SEC men’s rankings
1. Florida (24-6, 14-4)
2. Missouri (22-9, 11-7)
3. Kentucky (21-10, 12-6)
4. Ole Miss (23-8, 12-6)
5. Tennessee (19-11, 11-7)
6. Alabama (20-11, 12-6)
7. Arkansas (19-12, 10-8)
8. LSU (18-11, 9-9)
9. Georgia (15-16, 9-9)
10. Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10)
11. Texas A&M (18-14, 7-11)
12. Mississippi State (10-21, 4-14)
13. South Carolina (14-18, 4-14)
14. Auburn (9-23, 3-15)
With a handful of teams fighting for a NCAA Tournament berth, the SEC Tournament promises to be overflowing with drama this weekend in Nashville. College basketball is one of the few sports where the regular season does not entirely matter, as anything can happen during conference tournaments.
Florida enters as the tournament’s top seed, and the Gators have been the best team in the league all season. Thanks to the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, this year the top four seeds received a double bye, while the bottom four teams had to participate in play-in games last Wednesday (Mar. 13).
In the first play-in game, 13th seeded Mississippi State knocked off 12th seeded South Carolina, while 14th seeded Auburn fell to 11th seeded Texas A&M. The Tigers fell to 9-23, and those 23 losses are the most in SEC history.
Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama all received the double byes and will play their first game on Friday (Mar. 15).
SEC championship prediction: Florida over Missouri.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
Florida. The Gators are the top seed in the SEC Tournament, and if they win the conference championship they could possibly earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Florida has struggled away from Gainesville in the last month, so playing on a neutral floor will be good experience for the Gators heading into the Big Dance.
Missouri. The Tigers have been inconsistent on the road all season but have enough quality wins to be included into the field for the NCAA Tournament. If Missouri makes a deep run in the SEC tournament, the Tigers potentially could get a No. 6 seed.
Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Georgia. As stated in the previous two columns, the only one way that the above teams can reach the NCAA Tournament is to win the SEC Tournament.
On the Bubble
Alabama. The Crimson Tide nearly fell off the bubble last Saturday (Mar. 9) against Georgia. Then Trevor Releford buried a half-court buzzer beater to propel Alabama to a 61-58 win, which left the Tide firmly in the “work to do” category for the NCAA Tournament. Out of the four bubble teams in the SEC, Alabama is probably in the worst shape entering the conference tournament. The Crimson Tide likely needs wins over both Tennessee and Florida to receive an at-large bid, which is a tough task for any team. Prediction: OUT.
Ole Miss. The Rebels won a very important road game over LSU last week, but Andy Kennedy’s squad still has work to do if it wants to make the Big Dance. Losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State possibly did irreparable damage for the Rebels’ resume. A win over Missouri would put the Rebels in much better shape heading into Selection Sunday. If Ole Miss can reach the conference title game, they will most likely be included into the field of 68. Easier said than done. Prediction: OUT.
Kentucky. After a loss to Georgia, the Wildcats’ tournament chances seemed to disappear. However, the defending national champions somehow defeated Florida last Saturday (Mar. 9), and at least for now Big Blue Nation is back on the right side of the bubble. The Wildcats cannot afford to lose their first game in the conference tournament, but if they reach the semifinals, they’ll be back in the NCAA tournament. Prediction: IN.
Tennessee. Just a little over a month ago, the Volunteers were 11-10 and near the bottom of the SEC standings. Cuonzo Martin’s team then won eight of its next nine games, including impressive victories over Florida, Missouri and Kentucky. The Vols played like a tournament team during the last month but still have some work to do if they want to reach the Big Dance. Tennessee likely needs to beat Alabama in the quarterfinals to feel good about its at-large chances on Sunday. Prediction: IN.