At this point of the season, you can pencil in the NCAA’s dance card to look something like this – the two usual suspects and perhaps two others. The usual suspects are 6th-ranked Florida (15-2, 4-0 SEC) and 14th-ranked Kentucky (13-4, 3-1 SEC). Beyond that, two teams will probably catch the NCAA Tournament Committee’s eye but it’s hard to imagine this being a year when five teams from the league get in.
The SEC has the #7 conference RPI and while the league as a whole did a better job of playing more quality non-conference opponents, it is dragged down by five teams with a strength of schedule 122 or higher. Through the first four SEC games here is what the league’s tournament possibilities look like:
MORTAL LOCKS (2): Florida and Kentucky
POSSIBLE (4): Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU and Tennessee
NEEDING A WHOLE LOT OF HELP (4): Arkansas, Alabama, Texas A&M and Georgia.
IT WILL TAKE A MIRACLE (4): Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Auburn.
Florida and Kentucky will get there because they are easily the two best teams in the league, plus they’ve played demanding schedules with good results. Florida has the #8 RPI against a schedule ranked #21 nationally. The Gators own four quality non-conference wins including one over #1 RPI Kansas. Kentucky has the #13 RPI and the #5 rated schedule. The Wildcats have five quality non-conference wins with their best over #30 RPI Louisville.
Ole Miss has the #65 RPI against a schedule rated #90. Figure the Rebels need to go no worse than 10-8 in the league and win at least one SEC Tournament game to get in.
Missouri has some quality non-conference wins but the Tigers (#53 RPI) are hurt by an overall strength of schedule rated #122. Like Ole Miss, they will have to win at least 10 games in the league to get into the NCAA Tournament.
LSU is a young team with yo-yo tendencies. The Tigers (#62 RPI/#77 strength of schedule) need to put some consecutive wins together. It probably will take 21 regular season wins including a couple against top 100 RPI teams on the road to get in.
When Tennessee plays like it did against Xavier and Virginia, it’s capable of beating anyone in the country. That doesn’t explain the loss at home to Texas A&M. The Vols have a #58 RPI against a #25 strength of schedule.
AROUND THE SEC
FLORIDA (15-2, 4-0 SEC)
Coach: Billy Donovan (430-168 at Florida; 465-188 overall)
Through 17 games: The Gators have won nine straight games overall and 25 in a row at the O-Dome, both streaks the longest in the Southeastern Conference.
Key stats: The Gators are giving up 35.9% from the 3-point line, but they’re only allowing opponents to squeeze off 16.5 3-balls a game … Casey Prather is hitting 63.6% of his shots, which leads the SEC.
Scoring leaders: Casey Prather (17.3); Scottie Wilbekin (12.7)
Best rebounders: Dorian Finney-Smith (7.5); Patric Young (6.2)
Best freshman: Kasey Hill (6.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists)
Strength of schedule: 21
Quality wins: Florida State (#24 RPI); Kansas (1); Memphis (39); Richmond (61); Arkansas (66)
Bad losses: None.
This week’s schedule: at Alabama (Thursday); Tennessee (Saturday)
THE REST OF THE SEC
ALABAMA (8-9, 2-2 SEC)
Coach: Anthony Grant (100-61 at Alabama; 170-86 overall)
Through 17 games: Alabama has consecutive home games this week, a good thing since the Crimson Tide are the worst team in the league away from home. Alabama is 8-2 at Coleman Coliseum, 0-4 on the road and 0-3 on a neutral floor. Alabama has the #4 strength of schedule nationally.
Key stats: Trevor Releford continues to make his statement for SEC Player of the Year. He’s seventh in the league in scoring (18.3), seventh in field goal percentage (50.3%), fifth in 3-point shooting (39.6%), second in steals (2.4) and second in free throw shooting (91.7%).
Scoring leaders: Trevor Releford (18.3); Retin Obasohan (12.2)
Best rebounders: Rodney Cooper (4.5); Levi Randolph (4.4)
Best freshman: Shannon Hale (6.7 points, 3.2 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 4
Quality wins: None
Bad losses: South Florida (#173 RPI); Georgia (139)
This week’s schedule: Florida (Thursday); LSU (Saturday)
ARKANSAS (12-5, 1-3 SEC)
Coach: Mike Anderson (49-32 at Arkansas; 249-130 overall)
Through 17 games: A lot of things have to go right for the Razorbacks, whose weakness on the backboards was exposed last week. Even though they beat Kentucky in overtime, they were out rebounded 50-32, and then they followed that up by getting out rebounded, 59-34, by Georgia.
Key stats: Arkansas is road kill. The Razorbacks are 11-1 at Bud Walton Arena but 0-2 in road games and 1-2 in games on a neutral floor.
Scoring leaders: Michael Qualls (12.4); Bobby Portis (12.1)
Best rebounders: Bobby Portis (6.6); Coty Clarke (5.5)
Best freshman: Bobby Portis (12.1 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 76
Quality wins: SMU (45); Minnesota (33); Clemson (78); Kentucky (13)
Bad losses: Texas A&M (#113 RPI); Georgia (139)
This week’s game: at Tennessee (Wednesday); Auburn (Saturday)
AUBURN (8-7, 0-4 SEC)
Coach: Tony Barbee (43-66 at Auburn; 125-118 overall)
Through 15 games: Nobody is blowing the Tigers out. Every game is a close one but Auburn is still off to an 0-4 start in the SEC with losses by three, two, 11 and seven points.
Key stats: Chris Denson leads the SEC in scoring at 19.5 per game. Denson and K.T. Harrell (18.9) are the best scoring backcourt in the SEC and one of the top tandems in the country.
Scoring leaders: Chris Denson (19.5); K.T. Harrell (18.9)
Rebounding leaders: Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (5.9); Adrian Payne (5.9)
Best freshman: Tahj Shamsid-Deen (8.2 points, 3.3 assists)
Strength of schedule: 131
Quality wins: Clemson (#78 RPI)
Bad losses: Northwestern State (#261 RPI)
This week’s schedule: at Tennessee (Wednesday); at Arkansas (Saturday)
GEORGIA (9-7, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: Mark Fox (74-70 at Georgia; 197-113 overall)
Through 16 games: Georgia outrebounded Arkansas 56-34 in a game in which the two teams combined to miss 101 shots. Georgia won the game even though the Bulldogs hit only 2-14 from the 3-point line while Arkansas was 7-23.
Key stat: Georgia is last in the league in assists (9.7 per game) and next to last in turnover margin (-2.4).
Scoring leaders: Charles Mann (13.3); Kenny Gaines (11.9)
Rebounding leaders: Donte Williams (5.6); Marcus Thornton (5.3)
Best freshman: Juwan Parker (5.0 points, 3.8 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 109
Quality wins: Missouri (#53 RPI); Alabama (100); Arkansas (66)
Bad losses: Georgia Tech (#151 RPI); Davidson (163); Temple (169)
This week’s games: South Carolina (Wednesday); at Kentucky (Saturday)
KENTUCKY (13-4, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (136-30 at Kentucky; 539-168 overall)
Through 17 games: Kentucky went 1-1 last week. The overtime loss to Arkansas had everything to do with 17 turnovers, while the win over Tennessee was about protecting the ball (only eight turnovers) and near perfection from the foul line (23-24). Tennessee outrebounded Kentucky 39-24. No Wildcat had more than four rebounds.
Key stats: Kentucky is hitting only 31.3% of its 3-pointers. Volume shooters James Young (32.5%) and Aaron Harrison (30%) aren’t hitting the outside shots with any consistency.
