Why Each SEC team Will Advance to the Second Weekend… and Why They Won’t

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 15th, 2016

After watching five teams head to the Big Dance a year ago (including one eventual Final Four participant), the SEC managed just three bids in a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Honestly, the league was lucky to get to three. While some teams have to feel pretty good about where they landed (Texas A&M is a #3 seed?!), others should feel happy to be invited (welcome Vanderbilt!), and still others can rest comfortably knowing that the committee didn’t have the option to send them to Alaska to face the Golden State Warriors (Hey Kentucky, Des Moines, Iowa, is supposed to be nice this time of year). Now that the brackets are set, will the SEC continue to disappoint, or might we see one of these three teams still standing in the Sweet Sixteen? Here are some quick reasons why each team will advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and some equally compelling reasons why they won’t:

Kentucky's offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari

Kentucky’s offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari.


Why the Wildcats will advance to the second weekend: Kentucky’s backcourt is playing very well on offense right now, moving the Wildcats into the top spot for offensive efficiency nationally over the weekend. Tyler Ulis has the ability to carry the team for stretches on his 5’9” frame, but with the added marksmanship of shooting guard Jamal Murray and a front line that provide spot duty, the Wildcats are scoring better than any other team in the John Calipari era. In the first two games of the SEC Tournament, Kentucky scored at the second and third most efficient clips per 100 possessions of his tenure. The last time the Cats met up with possible Second Round opponent Indiana in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, it was a high scoring affair — Kentucky should feel comfortable in entering into a shootout with any team in the nation.

And why they won’t: The problem for the Wildcats is that, while they are incredibly fun and highly efficient scoring the basketball, they do not play vintage Calipari defense. The last time the Wildcats’ defense held an opponent under one point per possession was against Alabama on February 23. Indiana, for example, is a team that was held under one point per possession only three times this season. Of course, Kentucky will only have to worry about the Hoosiers if they can first get past Stony Brook. The Seawolves might not look like much on paper but they boast a 6’8” beast in Jameel Warney, who recently went for 43 points and 10 rebounds in the America East Tournament championship game. Getting anything out of its big men has been a consistent issue, and Warney is sure to test the Wildcats’ frontcourt rotation. Skal Labissiere commits 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes, Alex Poythress commits 6.0, Marcus Lee commits 5.6, and Isaac Humphries is the worst offender with 8.8. Warney might foul out several Wildcats this week before it’s all said and done.

Texas A&M

Billy Kennedy might have saved his job with a NIT appearance last season. A run to the Big Dance would also do wonders. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

After four years of getting close, Billy Kennedy has finally led the Aggies to the Big Dance. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Why the Aggies will advance to the second weekend: It’s important to have senior leadership and the Aggies boast four seniors among their starting lineup. However, it will be freshman Tyler Davis who will be the tallest player on the court Friday when A&M tips off with Green Bay. Davis is a force on the offensive glass (13.9% OR) and adept at drawing fouls on opposing big men (5.9 per 40 minutes). Add in the talents of Jalen Jones and Danuel House and it looks like it will be a long night for the overmatched Horizon League squad. If Texas can get past Northern Iowa, Texas A&M should feel confident about a rematch with the Longhorns. The Aggies defeated their intrastate rival earlier this year by double figures. Not only did Billy Kennedy finally break through to get his team into the NCAA Tournament, but he might find himself coaching one of the 16 teams left standing.

And why they won’t: While A&M will put four seniors on the court this weekend, only Anthony Collins (a South Florida transfer) has played in the Big Dance. If it ends up being Texas vs. Texas A&M in the Second Round, the Longhorns bring a wealth of experience to the table with their third straight NCAA appearance. The Aggies aren’t a particularly good shooting team from the perimeter, and poor guard play eventually catches up to teams in March. If Texas A&M is going to make a run, it will need Collins and Anthony Caruso to knock down some open shots.

Kevin Stallings

The beauty of the Big Dance? What happened in the past does not matter one iota once the ball goes up this week. Kevin Stallings and Vanderbilt are in that boat. (AP)


Why the Commodores will advance to the second weekend: As a member of the First Four, Vanderbilt has a longer road to the Sweet Sixteen than most other teams. The Commodores travel to Dayton to take on Wichita State tonight, where Kevin Stallings’ team should be able to overwhelm the Shockers with NBA talent in the post. If things finally come together this week, Vanderbilt can hang with anybody, including Arizona in the First Round and a potential matchup with Miami in the Round of 32.

And why they won’t: Things still haven’t come together for Vanderbilt, and they are unlikely to do so at this point. The Commodores were squarely on the bubble entering the SEC Tournament and yet they still lost to a shorthanded Tennessee squad playing without Kevin Punter. If Vandy didn’t play with some desperation last week in Nashville, why would things be any different this week in Dayton? Experience is a huge factor in March, and Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker have it in spades while Vanderbilt’s seniors are playing in their first NCAA Tournament game.

Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt will represent the SEC this weekend, and it will be interesting to see which reasons turn out to be salient. Can the league put as many as three teams into the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, or could it possibly be shut out by Sunday night? We will find out in the coming days.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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