Handicapping the SEC’s Final Four Chances

Posted by David Changas on March 27th, 2019

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was quite a success for the SEC. Four of the league’s seven teams advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and each did so in a different fashion — there was the dominant (Auburn), the methodical (Kentucky), the dramatic (LSU), and the confounding (Tennessee). The question now becomes whether the conference’s remaining teams can take it any further. Today we look at each remaining squad’s chances of advancing to college basketball’s biggest stage.

Jared Harper and Auburn will need to continue their superb play to have a chance of toppling top-seeded North Caroline (247sports.com)

Auburn: The Tigers were sensational against Kansas, scoring 1.27 points per possession against a solid Jayhawks’ defense that was simply overwhelmed by Auburn’s attack. We would like their chances a bit better if they weren’t going up against a team in North Carolina that can and will run with them. If Bruce Pearl’s team were to pull off an upset in the Midwest Region semifinal, it would still likely have to get by a Kentucky team that handled it twice during the regular season. So even though this is arguably the hottest team in the NCAA Tournament at the moment, this is realistically an order that might be too tall for a team that lives and dies by the three. We put Auburn’s chances of a Final Four appearance at 15%.

Kentucky: We were higher on the Wildcats’ chances to reach the Final Four than we were any other SEC team prior to the NCAA Tournament, and nothing has changed that. Of course, if Wildcats’ star P.J. Washington is again unavailable for Friday’s tilt with Houston, all bets are off. Assuming the sophomore big man returns from his sprained foot, however, we still think John Calipari’s team is the favorite to come out of this region –notwithstanding how well Auburn and North Carolina are playing. Accordingly, we think the Wildcats’ chances of advancing to the Final Four are 40%.

LSU: Tony Benford has done an admirable job of filling the void left by the suspension of head coach Will Wade, and getting off the schneid in the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds was huge for a team that has shown it can athletically hang with any team. The pressure is off, too, so nothing should be too surprising from this point forward. Still, things get a lot tougher now, and the chances of Benford beating Tom Izzo and (likely) Mike Krzyzewski in one March weekend are pretty slim. Thus, we think there is only a 10% chance the Tigers reach Minneapolis.

Tennessee: If NCAA Tournament games were 20 minutes long, we would be as high on the Volunteers as any team left in the field. But they’re not, and Tennessee’s second half meltdown against Iowa left a bad taste in our mouths about Rick Barnes‘ club. On the other hand, March Madness is all about surviving and advancing, and it would be a mistake to undersell a team that is currently 31-5 and has spent the entire season in the top 10. What appears to be a very even match-up with Purdue obviously could go either way, but if Virginia holds serve, the incredibly balanced Cavaliers would present a significant roadblock for Tennessee. Based upon that, we think the Volunteers have a 25% chance of making it out of the South Region this weekend.

Having four SEC teams make the Sweet Sixteen is a dramatic improvement over the not-too-distant days gone by in which the league regularly failed to even get that many bids into the field. But if the SEC wants to be taken seriously as one of the two or three best basketball leagues in college basketball, a successful weekend would go a long way towards making that case.

David Changas (166 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *