The running joke for what seems like the last several years has been about how bad the SEC is in basketball. But how bad has it really been this year and how many teams have a shot to make the NCAA Tournament?
The SEC is 1-13 against top 25 RPI teams but 4-6 against teams with an RPI between 26-50. I use the RPI comparison because that is one of the major criteria the NCAA Selection Committee uses to put teams in the tournament. The number of teams a conference has in the tournament is generally how the nation views the strength of the conference.
At the beginning of the week, Joe Lunardi at ESPN released his first mid-season mock NCAA Tournament bracket. He had six teams from the SEC in the NCAA Tournament: (3 seed) Florida, (4) Kentucky, (7) Missouri, (10) LSU, (11) Arkansas, (12) Tennessee.
At first, I was excited that my power rankings for this week were validated. Then, Tennessee got blown out at home by NC State last night and LSU almost caught raider rash in Lubbock against Texas Tech.
However, those six teams, plus Ole Miss, are the teams with the possibility of making the tournament. The other half of the conference should enjoy their bowl game.
Let’s break down the conference and the possibilities for those seven teams to make the tournament.
Florida and Kentucky are an easy decision with a 100% chance of making the tournament. The Gators are the class of the conference and Kentucky will have it together by the time March rolls around.
Missouri is the hardest team to put a percentage on because they have only played two quality teams so far this season. Their home game vs. Illinois and road game at NC State will tell us everything we need to know about the Tigers going into conference play. For now, I give them a 70% chance of making the NCAA Tournament. It's definitely strongly expected, but not yet guaranteed.
LSU and Arkansas are in the same boat. No bad losses on their non-conference résumé, but no high profile wins. The Tigers have a good win against Butler, and the Hogs have a good win over Minnesota. However, neither team has much room for error in conference play. A loss on the road in Starkville/Auburn/Athens/Columbia/College Station could end up keeping either team out of the tournament. Both teams have a 50% chance of making the the tournament, but I think there is a 80% chance that at least one of these two teams will be dancing.
I have both Tennessee and Ole Miss currently on the outside looking in. The Volunteers have one more chance for a quality non-conference win at home vs. Virginia on Dec. 30, and the Rebels host Dayton Jan. 4. Because they are on the outside looking in, these are must wins for both teams. I give both teams a 35% to individually make the tournament. I give only a 1% chance that both of these teams make it. Let me put it like this, there is a better chance Marshall Henderson lights up a grape swisher sweet during a timeout this season than both of these teams making the NCAA Tournament. If they both make the tournament, that likely gives the SEC seven teams in the tournament.
I think four teams make the NCAA Tournament because of the conference's lack of ability to defeat quality teams in the non-conference slate. Once SEC play starts, these top seven teams will beat up and effectively eliminate each other. I am hoping that Ole Miss is one of those teams just for the possibility of Jim Nantz describing Henderson having to put out his heater at the scorer's table before he checks into the game.
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