In a season of strange things happening this past week certainly did nothing to change that trend. The past ten days of SEC action saw Arkansas win a blowout, lose a blowout and then drop a critical game to a fading Auburn team. Florida lost for the first time, but clinched the SEC title.
Surging Tennessee was whipped by last place South Carolina only to bounce back with an important win over Alabama in overtime. While all that’s going on, a Final Four team from last year (LSU) slid to 3-10 in SEC play and is now on the bubble… for NIT consideration!
Some things remained the same. Home teams continued to dominate (59-19) and the Eastern Division maintained its overwhelming edge (21-9) over the teams from the West.
The league enters the final three games of the regular season with most teams still unsure of what their post-season status might be. Therefore, let’s look at where each team stands from this perspective.
Teams that are IN (2)
FLORIDA (25-3, 12-1): The Gators have 25 wins and have not given the number of wins needed to get a single thought. The issue with this team is whether or not Florida can earn the first number one seed in school history. I think they need three more wins in to be a # 1.
KENTUCKY (19-8, 8-5): With the Wildcats’ history 19-13 gets them in, and that’s the worst they can end up. Kentucky has been an unpredictable squad as evidenced by five SEC losses. That’s tough for Big Blue to take after a 9-7 league slate a year ago. They play at Vanderbilt Sunday and the winner is likely to finish second in the SEC East and earn a first round bye in the conference tournament.
Teams that need one or two wins (4)
VANDERBILT (18-9, 8-5): Vandy all but punched its ticket by knocking off Florida and erasing the memory of some awful early season losses. But some of that was clearly undone by a dismal loss at Mississippi State. The Commodores can not afford to fade into oblivion with nine losses already on the books. A win over Kentucky Sunday would clinch things, but a loss put Vandy right back in Bubbleville.
ALABAMA (19-8, 6-7): The Crimson Tide should not be below .500 in the SEC, but they are. 8-8 should be good enough to get them in considering their strong RPI all year long. The way Ronald Steele has been playing lately ‘Bama is a dangerous tournament team, albeit an unpredictable one as well. Still, it would have helped to not blow a win at Tennessee Wednesday.
TENNESSEE (19-9, 7-6): The Vols got a big win over Alabama, but they are still lacking anything impressive away from Rocky Top. The Vols are 15-0 at home, 4-9 away. They need to win at Arkansas Saturday to seal the deal, but you never know about games against the mercurial Razorbacks. Gators should root for that to happen so the Vols don’t have a must win mentality Tuesday night.
Teams that need three or more (3)
ARKANSAS (16-11, 5-8): The Razorbacks might have the best athletes in the league, yet take a 5-8 SEC mark into the final two weeks. They must get to eight SEC wins to have a legit case for at-large consideration. That means winning out starting with Tennessee. Don’t see it happening.
OLE MISS (18-9, 7-6): Some folks may feel sorry about snubbing Cincinnati and interim Coach Andy Kennedy last year … but probably not. Still they are tied for the SEC West lead somehow and it might be hard to deny them if they are a bye in the SEC Tournament. They can’t afford bad losses down the stretch.
GEORGIA (16-10, 7-6): Dennis Felton has done a fine job getting Georgia to this point and they are a surprising 7-6 in the SEC. The Bulldogs loss at Ole Miss really hurt. Now they absolutely must beat Mississippi State at home Saturday.
Teams that must win the SEC Tournament (4)
LSU (14-13, 3-10): John Brady’s team has gone from the Final Four of the NCAA to the bottom four of the SEC in a year. They are still a dangerous team, but they can’t seem to win close games. At 14-13 they still need two wins to get into the NIT, but I consider them the team in this category most teams would like to avoid in Atlanta.
AUBURN (15-13, 5-8): Jeff Lebo’s team was looking pretty good for the post-season before they got throttled by Florida and took two weeks to recover. Their win over Arkansas makes the NIT more realistic, which would be a good step forward for this program,
MISSISSIPPI STATE (16-10, 7-6): Yes, they are tied for first in the West, but they have two fewer wins than Ole Miss and three fewer than Alabama. Rick Stansbury has done a nice job using a small lineup to create match up problems. An NIT invite looks certain, but NCAA at-large consideration seems unlikely without a very strong finish.
SOUTH CAROLINA (13-13, 3-10): The two-time defending NIT champs may not even get a chance to defend unless they find a way to claim a few more wins. It’s been an odd season for Carolina and the future doesn’t include standout guard Tre Kelly.