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SEC Hoops: The Road To March Madness

road-thru-hillsSo much to do, so little time.

There are only 15 days remaining in the SEC basketball season and the list of squads you can now pencil into the NCAA Tournament is short.  Very short.

After a devastating loss to South Carolina on Wednesday, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he was glad the selection committee wasn’t yet ready to hand out bids.  There was still time, in his view, to improve the Rebels’ resume.  That sounds good, but the reality is there just aren’t enough good SEC teams to help Mississippi’s RPI or strength of schedule.  And the same goes for most other SEC bubble teams.

Below, we look at the league’s tournament resumes and at the games remaining on each school’s schedule.  Okay, we don’t look at every school.  We ignore the teams we classify as being on the Road To Nowhere — Vanderbilt (10-15, RPI 142), South Carolina (13-13, RPI 196), Auburn (9-17, RPI 216) and Mississippi State (7-18, RPI 232).  Sorry, folks, but those schools can win out and still not even make the NIT.  (Remember that the NIT — since the NCAA took it over — is a much more selective tourney.)

We’ll start with a look at the five SEC schools who are probably on the Road To The NIT:


  RPI   65   76   77   104   122
  SOS   41   60   82   133   47
  Vs Div I   15-10   16-10   17-9   15-9   12-14
  Vs SEC   7-6   6-7   8-5   6-7   6-7
  Vs RPI 1-50   2-4   2-4   3-3   1-4   0-6
  Vs RPI 51-100   3-5   5-1   2-4   2-2   4-3
  Vs RPI 200+   4-0   8-0   9-0   8-1   4-1
  Devastating Loss   None   None   None   Auburn 216   Youngstown St. 186
  This Weekend   at A&M 76   UT 65   at UF 4   ALA 60   USC 196
  Midweek   UF 4   at UM 56   at LSU 104   ARK 77   at VU 144
  Next Weekend   at UGA 122   USC 196   UK 49   at MU 34   UT 65
  Midweek   at AUB 216   LSU 104   at MU 34   at A&M 76   UK 49
  Final Weekend   MU 34   at ARK 77   A&M 76   UM 56   at ALA 60


Tennessee, The Good:  The Volunteers have won four straight and are playing their best basketball of the season.  Their schedule ranks #41 in the country which is pretty solid considering there are 300+ teams playing D-I basketball.

Tennessee, The Bad:  Unfortunately for the Vols, teams actually need to win some of those tough games on the schedule.  UT is just 5-9 against RPI top 100 teams.

Tennessee, The Verdict:  They do have three top 100 teams left on the schedule (two in the top 50) and if they win four of their last five and make a deep run into the SEC tourney, they could work their way onto the NCAA bubble.  But the Vols — if they keep playing well — are likely NIT-bound.

Texas A&M, The Good:  The Aggies’ strength of schedule isn’t bad.  Billy Kennedy’s team also boasts seven wins over RPI top 100 clubs.

Texas A&M, The Bad:  A&M might have too many games against teams outside the RPI top 200 for a bubble team.  They also don’t have a single remaining game against a top 50 club to help their own RPI and SOS.

Texas A&M, The Verdict:  The Aggies are way too inconsistent to predict a strong finish.  They haven’t won back-to-back games since January 9th and 12th.  The NIT is probably the best case scenario.  The problem is there are a number of SEC clubs with better resumes that could be on the NIT’s wish list ahead of A&M.

Arkansas, The Good:  The Razorbacks boast a good overall record and have three signature wins over Missouri (34), Oklahoma (18), and Florida (4).  Four of the Hogs’ last five games are against RPI top 100 teams.

Arkansas, The Bad:  All those signature wins came at home where Arkansas is 16-1.  They’re just 1-6 on the road with their only win coming over Auburn (216).  Also, Missouri and Florida will both host the Hogs in the coming days with a chance to negate Arkansas’ earlier wins.

Arkansas, The Verdict:  If Mike Anderson’s team can beat Kentucky and Texas A&M home, LSU on the road, and then split their road games at Mizzou and Florida they’d have a pretty good NCAA resume.  Their RPI would likely climb considerably as well.  But that’s a lot to accomplish for a team with only one road win.

LSU, The Good:  Louisiana State has won five of its last seven games including a victory of Missouri (34).  The Tigers’ five remaining games are all against RPI top 100 foes.  So there’s room for improvement.

LSU, The Bad:  But with an RPI of 104, too much improvement is necessary.  And a loss to Auburn (216) will be hard for either selection committee to ignore.

LSU, The Verdict:  Win out and we can talk.  For now, the road to postseason play looks a tad too steep for LSU.  A four-game January losing streak (including losses to Auburn, Carolina, and Georgia) will likely be the Tigers’ undoing.

Georgia, The Good:  The good.  The good.  Let’s see… nope, can’t come up with much.  Wait.  The Dawgs’ have a top 50 strength of schedule.  So there’s that.

