Twelve games remain on Southeastern Conference schedule – six home and six away – for all 14 teams in the league and while there is plenty of basketball to be played, it’s getting to that point where the NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams is beginning to shape up. Joe Lunardi of ESPN paints a rather dismal picture for the SEC with only three teams making the field, while Jerry Palm of CBS is a bit more generous. He has five SEC teams getting in but two of them will have first round – or play-in – games.
There is agreement with both Lunardi and Palm about the 3rd-ranked Florida Gators (17-2, 6-0 SEC). Both have Florida as a #2 seed and playing the second/third round games in Orlando although Lunardi has the Gators in the Midwest Regional and Palm has them in the East. In the Lunardi bracket, Florida will face Old Dominion (Conference USA) in the second round while Palm has the Gators going against North Carolina Central (MEAC).
Lunardi’s bracket has Kentucky (15-4, 5-1 SEC) as a #2 seed in the West, playing American University (Patriot) in a first round game in Raleigh. Palm has the Wildcats as a #6 in the Midwest, facing Oregon (Pac-12) in the first round in San Antonio.
Lunardi’s third SEC team is Tennessee (12-7, 3-3 SEC), which he has as a #11 facing Memphis (American Athletic) in the first round in Raleigh. In Jerry Palm’s bracket, Tennessee is a #12 playing a first round (play-in) game against SMU in Dayton with the winner advancing to the East Regional second round to face Duke (ACC).
Palm has Missouri (15-4, 3-3 SEC) as a #11 in the East facing George Washington (Atlantic 10) in San Antonio. Arkansas (13-6, 2-4 SEC) is a #11 seed with a first round game in Dayton against Colorado (Pac-12) with the winner going to the South Regional to play Louisville (American Athletic).
Neither Palm nor Lunardi have Ole Miss (14-5, 5-1 SEC) even sniffing one of their brackets although the Rebels are currently tied with Kentucky for second place in the SEC. Ole Miss has a higher RPI than Arkansas which Palm has in the tournament and Lunardi has as one of his first four out.
Overall, the SEC is hurt by a conference RPI that ranks #7, the lowest of the power conferences. The SEC was #6 last week but fell behind the Atlantic 10 in the latest RealTime and CBS RPI.
AROUND THE SEC
FLORIDA (17-2, 6-0 SEC)
Coach: Billy Donovan (432-168 at Florida; 467-188 overall)
Through 19 games: The Gators are the best defensive team in the Southeastern Conference and one of the best in the nation. They’ve proven they can win in an up and down game and they have no problems grinding it out. Billy Donovan should extend his SEC record of consecutive 20-win seasons to 16 in the next two weeks.
Post season outlook: The Gators are a lock for the NCAA Tournament. They have a legitimate chance at a #1 seed although a #2 is more likely.
Scoring leaders: Casey Prather (16.8); Scottie Wilbekin (12.5)
Best rebounders: Dorian Finney-Smith (7.7); Patric Young (6.2)
Best freshman: Kasey Hill (6.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists)
Strength of schedule: 31
Quality wins: Florida State (#28 RPI); Kansas (1); Memphis (32); Richmond (47); Arkansas (75); Alabama (86); Tennessee (52)
Bad losses: None.
This week’s schedule: at Mississippi State (Thursday); Texas A&M (Saturday)
THE REST OF THE SEC
ALABAMA (9-10, 3-3 SEC)
Coach: Anthony Grant (95-62 at Alabama; 171-87 overall)
Through 19 games: Now that Shannon Hale and Carl Engstrom are starting to give Alabama some productivity up front, Anthony Grant has a chance to get the Crimson Tide on a roll if he can get Retin Obasohan healthy again (hip flexor). Trevor Releford is making a serious run at SEC Player of the Year honors.
Post season outlook: The NCAA is out of the question unless Alabama can win at least 12-13 SEC games and then go on a serious run in the SEC Tournament. If the Tide can get to 18-19 wins, they could make the NIT however.