Scoring leaders: Julius Randle (16.9); James Young (14.2)
Rebounding leaders: Julius Randle (10.5); Willie Cauley-Stein (7.4)
Best freshman: Julius Randle (16.9 points, 10.5 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 5
Quality wins: Eastern Michigan (#46 RPI); Providence (48); Boise State (55); Belmont (76); Louisville (30); Tennessee (58)
Bad losses: None
This week’s schedule: Texas A&M (Tuesday); Georgia (Saturday)
LSU (11-5, 2-2 SEC)
Coach: Johnny Jones (30-17 at LSU; 235-179 overall)
Through 16 games: The Tigers seem to go however Johnny O’Bryant goes. He had six points and five rebounds in the loss to Ole Miss, but had 22 points and 12 wins in the win over Vanderbilt … At some point Jarrell Martin probably makes it into the starting lineup. He has scored 42 and grabbed 18 rebounds in the last three games.
Key stats: Anthony Hickey (3.3) and Andre Stringer (2.5) rank 1-2 in the SEC in assist to turnover ratio.
Scoring leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (14.3); Jordan Mickey (13.1)
Rebounding leaders: Johnny O’Bryant (7.6); Jordan Mickey (6.9)
Best freshman: Jordan Mickey (13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 77
Quality wins: St. Joseph’s (#63 RPI); Butler (88)
Bad losses: Rhode Island (#152 RPI)
This week’s schedule: Missouri (Tuesday); at Alabama (Saturday)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (12-5, 2-2 SEC)
Coach: Rick Ray (22-27)
Through 17 games: The Bulldogs rallied from 10 points down in the final 10 minutes to send Texas A&M into overtime. The Bulldogs forced four turnovers in overtime and allowed the Aggies to squeeze off only four shots in picking up the win.
Key stat: Point guard Craig Sword continues to emerge as an All-SEC type player. He’s the leading scorer (15.0), hits 53.7% of his shots, rebounds at a 3.6 per game clip and averages 2.1 steals per game.
Scoring leaders: Craig Sword (15.0); Gavin Ware (11.5)
Rebounding leaders: Gavin Ware (8.9); Roquez Johnson (4.7)
Best freshman: I.J. Ready (5.8 points, 3.3 assists)
Strength of schedule: 255
Quality wins: Ole Miss (#65 RPI)
Bad losses: TCU (#186 RPI); UNLV (121)
This week’s schedule: Auburn (Wednesday); at Ole Miss (Saturday)
MISSOURI (14-3, 2-2 SEC)
Coach: Frank Haith (67-19 at Missouri; 196-120 overall)
Through 17 games: Missouri couldn’t defend the 3-point line against Vanderbilt. The Tigers went 6-23 while Vandy hit 12-32. Coming into the game the Tigers had allowed only 28% from long distance.
Key stats: The Tigers have very little in the way of an inside presence. They’re getting only 11.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game out of 6-9 Johnathan Williams and 6-10 Ryan Rosburg.
Scoring leaders: Jabari Brown (18.8); Jordan Clarkson (18.6)
Rebounding leaders: Johnathan Williams (7.4); Earnest Ross (6.5)
Best freshman: Johnathan Williams (7.1 points, 7.4 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 122
Quality wins: West Virginia (#99 RPI); UCLA (31); North Carolina State (81); Alabama (100)
Bad losses: Georgia (#139 RPI); Vanderbilt (108)
This week’s schedule: at LSU (Thursday); South Carolina (Saturday)
OLE MISS (12-5, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: Andy Kennedy (164-92 at Ole Miss; 184-105 overall)
Through 17 games: In his first two games back after a two-game suspension, Marshall Henderson scored 44 points and was the SEC’s Player of the Week. Henderson hit six 3-pointers and had 7 assists in a win over LSU and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime against South Carolina … Andy Kennedy has more wins than any coach in Ole Miss history with 164.
Key stats: Jarvis Summers is hitting a scorching 53.4% from the 3-point line, knocking down 31 of his 58 shots from behind the arc.
