Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
- Kentucky 24-1 (9-1)
- Vanderbilt 19-5 (8-2)
- Tennessee 18-6 (6-4)
- Florida 17-8 (6-4)
- South Carolina 14-10 (5-5)
- Georgia 11-12 (3-7)
- Mississippi State 18-7 (6-4)
- Arkansas 13-12 (6-4)
- Mississippi 17-7 (5-5)
- Alabama 14-11 (4-7)
- Auburn 12-13 (3-7)
- LSU 9-16 (0-11)
Stretch Run. The SEC is headed down the stretch run with three weeks remaining and as of right now, about half the league is still in the running for a division title and even more are in the running for a postseason tournament bid. The SEC East is the “glory division” right now with three teams ranked in the top 25. Kentucky has moved to the #2 position in both polls while Vanderbilt is #17 in the AP Top 25 and 19th in the ESPN/USA Today rankings. Tennessee fell to #18 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and #20 in the AP Top 25. Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor was named the SEC Player of the Week while Kentucky’s John Wall was once again named the freshman of the week.
SEC East. The SEC East has become a two-team race between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Both teams kept the pressure on the other by winning two games last week. The two teams face off Saturday night in Nashville, which has been a “house of horrors” for UK recently. Neither UK or Vanderbilt can afford to look ahead to Saturday’s battle as both face very tough road games first. UK travels to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt to Ole Miss in the tuneups for their showdown. Tennessee, who had a horrible week with losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, now falls three games back and you would think they are pretty close being out of the race. They are two games behind Vanderbilt, but they were swept by the Commodores and even if the Vols win out, they have to hope both UK and Vandy go 3-3 the rest of the way. Likewise, Florida is out of the race at three games back, but will definitely help to decide who wins the title as they still have Kentucky and Vanderbilt on the schedule. As of right now, no team in the SEC East is an easy win. South Carolina effectively knocked Florida out of the race this week, and then the Gamecocks had their hopes dashed by last place Georgia. Georgia has officially become the team no one wants to play. Despite their 3-7 conference record, they have knocked off Vanderbilt and South Carolina in two of their last three games.
SEC West. The SEC West is an even tighter race as Mississippi State and the surprising Arkansas Razorbacks are tied at 6-4.Arkansas seemed to relish their role as West leader when they pounded LSU by 35, but then lost a tough game to Alabama to finish 1-1 on the week. The Bulldogs moved into a first place tie this week by winning both their games, and in the process completed a sweep over Ole Miss. Ole Miss is 0-3 against the two co-leaders, having lost to Arkansas, so while the Rebels are just a game back, they currently lose any tiebreakers with both leaders. Alabama (3-7 the last ten games) seems relegated to a potential spoiler as they face both Mississippi teams down the stretch. Auburn and LSU seem destined to just play the string out.
NCAA Tourney Bids. So, what does all of this mean for the SEC’s tournament bids? Sadly as of right now, I think only three teams (Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee) have firmly punched their ticket for the NCAA Tournament. Of the Western teams, I would say that Mississippi State is almost in and I would say 4-2, possibly 3-3 down the stretch, will punch their ticket. Is there a possibility for a fifth bid?
There’s a possibility, but it would take some work. Mississippi has a pretty favorable schedule but may need to go 5-1 to get in, and one of those wins needs to be over Vandy as the Rebels are low on quality wins. Florida lost to Xavier on Saturday and lost a great chance at a quality win. I would say the Gators need to get to 21 wins and win at least two games in the SEC Tournament. To get to 21, UF will need to win a tough road game at Georgia plus get two wins against either Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee or Ole Miss. The UF/Ole Miss game may very well act as a “play-in” game for the SEC when they play Saturday night. Arkansas has to be mentioned as a possible tournament team due to the fact they currently are tied for first in the West and with Courtney Fortson can give anyone trouble. In the end, their 13-12 record dooms the Hawgs to having to win the SEC Tourney to go to the NCAA Tournament.
In all reality, five SEC teams will make the tourney and possibly six if a “surprise team” can win the tournament. The SEC has several other teams that should see postseason play in the NIT/CBI tournaments. I think the loser of the Florida/Mississippi game would head the the NIT, along with South Carolina, Alabama, and possibly Arkansas. The Razorbacks are truly an enigma as they could win the SEC Tournament or miss the NIT all together. I don’t know if Georgia can win enough games to merit a NIT bid, but this is a good young team that can gain valuable experience in the other postseason tourneys.
Moving ahead, lots of key SEC matchups are on tap this week so let’s look at the best games of the week:
- 2/16 – Kentucky @ Mississippi State – 9 PM – ESPN
- 2/17 – Georgia @ Tennessee – 8 PM – ESPN 360
- 2/18 – Vanderbilt @ Mississippi – 7 PM – ESPN U
- 2/18 – Auburn @ Florida – 7 PM – ESPN
- 2/20 – Florida @ Mississippi – 12 PM – CBS
- 2/20 – Tennessee @ South Carolina – 1:30 PM – ESPN 360
- 2/20 – Kentucky @ Vanderbilt – 6:00 PM – ESPN