Scoring leaders: Trevor Releford (18.2); Retin Obasohan (12.2)
Best rebounders: Rodney Cooper (4.6); Levi Randolph (4.2)
Best freshman: Shannon Hale (7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 2
Quality wins: Georgia State (#83 RPI); Vanderbilt (84), LSU (62)
Bad losses: Drexel (#130 RPI); South Florida (166); Georgia (119)
This week’s schedule: at Auburn (Wednesday); Tennessee (Saturday)
ARKANSAS (13-6, 2-4 SEC)
Coach: Mike Anderson (50-33 at Arkansas; 250-131 overall)
Through 19 games: It’s the same old story for the Razorbacks. They can beat anyone at home and struggle against even weaklings on the road. Arkansas is 11-1 at Bud Walton Arena, 0-3 in away games and 2-2 on a neutral floor.
Post season outlook: To get to the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas is going to have to go 8-4 or 9-3 in SEC play in the regular season then win at least one game – maybe two – in the SEC Tournament. This is a team that is capable of getting there, though, because with an 11-man rotation of players who play double figures minutes, the Hogs won’t be fatigued at the end of the year. They make the NIT for sure. The NCAA depends on winning some road games.
Scoring leaders: Rashad Madden (12.6); Bobby Portis (11.9)
Best rebounders: Bobby Portis (6.6); Coty Clarke (5.7)
Best freshman: Bobby Portis (11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 85
Quality wins: SMU (#43 RPI); Minnesota (24); Clemson (78); Kentucky (12)
Bad losses: Texas A&M (#131 RPI); Georgia (119)
This week’s game: Missouri (Tuesday); at LSU (Saturday)
AUBURN (8-9, 0-6 SEC)
Coach: Tony Barbee (43-68 at Auburn; 125-120 overall)
Through 17 games: Most of Auburn’s problems can be traced to a lack of defense and lack of an inside scoring game. The Tigers have a nice three-guard rotation in K.T. Harrell, Chris Denson and Tahj Shamsid-Deen but they get overpowered on the inside.
Post season outlook: Auburn is going nowhere. A realistic goal would be to get to 4-5 SEC wins, but even that is an accomplishment for a team that has started league play at 0-6.
Scoring leaders: K.T. Harrell (19.1); Chris Denson (18.8)
Rebounding leaders: Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (6.4); Adrian Payne (6.0)
Best freshman: Tahj Shamsid-Deen (8.9 points, 3.1 assists)
Strength of schedule: 108
Quality wins: Clemson (#78 RPI)
Bad losses: Northwestern State (#229 RPI); Mississippi State (135)
This week’s schedule: Alabama (Wednesday); Georgia (Saturday)
GEORGIA (10-8, 4-2 SEC)
Coach: Mark Fox (75-71 at Georgia; 198-114 overall)
Through 18 games: The secret for the Bulldogs is keeping the game close. If they fall behind by more than 7-8 points, they have a hard time coming back because they really don’t have much in the way of outside shooting. Through 18 games Georgia has only taken 230 3-point shots, which is the lowest total in the SEC.
Post season outlook: For Georgia to get into the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs would have to win at least 12 SEC games and at least one or two in the SEC Tournament. A reasonable expectation should be getting to 19-20 wins and going to the NIT. That’s do-able.
Scoring leaders: Charles Mann (12.9); Kenny Gaines (12.0)
Rebounding leaders: Marcus Thornton (5.8); Donte Williams (5.3)
Best freshman: Juwan Parker (5.0 points, 3.8 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 88
Quality wins: Missouri (#56 RPI); Alabama (86); Arkansas (75)
Bad losses: Georgia Tech (#151 RPI); Davidson (162); Temple (175)
This week’s games: Vanderbilt (Wednesday); at Auburn (Saturday)
KENTUCKY (15-4, 5-1 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (138-30 at Kentucky; 541-168 overall)
Through 19 games: That loss at Arkansas continues to stand out. This is a team with more than enough talent to run the rest of the SEC table, but as the Arkansas game showed, there are some serious chemistry issues. If the Wildcats handle road games at LSU and Missouri this week, they could be ready to go on a roll. If they lose one or both, then John Calipari still has work to do to get a team that will play together.
Post season outlook: Kentucky is a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament. The only question is what kind of seed the Wildcats get.
