The SEC Tournament: What’s at Stake in Nashville

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 9th, 2016

The SEC Tournament returns to Nashville tonight for the second year in row. Unlike the last couple of years, however, there isn’t a team trying to cap off a perfect conference run and there doesn’t figure to be much drama surrounding NCAA at-large bids (but you never know). Before getting into what is at stake for individual teams, here are several completely unscientific predictions on how things will look by Sunday afternoon.

  • Tournament FinalKentucky over Vanderbilt
  • MVPJamal Murray, Kentucky
  • Biggest Surprise: #11 seed Mississippi State makes it to the SEC Tournament semifinals
  • Tournament Storylines: Was the season-ending win over LSU Skal Labissiere‘s breakout game? Will Ben Simmons really be locked out of the NCAA Tournament? Can Florida do enough to force its way back into the field? Can Retin Obasohan or Stefan Moody shoot their teams into the NCAA Tournament?
Skal Labissiere might have finally arrived (

Skal Labissiere may have finally arrived (

Teams Playing For Seeding

It’s safe to assume that KentuckyTexas A&MSouth Carolina and Vanderbilt are all locked into the field of 68 and are playing for seeding. Of those four teams, the Commodores and Gamecocks have the most at stake this week. Bracketologists project both teams into the #8-#9 seed range and an unenviable downstream date with a #1 seed looming. Winning twice in Nashville and getting to Sunday’s SEC championship game should be enough to lift either team off that seed line (and potentially facing a #2 seed in a parity-driven field). This might be more important for a team like the Gamecocks since Vanderbilt will not be at much of a talent disadvantage against any of the projected #1 seeds.

The Wildcats and Aggies appear to be in a similar situation. Both teams look like #4 seeds with potential to jump to the #3 line as a result of cutting the nets down in Nashville. Losing their respective opening games probably wouldn’t do much damage since all four potential opponents (Florida/Arkansas for Texas A&M; Ole Miss/Alabama for Kentucky) have solid enough metrics to avert a disaster. There is the interesting matter of the South Regional in Louisville but it’s hard to see the Selection Committee gifting that to a #3 seed Kentucky team (much to the detriment of the top two seeds) even if the Wildcats were to win the SEC Tournament with three consecutive blowouts. That probably won’t stop Big Blue Nation from flocking to wherever Kentucky ends up, though, even if it’s Spokane.

Teams Clinging to the Bubble

Can Avery Johnson Get Alabama to the NCAAs in Year One? (USA Today Images)

Can Avery Johnson Get Alabama to the NCAAs in Year One? (USA Today Images)

Things get much more interesting concerning the host of teams playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. LSU, Alabama and Florida all need an extended stay in Nashville to enter the legitimate at-large conversation. The numbers are not kind to either of the Tigers (13 losses; RPI #91) or Tide (13 losses; RPI #70) to where even a run to the conference title game may not be enough. LSU will undoubtedly be the story of the SEC Tournament if it gets past a likely quarterfinal matchup with Vanderbilt, but Ben Simmons‘ visibility on its own isn’t enough to push the Tigers into the Dance. A three-game winning streak to cut down the nets is what Johnny Jones‘ team needs, but LSU has only accomplished that twice this season against the following teams: McNeese State, Kennesaw State, South Alabama and Gardner-Webb, Oral Roberts and American. That doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence, especially with Keith Hornsby out, if the critical path turns out to be Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Kentucky.

Florida, with a solid #51 RPI and a thank-goodness-for-the-Big 12 win over West Virginia, is the team best positioned to leverage a run in Nashville to a bid. The Gators’ resume is full of plenty of holes, failing to beat any of the four KenPom top 52 SEC teams and running on fumes over the last few weeks during a 2-5 skid. But Florida is currently in Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out and remains the SEC’s best bet to add a fifth team to the field. Georgia is another team that can’t be dismissed, as the Bulldogs finished the regular season on a three-game winning streak that included quality wins over Alabama and South Carolina. J.J. Frazier is playing great basketball, and if Yante Maten avoids foul trouble, the Bulldogs are capable of going on a nice run to cap Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann‘s SEC careers. A vulnerable, cold-shooting South Carolina team awaits Georgia if it gets past Mississippi State on Thursday, but with no marquee wins and a #71 RPI, Mark Fox‘s group still has work to do.

The Dark Horse

Since this is the SEC there’s has to be a wild card team like Auburn last season, right? We know that team won’t be Missouri, since the #14 seed is sitting at home on a self-imposed postseason ban. Mississippi State, on the other hand, could be this year’s version of the dark horse that plays on Saturday. The Bulldogs finished the year on a 4-2 run, breaking through after a number of close losses throughout the SEC season. Ben Howland’s team is shooting the ball as well as it has all year (50.8% eFG or better in the last six games) and has proven it can play with most SEC teams. Quinndary Weatherspoon is a burgeoning star and Malik Newman is coming off his best game (17 points, five rebounds) in over a month. This is also the last hurrah for a senior-laden team, and Gavin Ware is the type of player who can put Maten in foul trouble and ultimately doom Georgia.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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