NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC TeamsPosted by David Changas on March 16th, 2014
As expected, the SEC earned only three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Top-ranked Florida and Kentucky have been locks for some time, and Tennessee secured its status with an impressive finish down the stretch. Based upon their finishes, it’s hard to argue that Missouri and Arkansas, both of which spent significant time on the bubble this year, deserved to get in. We look at how each of the three teams that did make it fared with their selections, and where they go from here.
Florida Gators (No. 1 seed, South Region)
- Opening Round Opponent: The Gators, the overall No. 1 seed in the Tournament, open with the winner of the Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s First Four game in Dayton. It’s a safe bet that Florida won’t be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16.
- Looking Ahead: With a win in the second round, Florida will face the winner of Colorado/Pittsburgh game in Orlando. The Gators will have a significant advantage playing in their own backyard, and should advance to the Sweet Sixteen. There, they should get VCU or UCLA, and a trip to the regional finals could involve a match-up against Kansas, Syracuse or Ohio State.
- How Far Can They Go? A potential Elite Eight game with Kansas could be one of the NCAA Tournament’s best, though both teams have work to do before than they can think about that. The Gators have a favorable draw to the regional final, though UCLA could present a challenge if it gets to the Sweet Sixteen. Still, we think Florida plays good enough defense to emerge from this region, and the Gators should make the Final Four. We’d be foolish to the think the overall top seed in the Tournament, which has now won 26 consecutive games, can’t win it all.
Kentucky Wildcats (No. 8 seed, Midwest Region)
- Opening Round Opponent: Kentucky gets a tough matc-hup with Kansas State from the Big 12 in the second round. As with any No. 8- No. 9 game, this should be a good one. Kansas State went 10-8 in what arguably was the best league in the country, and is undoubtedly battle-tested from going through the ringer of the Big 12’s round-robin schedule. According to KenPom, Kansas State is No. 44 overall and is much better defensively (No. 25) than offensively (No. 104). The (other) Wildcats are led by Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson, their only double-figure scorers. Bruce Weber plays 10 players more than 10 minutes per game.
- Looking Ahead: If Kentucky is fortunate enough to get by Kansas State in what has to be viewed as a toss-up game (isn’t every 8/9 matchup?), they’ll most certainly face Wichita State in the third round. The second and third round games will be held in St. Louis, and there’s no question Big Blue Nation will travel well. Before the season, it was Kentucky fans who were talking about going 40-0. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Wildcats were to get a chance to take down the first team in NCAA history with a chance to achieve that feat?
- How Far Can They Go? Kentucky took a huge step toward turning things around when it narrowly lost the SEC Tournament championship to Florida on Sunday. The Wildcats have to be a lot more confident than they were prior to this weekend, and the talent certainly is there. Realistically, though, if they can get by Kansas State, it will be tough for them to get past a very experienced Wichita State team that went to the Final Four a year ago and knows how to win. But if they can pull off that upset, a Sweet Sixteen matchup with archnemesis Louisville could be on the horizon.
Tennessee Volunteers (No. 11 seed, Midwest Region)
- Opening Round Opponent: As one of the last four teams to make it into the field, Tennessee is lucky enough to get an early start on this year’s Tournament with a First Four game against Iowa in Dayton on Wednesday night. The Hawkeyes were a team that was ranked near the top 10 earlier this year, but they struggled down the stretch, losing six of their last seven. Iowa is a very efficient offensive team (No. 4 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings), but doesn’t play much defense (No. 125). On the other hand, the Volunteers have been playing excellent defense of late, and they should be able to score against Iowa. This will be a battle of two teams that have underachieved, but now also appear to be heading in opposite directions.
- Looking Ahead: If Tennessee can take down Iowa, they’ll head to Raleigh to play sixth-seeded UMass. That’s a game that the Volunteers would appear to have a very good chance to win. The Minutemen rank 52nd in KenPom’s ratings, while Tennessee is 13th. From a talent and efficiency standpoint, Tennessee appears to be the better team, so a win for the Volunteers would not be considered an upset.
- How Far Can They Go? Tennessee is a team that most expected to comfortably make the field, but the committee’s decision obviously went down to the wire. This is a team clearly playing its best basketball of the year, and wins against Iowa and Massachusetts are quite possible. They would put the Volunteers into the round of 32, where they almost certainly would draw Duke in Raleigh. That de facto road game may be too tall an order for this Tennessee team, and it’s most likely their run would end there. Still, this is a squad that shellacked one No. 1 seed Virginia by 35 points earlier this year, and took another, Wichita State, to the wire on the road. Now that the Volunteers are in, they have nothing to lose.