Scoring leaders: Julius Randle (16.6); James Young (14.2)
Rebounding leaders: Julius Randle (10.5); Willie Cauley-Stein (6.8)
Best freshman: Julius Randle (16.6 points, 10.5 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 5
Quality wins: Eastern Michigan (60); Providence (42); Boise State (57); Belmont (61); Louisville (29); Vanderbilt (84); Tennessee (52)
Bad losses: None
This week’s schedule: at LSU (Tuesday); at Missouri (Saturday)
LSU (12-6, 3-3 SEC)
Coach: Johnny Jones (31-18 at LSU; 236-180 overall)
Through 18 games: The Tigers have as much front court talent as any team in the league, but guard play continues to make them one of the SEC’s most inconsistent teams. While Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey can both make shots and don’t turn the ball over that much, their size doesn’t allow them to make many stops on the defensive end.
Post season outlook: This is a good week for LSU to make a statement. If the Tigers can win home games against Kentucky and Arkansas, their RPI will get a substantial boost. If they win eight SEC games the rest of the way, they’ll get in. If they don’t, they’ll have to do some damage at the SEC Tournament.
Scoring leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (14.6); Jordan Mickey (13.0)
Rebounding leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (7.3); Jordan Mickey (7.2)
Best freshman: Jordan Mickey (13.0 points, 7.2 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 70
Quality wins: St. Joseph’s (#68 RPI); Vanderbilt (84); Missouri (56)
Bad losses: Rhode Island (#134 RPI)
This week’s schedule: Kentucky (Tuesday); Arkansas (Saturday)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (13-6, 3-3 SEC)
Coach: Rick Ray (23-28)
Through 19 games: Mississippi State’s success has plenty to do with defense. When the Bulldogs get stops, they win. In their five losses, the Bulldogs have given up 70+ points once and 80+ four times.
Post season outlook: To overcome a woefully weak out of conference schedule, the Bulldogs are going to have to win at least 13-14 SEC games or else win the SEC Tournament. Neither is likely. A 20-win season could get them into the NIT however, which would be a good accomplishment.
Scoring leaders: Craig Sword (13.9); Gavin Ware (11.0)
Rebounding leaders: Gavin Ware (8.2); Roquez Johnson (4.8)
Best freshman: I.J. Ready (6.4 points, 3.2 assists)
Strength of schedule: 221
Quality wins: Ole Miss (#58 RPI)
Bad losses: Utah State (#106 RPI); TCU (188); UNLV (116)
This week’s schedule: Florida (Thursday); at Vanderbilt (Saturday)
MISSOURI (15-4, 3-3 SEC)
Coach: Frank Haith (68-20 at Missouri; 197-121 overall)
Through 19 games: When Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross are making shots, the Tigers win. There isn’t a lot of wiggle room. The Tigers are so weak on the inside that if the shots aren’t falling they’re in trouble.
Post season outlook: The Tigers got a couple of good out of conference wins but even so, the schedule isn’t all that strong. Figure it’s going to take 11-12 SEC wins to get into the NCAA, otherwise Missouri will be NIT bound.
Scoring leaders: Jabari Brown (19.5); Jordan Clarkson (18.8)
Rebounding leaders: Johnathan Williams (7.4); Earnest Ross (6.7)
Best freshman: Johnathan Williams (6.9 points, 7.4 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 109
Quality wins: West Virginia (#95 RPI); UCLA (20); North Carolina State (72); Alabama (86)
Bad losses: Georgia (#119 RPI)
This week’s schedule: at Arkansas (Tuesday); Kentucky (Saturday)
OLE MISS (14-5, 5-1 SEC)
Coach: Andy Kennedy (166-92 at Ole Miss; 186-105 overall)
Through 19 games: Now that the Rebels finally have a front court rotation that works in Aaron Jones, 6-10 Sebastian Saiz and 6-9 Anthony Perez, opponents can’t just lock down the perimeter to beat the Rebels. Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers are getting better looks now that there is a solid inside presence.
Post season outlook: Ole Miss is starting to play like a team that could make the NCAA Tournament. If they win 11 regular season conference games they’ll need to win at least one in the SEC Tournament to get in. If they get to 12 regular season wins, they probably get in as an 8-11 seed.
Scoring leaders: Marshall Henderson (18.7); Jarvis Summers (18.0)
Rebounding leaders: Aaron Jones (7.3); Sebastian Saiz (6.6)
Best freshman: Sebastian Saiz (5.1 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 89
Quality wins: LSU (#62 RPI); Vanderbilt (84)
Bad losses: Mississippi State (#135 RPI)
This week’s schedule: at Tennessee (Wednesday); South Carolina (Saturday)
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-12, 0-6 SEC)
Coach: Frank Martin (21-30 at South Carolina; 138-84 overall)
Through 19 games: The Gamecocks are in a death spiral, having lost all six of their SEC games. Other than home and away games with Auburn, the Gamecocks will be decided underdogs in their remaining 12 games.