Scoring leaders: Marshall Henderson (19.2); Jarvis Summers (18.1)
Rebounding leaders: Aaron Jones (7.0); Sebastian Saiz (6.2)
Best freshman: Sebastian Saiz (5.2 points, 6.2 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 90
Quality wins: LSU (#62 RPI)
Bad losses: Mississippi State (#149 RPI)
This week’s schedule: at Vanderbilt (Wednesday); Mississippi State (Saturday)
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-10, 0-4 SEC)
Coach: Frank Martin (21-28 at South Carolina; 138-82 overall)
Through 17 games: South Carolina got bad news when Tyrone Johnson broke his foot against Texas A&M. He had surgery and is out indefinitely. He was averaging 11.2 points and 3.4 assists per game … In an effort to get more size and strength in the middle, freshman Desmond Ringer (6-9, 255) has moved into the starting lineup.
Key stats: Brenton Williams finally missed a free throw. He had made 50 in a row before missing against LSU. For this season, he is 48-49, an SEC and NCAA-leading 98%.
Leading scorers: Sindarius Thornwell (12.0); Tyrone Johnson (11.2)
Leading rebounders: Mindaugus Kacinas (5.1); Demetrius Henry (4.2)
Best freshman: Sindarius Thornwell (12.0 points, 3.9 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 37
Quality wins: St. Mary’s (#51 RPI)
Bad losses: South Carolina-Upstate (#211 RPI); Texas A&M (113)
This week’s games: at Georgia (Wednesday); at Missouri (Saturday)
TENNESSEE (11-6, 2-2 SEC)
Coach: Cuonzo Martin (50-34 at Tennessee; 111-75 overall)
Through 17 games: Tennessee outrebounded Kentucky by 15 and still lost at Rupp Arena. While Kentucky was near perfect (23-24) from the foul line, Tennessee was 16-23 including numerous misses down the stretch.
Key stats: Jarnell Stokes has nine double-doubles this season and 27 in his Tennessee career. He is second in the SEC at 9.9 rebounds per game and 18th in scoring at 13.8.
Leading scorers: Jordan McRae (18.4); Jarnell Stokes (13.8)
Leading rebounders: Jarnell Stokes (9.9); Jeronne Maymon (8.2)
Best freshman: Darius Thompson (3.1 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists)
Strength of schedule: 25
Quality wins: Xavier (#35 RPI); Wake Forest (64); Virginia (23); LSU (62)
Bad losses: UTEP (#112 RPI), Texas A&M (113)
This week’s schedule: Arkansas (Wednesday); at Florida (Saturday)
TEXAS A&M (12-5, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: Billy Kennedy (43-39 at Texas A&M; 254-218 overall)
Through 17 games: Davonte Fitzgerald was SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 16.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game during a 1-1 week for the Aggies.
Key stats: Alex Caruso leads the SEC in assists with 5.2 per game. Additionally, Caruso averages 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
Leading scorers: Jamal Jones (12.3); Kourtney Roberson (9.9)
Leading rebounders: Kourtney Roberson (7.3); Antwan Space (4.6)
Best freshman: Davonte Fitzgerald (7.7 points, 2.2 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 149
Quality wins: Buffalo (#87 RPI); Arkansas (66); Tennessee (58)
Bad losses: North Texas (#162 RPI); Mississippi State (149)
This week’s schedule: at Kentucky (Tuesday); Vanderbilt (Saturday)
VANDERBILT (9-7, 1-3 SEC)
Coach: Kevin Stallings (286-183 at Vanderbilt; 409-246 overall)
Through 16 games: The lack of scholarship players (Vandy has seven) has meant increased playing time for freshman Damian Jones, who has scored in double figures six straight games. Jones is averaging 14.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game over that stretch … In the Commodores upset win over Missouri, Rod Odom had 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and four blocked shots.
Key stats: Vanderbilt is last in the SEC in turnover margin (-3.0) and has a negative (-0.2) rebounding margin.
Leading scorers: Rod Odom (14.3); Damian Jones (11.4)
Leading rebounders: Rod Odom (5.8); Damian Jones (5.3)
Best freshman: Damian Jones (11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds)
Strength of schedule: 173
Quality wins: Missouri (#53 RPI)
Bad losses: None
This week’s schedule: Missouri (Thursday); at LSU (Saturday)