With Selection Sunday quickly approaching, each game left in the regular season and conference tournaments takes on even more importance.
In the SEC, as many as nine or 10 teams could end up making the NCAA Tournament, so we should be in for a wild finish to the month of February and an even more entertaining first week of March.
Some SEC teams are locks to make the field of 68, while others need to earn an automatic bid to keep their seasons alive. Others have more interesting situations, with important games coming up to end the regular season.
Here’s a look at what each SEC team needs to do to make it to March Madness:
Right now, it appears the SEC has three tournament locks — Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky. The Tigers will likely win the regular-season title, while the Vols will almost certainly check in at No. 2 when all is said and done.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, have had an up-and-down season, but have several quality wins and are currently projected as a No. 5 seed in the tournament, per ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi.
Obviously, these teams still have a lot to play for, as they’ll try to win the conference tournament and position themselves for the highest seeds possible entering March Madness. But, for now, it appears their spots in the field of 68 are secure.
Win the SEC Tournament
No SEC teams can be officially eliminated from the tournament just yet, as there is an automatic bid from the SEC Tournament on the line.
So, while it’s unrealistic that it would actually happen, three teams — Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and South Carolina — would need to go all the way in the conference tourney to keep their seasons alive.
Since the top-four teams in the tournament have double-byes, it would be very difficult for a bottom seed to win it all, but it’s still not impossible. Back in 2008, the Georgia Bulldogs entered the SEC tourney as the No. 6 seed from the East (basically the No. 12 seed overall) and won it all.
Therefore, the Gamecocks, Rebels and Commodores all have some inspiration, but an upset like that would still be very shocking this time around.
From here, we’ll take a look at what each other team has to do to make the tournament, starting with the easiest road and ending with the most difficult:
The Gators are currently listed as a No. 7 seed, and have some impressive wins on their resume. They’ve struggled a bit down the stretch, losing seven of their last 12 games, but if they manage to avoid a total collapse, they’ll make the NCAA tourney.
Their last three games are vs. Auburn, at Alabama and vs. Kentucky — not an easy stretch — but even if they lose all those, all they’ll have to do to make it to March Madness is avoid a first-round upset in the SEC Tournament.
The Tigers have looked great at times, picking up wins against Alabama and Kentucky, but have also looked bad at times and are currently riding a two-game losing streak — falling at LSU and at home vs. Ole Miss.
However, the Tigers are currently a No. 7 seed in Lundari’s bracketology, and a win at Vanderbilt next week and one win in the SEC tourney will likely get the job done.
A loss to a short-handed Auburn team on Wednesday night wasn’t great, but the Crimson Tide still have some incredible wins on their resume — including victories over Auburn, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.
The Crimson Tide have been awful outside of Tuscaloosa, but with only one road game remaining, taking care of business at home against Arkansas and Florida in the next week should be enough to get them into March.
Much like the Tide, the Razorbacks prefer home cooking, as they are 14-2 at Bud Walton Arena and only 2-6 in true road games (3-1 at neutral sites). The Hogs’ final three games won’t be easy, as they play at Alabama, home vs. Auburn and at Mizzou to close out the regular season.
Going 2-1 in those games will likely keep them in the NCAA Tournament mix, but if they go 1-2, a couple wins in the SEC tourney will help boost their resume.
The Aggies have been in a free fall lately, losing their last three games after starting PG Duane Wilson went down for the season. However, they are still clinging to life as a No. 9 seed in Lunardi’s bracketology.
Games at Vanderbilt and at Georgia should be winnable for the Aggies, but they’ll also likely have to avoid a season-ending loss at home against Alabama to hold on to their tenuous March Madness spot.
The Bulldogs are currently one of Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” teams, thanks in large part to some big wins they have. Georgia has defeated Florida twice and has wins over Tennessee and Saint Mary’s on its resume.
Georgia can win a battle of bubble teams on Saturday afternoon vs. LSU and then has games against Texas A&M and at Tennessee left on the schedule. Win out and win a game in the SEC Tournament and the Bulldogs may leapfrog a few other bubble teams by Selection Sunday.
The LSU Tigers have an interesting case for the tournament, as they only have one win over a ranked opponent. However, if they reach the 20-win plateau, their resume will look a lot better than Mississippi State’s (see below).
The Tigers have manageable (if uninspiring) games against Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State remaining, so taking care of business there and winning a game or two in the SEC tourney will put them in the conversation on Selection Sunday.
Yes, the Bulldogs have 20 wins, and yes, they are currently third in the SEC standings, but coach Ben Howland’s crew beat up on some serious no-name opponents earlier in the year to pad their record.
Lunardi doesn’t even have MSU on his “Next Four Out” line yet, so the Bulldogs will likely have to win out (beating a ranked Tennessee team in the process) and win at least one game in the SEC tourney to work their way solidly onto the bubble for Selection Sunday.
Source: Saturday Down South