Post season outlook: There is no post season outlook. If the Gamecocks are fortunate to get to 10 wins this season, it will be a success considering the genuine lack of talent on hand.
Leading scorers: Sindarius Thornwell (12.8); Brenton Williams (12.6)
Leading rebounders: Mindaugus Kacinas (4.7); Michael Carrera (4.7)
Best freshman: Sindarius Thornwell (12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds. 2.1 assists)
Strength of schedule: 29
Quality wins: St. Mary’s (#45 RPI); Akron (TWICE, 89)
Bad losses: South Carolina-Upstate (210); Texas A&M (131); Georgia (119)
This week’s games: Texas A&M (Wednesday); at Ole Miss (Saturday)
TENNESSEE (12-7, 3-3 SEC)
Coach: Cuonzo Martin (51-35 at Tennessee; 112-76 overall)
Through 19 games: As Jordan McRae goes, so go the Vols. When he was iced by Florida and held to five points, the Vols were embarrassed. Cuonzo Martin’s shopping list for next season has to include a decent point guard. Antonio Barton is killing the Vols.
Post season outlook: To make the NCAA Tournament the Vols are going to have to go no worse than 8-4 in the remaining 12 games. The next stretch of four games is critical – homers with Ole Miss and South Carolina sandwiching roadies at Alabama and Vanderbilt. Tennessee needs to go 4-0 in these games to build momentum for the stretch run.
Leading scorers: Jordan McRae (18.5); Jarnell Stokes (13.6)
Leading rebounders: Jarnell Stokes (9.7); Jeronne Maymon (8.2)
Best freshman: Darius Thompson (2.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists)
Strength of schedule: 11
Quality wins: Xavier (#35 RPI); Wake Forest (59); Virginia (21); LSU (62); Arkansas (75)
Bad losses: UTEP (#111 RPI), Texas A&M (131)
This week’s schedule: Ole Miss (Wednesday); at Alabama (Saturday)
TEXAS A&M (12-7, 3-3 SEC)
Coach: Billy Kennedy (44-40 at Texas A&M; 255-219 overall)
Through 19 games: Every game is a struggle because the Aggies have problems scoring (SEC worst 67.6 points per game). They play good defense but any deficit of seven or more points is a challenge because they have problems putting the ball in the basket.
Post season outlook: Because of a weak out of conference schedule, the only way the Aggies get into the NCAA Tournament is go on a tear and win something like 10 of their final 12 regular season games plus make a decent showing in the SEC Tournament. To make the NIT, the Aggies are going to have to hold serve at home and sneak in one or two wins on the road at the bare minimum.
Leading scorers: Jamal Jones (11.8); Kourtney Roberson (9.9)
Leading rebounders: Kourtney Roberson (7.2); Antwan Space (4.5)
Best freshman: Davonte Fitzgerald (7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 161
Quality wins: Arkansas (#75 RPI); Tennessee (52)
Bad losses: North Texas (#156 RPI); Mississippi State (135)
This week’s schedule: at South Carolina (Wednesday); at Florida (Saturday)
VANDERBILT (10-8, 2-4 SEC)
Coach: Kevin Stallings (287-184 at Vanderbilt; 410-247 overall)
Through 18 games: Vanderbilt got its first road win at College Station last Saturday. With only seven scholarship players available, the Commodores will go only as far as good shooting and a lack of foul trouble will take them. If they can finish with a .500 or above record, this will go down as one of Kevin Stallings’ best coaching jobs.
Post season outlook: If the Commodores can finish the season at .500 they could play in one of the lesser known tournaments. The next six games will be critical – roadies with Georgia and South Carolina and homers with Mississippi State, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
Leading scorers: Rod Odom (14.0); Damian Jones (11.3)
Leading rebounders: Rod Odom (5.7); Damian Jones (5.4)
Best freshman: Damian Jones (11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 48
Quality wins: None
Bad losses: Alabama (#126 RPI)
This week’s schedule: at Georgia (Wednesday); Mississippi State (Saturday)