With only 4 teams in your serious tournament discussion, and two of them being expansion teams, you have to be happy about that expansion. What would SEC hoops be without those two squads?
SEC fans, be glad the NCAA Tournament selection committee doesn’t convene for another 50 days or so. Your favorite conference — a league filled with young players and new coaches — simply isn’t very good this season. Currently the SEC ranks just eighth among all conferences in RPI (behind the Big Ten, Mountain West, Big East, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, and Atlantic 10).
You can argue if you like, but Mike Slive’s league has taken a significant step backward from last year. And last year the league only landed four bids (though two teams reached the Elite Eight and one cut down the nets as champs). So if you bet on March Madness, know that you likely won’t have very many SEC teams to support in this year’s field. In fact, we believe the SEC would get no more than three bids if those invitations were extended today.
That’s certainly not what the folks in Birmingham, Alabama had in mind when they expanded the league to 14 schools.
Only three SEC teams are currently rated inside the RPI top 50. If you’re not in the RPI top 50, your basketball court is made of thin ice, not hard wood. With 31 conference-winners grabbing automatic bids to the NCAA tourney, there are only 37 at-large berths available. With every regular-season champion’s loss in a conference tourney, the number of at-large bids dwindles further.
As of this Wednesday morning, Florida (RPI #6), Missouri (RPI #27), and Ole Miss (RPI #30) should feel good about their NCAA prospects. How Frank Haith and Missouri deal with the NCAA cloud currently hanging over the them is anyone’s guess, but for now, they’d at least be in the Big Dance.
That’s it for sure things.
Alabama came from behind at home last night to topple Kentucky, which is a step in the right direction. Anthony Grant’s squad is now up to #51 in the RPI and has won four consecutive games. Keep that up and Bama might battle its way into the field as many had predicted before the season.
But then there’s Kentucky. The Wildcats simply aren’t an NCAA Tournament team at the moment.
While it made Kentucky fans mad to read it, we’ve written for some time that John Calipari would eventually cobble together a squad that lacked chemistry and cohesiveness. He’s done a remarkable job in three years of turning one-and-done stars into one-for-all, all-for-one teams. But when you tear down the house and rebuild it every single season, sooner or later you’re going to run out of mortar or get a batch of bad bricks.
The odds are still in Kentucky’s favor that with all those talented players they will eventually string together some sort of win streak in an unusually weak SEC. But at 3-2 in the league, 12-6 overall, and lugging around the sixth best RPI in the league, it’s fair to ask when such a run might start.
Currently #60 in the RPI, UK is 0-3 versus the RPI top 50. Worse, the Cats are just 1-6 against RPI top 100 teams. Their best win came against Maryland (RPI #54) in their season-opener. Their next best win? A homecourt victory over Tennessee (RPI #102).
Barring a strong finish, UK has an NIT resume, not an NCAA resume. And for those who think Calipari’s Wildcats will get the benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday simply because of the name on the front of their jerseys… think again. North Carolina failed to make the NCAA field in 2010, 2003 and 2002. Indiana has missed the tourney in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2005 and 2004. UCLA failed to get in last year, in 2010, in 2004, and in 2003. There’s no guarantee that Kentucky will land an NCAA tourney invitation just because it is “Kentucky.”
That brings us to Texas A&M which is for now the only other SEC team with even a shot at grabbing an at-large bid. The Aggies are #57 in the latest RPI ratings and they are 4-4 versus RPI top 100 squads. But they’ve lost two games in a row including a one-point defeat on Saturday to fellow bubble-team Alabama. The Aggies are also chained to a resume-killing loss to Southern University back in December.
Aside from Florida living up to expectations and Ole Miss exceeding them, there’s reason for worry all across the league on this late-January day. Missouri has a major distraction with which to deal. Everyone else is on the NCAA Tournament bubble. At best.
While the SEC continues to dominate the college football world, the league remains woefully inconsistent — as a whole — when it comes to hoops. Not even a national title by Kentucky last season seems to have changed that fact.