|SEC West is wild again - with four-way tie for third|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 28 February 2008 15:40|
The Crimson Tide is in third place - or is it last?
``Third,'' Gottfried insisted. ``You trying to ruin my night?''
Either description works, even if one makes the coaches and players feel a bit better.
Four of the division's six teams head into their final three league games locked in a tie behind Mississippi State (10-3 SEC) and Arkansas (7-6). If that sets the stage for a potentially dramatic final scramble for SEC tournament seeding, it also means that two-thirds of the West are stuck with 4-9 league records.
Alabama, Mississippi, LSU and Alabama are vying for that not-so coveted No. 3 spot. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are 19-8 and need to win only one of their final three games or have Arkansas lose once to secure the title.
``I think our team's in a great position,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. ``We're fixing to win a championship in the West.''
They seem like the only SEC West team in a comfortable position for the NCAA tournament. Comfort and the West just don't seem to go together.
The current situation can't match last year's drama, when four teams entered the final weekend of the regular season in a dead heat for the title. Mississippi State secured the top SEC West seed in the league's last game the Sunday before the tournament.
That title didn't bring enough credibility to land an NCAA tournament berth. Only Arkansas went from the West.
Let the race for No. 3 begin.
``There's just a lot of teams that are very similar, and it's just going to be who's going to be able to steal a couple on the road coming down the stretch here,'' said Auburn's Jeff Lebo, whose team is 14-12.
``It's going to be the difference between being third and sixth. It's going to be a couple of plays here, a couple of plays there, much like it was last year,'' he said.
The West has mostly been beaten up this season by its counterparts in the East, going 8-12 against the much higher profile division.
Again, the Bulldogs are an exception so far. They are tied with Kentucky at a game behind No. 1 Tennessee in the overall SEC championship race.
They close the regular season at Florida and No. 18 Vanderbilt and at home against LSU.
``Sometimes you hear about our league being down,'' Stansbury said. ``Well, maybe we're not as heavy at the top. That doesn't change how good our league is at the bottom.
``Twelve, 11 and 10 can beat anybody on any given night. I don't know how many leagues can say that.''
The Ratings Percentage Index hasn't been kind to the West teams. Arkansas (35), Mississippi State (41) and Mississippi (45) all appear to be in NCAA tournament bubble territory based on those power ratings.
Auburn (128), Alabama (132) and LSU (176) - which has already fired coach John Brady - aren't even making strong cases for the NIT. Some 'Bama fans have been clamoring for Gottfried's ouster.
Maybe that kind of pressure helps explain why he screamed and raised his hands in the air in celebrating Wednesday night's win over Arkansas.
``This profession will drive you a little batty sometimes,'' Gottfried said.
So will the SEC's wild West.
The division's two newest coaches are learning that quickly. Ole Miss is 14-0 in nonconference play, but hasn't won an SEC road game and seems far removed from that Top 25 ranking earlier this season.
``We just can't seem to get it done on the road,'' second-year coach Andy Kennedy said.
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey is only one win shy of the school mark of 19 wins for a first-year coach. But the Razorbacks have dropped four of five.
Pelphrey is confidently predicting a solid future for his program, maybe even the near future.
``It's going to happen,'' he said after that loss at Alabama. ``It is going to happen. I have plenty of resolve and faith in that. I certainly want it desperately for these young men. It's a three-game season right now.''
Auburn's Lebo thinks the Razorbacks have the best chance of joining Mississippi State in the NCAA field from the West.
``They're a team that is certainly capable,'' Lebo said. ``Ole Miss still has a pretty high RPI. They both have got some work to do yet. Arkansas would be the one I think that coming down the stretch would have the best opportunity out of all of us, besides Mississippi State.''