. LSU has by far the weakest strength of schedule of any team in the conference so a mediocre finish or an early SEC tournament loss could leave the Tigers on the outside looking in even with a division title.

Mississippi State: Outside of LSU the rest of the West division is in bad shape although Mississippi State is a team that has a slight chance at the NCAA tournament despite appearing to be heading in the wrong direction. According to the Sagarin ratings, MSU has not played a team currently in the top 25 and has only faced two top 50 opponents. With five questionable non-conference losses against middle-of-the-pack teams and no impressive non-conference wins there is nothing to hold on to other than the SEC season which will not help that much. Mississippi State may be second in the West standings but that means sixth in the SEC overall at best. Mississippi State probably does not even warrant a listing in this group as they basically need to win out to even enter the conversation.

Arkansas: Most should rightfully count out the Razorbacks after a 1-6 start in a weak SEC and Arkansas needs a miraculous finish to even have a chance. Stranger things have happened however and Arkansas has been competitive enough in recent games with narrow losses to LSU and Tennessee to think that things could turn around. Arkansas did start with the toughest set of conference games and the closing schedule will provide some opportunities. Arkansas did have a near perfect 12-1 non-conference season and can still claim to be the only team to beat highly ranked Oklahoma. Arkansas also beat Texas in non-conference play although the quality of that win has diminished a bit. Arkansas needs to get to at least 9-7 in league play to even get a look but doing that and winning a few games in Tampa would make the Razorbacks an interesting case.

EAST:

Tennessee:
With seven losses the overall record does not look that strong but Tennessee is the only team that could say with some conviction that they would be in the tournament if the season ended right now. The Volunteers certainly have some flaws but they played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation and all of the losses have been against fairly high quality teams. Tennessee does have wins over Georgetown and Marquette in its pocket which should be enough to keep them in the postseason tournament barring a complete collapse. The remaining schedule is difficult however. Tennessee should win its remaining home games but plays five more road games including the three toughest remaining tests at Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina. Wins already over Florida and South Carolina should help the Vols when comparing SEC teams however.

Florida: At 19-4 most assume the Gators should have no trouble finding a ticket for the Big Dance but the non-conference schedule features little that impresses other than a win at Washington. Losses to Florida State and Syracuse will not help in bubble battles and the Gators have not proven they can beat good teams on the road, losing to both South Carolina and Tennessee in conference road games. Remaining games at LSU, at Kentucky, and at Mississippi State will be challenging and home games with Tennessee and Kentucky would be crippling losses in the final few games. The SEC tournament could be very interesting this season as the regular season division titles will not mean much and a one and done performance in the conference tournament might knock a team like Florida out in the selection committee’s eyes.

South Carolina: The remaining SEC schedule gives the Gamecocks a chance to win the SEC East or at least finish second which could be a nice measure in a division that could be very close. Losing on the road to Tennessee, LSU, and Florida might hurt in comparison arguments but the Gamecocks did beat Florida at home and won at Kentucky. South Carolina has the most favorable remaining schedule with the toughest games at home, playing Georgia twice, and facing road games they will be favored in. The non-conference schedule was not strong but a win at Baylor is something and losing to a rising Clemson team could help the overall ratings. South Carolina might need to win the East to assure a tournament spot but they have a favorable path to accomplish that.

Kentucky: For a moment the country thought Kentucky basketball was back as a national threat but the Wildcats have now lost three straight games and the non-conference loss to VMI will still stand out when considering Kentucky’s profile. The Wildcats did beat West Virginia but also lost to Louisville and Miami. Losing twice already at home in SEC play is problematic and more home losses could be on the way facing Florida, Tennessee, and LSU in the next three home games. Road trips to Arkansas, South Carolina, and Florida still remain and Kentucky is the team in the top four in the East most likely to play itself out of NCAA tournament consideration.

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