Over the weekend and into Monday, the SEC had six different key games against five teams from the SEC and the reigning Big East champion, Seton Hall. The SEC lost all six games to complete a terrible week for the conference on the basketball court. However, all hope is not lost for the SEC basketball conference this season.
Before the season, most were already saying that the SEC would only send two or three teams to the NCAA Tournament in March. I disagreed and thought that the league could send five teams fairly reasonably. This past weekend certainly didn’t help the SEC at all, but it might not have been as detrimental as many people are making it out to be.
After the first month of the season and a majority of non-conference games having been played, let me point out where I think the SEC stands and why all hope is not yet lost for the conference in basketball this season.
First and foremost, Kentucky is still carrying the banner for the SEC as a basketball conference and they’re continuing to do a great job. The Wildcats have just one loss to a top 5 UCLA team and already have massive wins over Michigan State and Arizona State with the opportunity for three more big non-conference wins in games against North Carolina, Louisville, and Kansas. Unless all five of Kentucky’s starting players get injured, Big Blue Nation can already go ahead and book their Tournament plans as the Wildcats will likely be nothing less than a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament when it’s all said and done.
After Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A&M have all looked like teams that should make the tournament assuming they keep winning.
Florida has played a gauntlet of schedule and has key wins over Miami and Seton Hall with just losses to Duke, Gonzaga, and Florida State all on the road or at a neutral site. The Gators look the part, but they’ll need to find enough of an offense to complement their defense so that they can survive their brutal SEC schedule and escape with enough conference wins to stay on the right side of the Tournament bubble.
South Carolina, who was overlooked last year, has again come out to surprise almost everyone with a much improved non-conference schedule this season. Frank Martin and the Gamecocks already have wins over Michigan and Syracuse and just now lost their first game in a final possession thriller against Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden. Unlike last season, South Carolina certainly has the non-conference resume that should be enough to get them an invite to the Big Dance as long as they finish near the top of the SEC.
Texas A&M on the other hand has looked like one of the best teams in the SEC based on the eye test, but have also managed to lose two close games to USC at home and UCLA out in California. The Aggies still have a good win over Virginia Tech on a neutral court that gave them the opportunity to face UCLA. Texas A&M has two remaining non-conference opportunities with Arizona this Saturday and then West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC challenge later in the season. Texas A&M probably needs to win at least one of these and winning both should all but guarantee their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
In my mind, the SEC is looking like a solid four team league this year with the possibility for a few other teams to either join those four or replace one of them if they were to slip up in conference play. As I see it, there are two teams that still have a good enough non-conference resume so far that they’ll only need to finish near the top of the SEC to stay on the right side of the bubble.
Arkansas has two pretty good wins over UT-Arlington and Houston with just a loss to an improving Minnesota team in their only road game. Arkansas just has games against decent Texas and Oklahoma State teams to bolster their non-conference resume, but where the Razorbacks stand now, unless they finish near the very top of the SEC standings with 12 or more conference wins, I think they could find themselves in the same position as South Carolina last year with a non-conference schedule that causes them to come up just short.
Auburn on the other hand was doing well for themselves, up until Monday night. Auburn already has a big win over a top 30 Texas Tech team in Cancun where the Tigers also lost to a very good Purdue team. Now, with a really bad loss to Boston College on Monday, Auburn has made their climb to the NCAA Tournament this season much steeper. Auburn still has three good opportunities against Oklahoma, UConn, and TCU away from home. Auburn has to win at least two of those games and both of their other non-conference games. Even with two wins in those three games the Tigers will need to win 11 or more SEC games to squeak into the NCAA Tournament.
So up to this point, if you’re still reading, hopefully I’ve convinced you that the sky has not completely fallen on the SEC as a basketball conference.
Even after those six teams, the next few teams I think can still play themselves into the NCAA Tournament with really good performances in SEC play.
Alabama has yet to lose a bad game, but on the other hand they also don’t have any good wins. Georgia is in a similar boat but their losses are slightly better than Alabama’s and they still have one less loss overall and a shot at a Texas team that Alabama failed to beat. Tennessee, at 4-4, just like Alabama also doesn’t have any good wins and they’re only bad loss is to Chattanooga in the very first game of the season but the Mocs could continue to win to make that look loss look better.
Ole Miss is a weird team so far to me. Their best win is against a top 100 Memphis team and they’re only bad loss at the moment was to Middle Tennessee who could very well end up being a good loss if the Blue Raiders keep knocking off Power 6 teams. Ole Miss is probably on the outside at this point, but they still get a really big game against Baylor in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Aside from that, Ole Miss needs another typical Andy Kennedy level overachievement in the SEC. DeAndre Burnett has me convinced that Ole Miss might not be as bad as I originally thought, but with their resume so far the Rebels probably need to win 13 or so SEC games or get multiple wins over the top teams in the league.
That leaves Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Missouri who are pretty much already eliminated from a spot in the NCAA Tournament unless they make a truly miraculous run through the SEC or the SEC Tournament. By miraculous, I mean they’ll have to win 14+ games in the SEC or win the entire SEC Tournament to get the league’s automatic bid.
In conclusion, I still think the SEC is most likely a four bid league with five being a reasonable alternative still. There are four teams clearly at the top of the league with two or three teams that could make their way into that top group with a few more wins. Only three teams are pretty much eliminated at this point and that’s a decent sign for the league.
There’s no way that I can claim the SEC is a good basketball league, especially after another typical weekend like this past one. However, the league is not in as bad of shape as some seem to make it out to be and as a whole the basketball teams in this conference are definitely headed in the right direction with a big jump expected next season.