SEC Tournament Preview: What Teams Are Playing For

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2015

As Nashville awaits the inevitable Big Blue mist that will descend upon it Friday afternoon, let’s take a look at what each of the 14 SEC teams has to play for with the start of tonight’s SEC Tournament.

SEC tournament bracket 2015

The Outsiders

  • Missouri (9-22, 3-15). After winning its SEC opener against LSU, Missouri earned only two more conference victories all season — at home against Florida and Auburn. Kim Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been a trying one, and there likely will not be much sadness when this campaign comes to a merciful end sometime soon.
  • Mississippi State (13-18, 6-12). Given that Rick Ray won seven league games in his first two seasons in Starkville, this year’s six-win campaign is a substantial improvement. This appeared to be a team that would struggle to win any conference games, so getting six has surely earned Ray the right to coach a fourth season at Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs have nothing to play for beyond Nashville, expect them to be motivated to move into Thursday’s round against Texas A&M.

  • South Carolina (15-15, 6-12). After Frank Martin’s team beat Iowa State at a neutral site in early 2015, things appeared to finally be heading in the right direction. But another disappointing SEC season has created questions about whether Martin will ever turn this program around. The Gamecocks have a reasonable shot at postseason play beyond the SEC Tournament but must take care of Missouri tonight to make that a realistic goal.
  • Auburn (12-19, 4-14). In Bruce Pearl’s first season at Tennessee, he took the Vols to a first place finish in the SEC East and a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament; in his first season at Auburn, he is assured of his first 20-loss season as a head coach at any level. He clearly inherited a much better situation in Knoxville than he did on The Plains, but the total lack of success his team has had this season is still a bit surprising. Brighter days are certainly ahead for the Tigers, but Pearl’s inaugural campaign at Auburn must be classified as a disappointment.
Bruce Pearl's first season in Auburn has been a disappointment. (AP)

Bruce Pearl’s first season in Auburn has been a disappointment. (AP)

  • Tennessee (15-15, 7-11). Has there ever been a weirder split for a college basketball team than what we saw with the Volunteers this year? Donnie Tyndall’s club went an impressive 5-4 on the road that included a late-season thrashing of LSU in Baton Rouge, but flummoxed everyone by winning only two games in the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee gets a game against archrival Vanderbilt on Thursday — oddly, it will be the first SEC Tournament meeting between the schools in 28 years — for a chance to secure a .500 record that could be good enough for the NIT.
  • Alabama (18-13, 8-10). While the Crimson Tide are likely to receive a bid to the NIT, there is also a stark realization that Anthony Grant’s run as head coach in Tuscaloosa may not extend past Friday. Things started well enough for this team this season, but a torturous five-game run (resulting in four losses) early in conference play that included two matchups with Kentucky and a game at Arkansas proved to by the Crimson Tide’s undoing. The most interesting question surrounding this program right now is who will take over once Grant is let go.
  • Florida (15-16, 8-10). Technically, the Gators are playing for an NIT bid. Realistically, even if they beat Alabama, they probably aren’t going to take down Kentucky to clinch the .500 record that the NIT desires from its competitors. Billy Donovan admits that he overscheduled this year, and the Gators will almost certainly pay for that miscue with no postseason play since his first season in Gainesville.
  • Vanderbilt (19,12, 9-9). The Commodores started SEC play a woeful 1-7 but proved that they were far better than that performance over the second half of conference play. Many now wonder whether they would be competing for an NCAA Tournament bid this week had they picked up a couple more wins along the way. The future appears very bright for this young team, and this week in familiar territory is a chance to show that. A run to the championship game and a meeting with Kentucky isn’t out of the question.

The Bubble Teams

  • Ole Miss (20-11, 11-7). Here is where things start to get interesting for the SEC, as the league’s top six teams are either already projected into the field or have a good shot at making it. The Rebels did themselves no favors when they dropped their final game at home to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Still, Andy Kennedy’s team is safely in Joe Lunardi’s latest field and is among the “last four in” in Jerry Palm’s. Needless to say, a loss to the winner of the South Carolina/Missouri game will end Ole Miss’ quest for a bid, while a win there would give the Rebels a shot at a much-needed quality win against Georgia.

    Danuel House and Texas A&M are desperate for a couple of wins in Nashville. (USA Today Sports)

    Danuel House and Texas A&M are desperate for a couple of wins in Nashville. (USA Today Sports)

  • Texas A&M (20-10, 11-7). Of all the teams that enter the SEC Tournament on the bubble, no team’s position is more precarious than the Aggies. Losses to Florida and Alabama last week mean that they are currently on the outside looking in. Assuming they take care of business against the winner of Auburn/Mississippi State on Thursday, A&M will have a must-win contest against LSU on Friday. Billy Kennedy’s team must get to the weekend to be considered for a bid.
  • LSU (22-9, 11-7). In a league full of teams that are tough to figure out, none is more puzzling than the Tigers. It is hard to conceive of a team that loses to the 14th-, 13th-, 12th-, and 10th-place teams getting a double-bye in the SEC Tournament, but Johnny Jones’s squad managed to do that. A surprising win at Arkansas without all-conference performer Jordan Mickey on Saturday has the Tigers sitting pretty heading into this event, although it certainly wouldn’t hurt LSU to grab another quality win. It can’t afford another loss to a conference lightweight so the ideal opponent on Friday for the Tigers would be Texas A&M.
  • Georgia (11-7, 20-10). The Bulldogs acquitted themselves well in a late-season home loss to Kentucky and appear to be comfortably in the field of 68. Still, like their SEC bubble-mates, they should leave nothing to chance and would be well-served by taking care of business on Friday. They are on the opposite side of the bracket from Kentucky, so a run to the championship game is a realistic goal here.

The Sure Things

  • Arkansas (24-7, 13-5). The Razorbacks separated themselves as the league’s second-best team and finally learned how to win on the road this season (6-3 in conference play away from Bud Walton Arena). The SEC Tournament is not likely to have much impact on their NCAA seeding but they should aim for another crack at Kentucky in Sunday’s championship game. They were humbled in their late-season game at Rupp Arena but have enough talent to have a chance on a neutral court against the Wildcats.
  • Kentucky (18-0, 31-0). In case you weren’t aware, the Wildcats have not lost a game this season; and odds are good that will still be the case when it’s all said and done in Nashville on Sunday afternoon. Beyond playing for history and to maintain their air of semi-invincibility, there really isn’t much else to play for this week. The SEC Tournament could be renamed the Wildcat Invitational, but it has actually been a whopping five years since Kentucky cut down the nets. Expect that to change as the Wildcats continue their march unabated toward 40-0.
David Changas (166 Posts)

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