Georgia, The Bad:  There’s a horrible loss to Youngstown State, UGA’s current three-game losing streak, and that RPI of 122.  The list goes on.

Georgia, The Verdict:  We were kind to include Mark Fox’s team in this category at all.  If Georgia somehow wins out and then makes a lengthy run in the SEC Tournament then maybe — maybe — the Bulldogs could sneak into the NIT.


Now let’s examine the five SEC teams who hope they’re on the Road To The NCAA Tournament:


  RPI   4   34   49   56   60
  SOS   21   52   53   118   77
  Vs Div I   21-4   19-7   18-8   19-7   17-8
  Vs SEC   11-2   8-5   9-4   8-5   10-3
  Vs RPI 1-50   5-3   3-3   0-4   1-4   1-3
  Vs RPI 51-100   4-1   5-3   4-4   4-2   5-1
  Vs RPI 200+   5-0   8-0   7-0   9-0   4-1
  Devastating Loss   None   None   None   None   Auburn 216
  This Weekend   ARK 77   at UK 49   MU 34   AUB 216   at LSU 104
  Midweek   at UT 65   at USC 196   MSU 232   A&M 76   AUB 216
  Next Weekend   ALA 60   LSU 104   at ARK 77   at MSU 232   at UF 4
  Midweek   VU 144   ARK 77   at UGA 122   ALA 60   at UM 56
  Final Weekend   at UK 49   at UT 65   UF 4   at LSU 104   UGA 122


Florida, The Good:  Just about everything.

Florida, The Bad:  After opening SEC play 8-0, the Gators are just 3-2 in their five games.  And, yes, we’re having to pick some nits on this one.

Florida, The Verdict:  The Gators are playing for a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney.  Unfortunately, the weakness of the SEC might prevent them from landing such a seed even if they win out in the regular season.

Missouri, The Good:  Most everything on Mizzou’s resume appears NCAA-ready.  The Tigers still have three opportunities to collect some extra road wins against struggling Kentucky, bad South Carolina, and improving Tennessee.

Missouri, The Bad:  Did we allude to the fact the Tigers are just 1-6 on the road?  To be fair, however, Frank Haith’s team lost at Arkansas by two, at Texas A&M by two, at LSU by three, and at UCLA (39) by three.  This isn’t a terrible road team.

Missouri, The Verdict:  Barring a complete collapse, Missouri will get an invitation to the Big Dance.

Kentucky, The Good:  UK’s RPI and SOS are still bubble-type numbers.  And with games remaining against Missouri, Arkansas (on the road), and Florida, the Wildcats can seize control of their own destiny.

Kentucky, The Bad:  Obviously, losing Nerlens Noel is UK’s biggest issue.  His departure renders much of the work Kentucky did prior to his injury moot.  And the games since his injury haven’t been pretty.  Florida crushed John Calipari’s team by 17 the night Noel went down.  Tennessee then blasted UK by 30.  On Wednesday, the Cats struggled to get past Vanderbilt (144) at in Lexington.

Kentucky, The Verdict:  If the Wildcats take care of business down the stretch, they could still force their way into the NCAA tourney.  But do you see the Kentucky team of the past two weeks actually taking care of business down the stretch?  This one’s 50/50 and don’t expect the NCAA to take Kentucky just for its name.  North Carolina, Indiana, and UCLA have all been NIT-ing in recent years.

Ole Miss, The Good:  This list just keeps getting shorter and shorter.  The Rebels’ RPI is still within the NCAA’s usual bubble zone.  They’re 19-7 overall record looks pretty good at first glance, too.

Ole Miss, The Bad:  The second glance.  UM’s strength of schedule is 118 and it’s hard to believe that’s good enough for a bubble team.  Ole Miss has played nine teams outside the RPI top 200!  The Rebels are also just 1-4 against RPI top 50 foes and they have no way of improving that mark in the next two weeks as their schedule is littered with the likes of LSU (104), Auburn (216), and Mississippi State (232).

Ole Miss, The Verdict:  Ole Miss needs to win out.  The Rebs have lost five of their last seven after a gangbusters 6-0 start in league play and a 17-2 start overall.  If we were putting money on it, we’d bet that Andy Kennedy’s team barely misses the NCAA cut once again.

Alabama, The Good:  Anthony Grant’s team is 13-3 with Andrew Steele healthy and on the floor.  Consider this the anti-Noel factor.  Bama’s 2-5 December stretch against non-conference foes might not look as bad considering Steele missed all of those games with hernia surgery.

Alabama, The Bad:  Sadly for Bama and Steele, he’s now got a lingering ankle problem that caused him to miss the Tide’s last two wins and it probably won’t be completely healed until season’s end.  Will those facts change the way the selection committee looks at Alabama?

Alabama, The Verdict:  The Crimson Tide has to finish strong.  They’re 10-3 in the SEC and they still have games remaining against Florida (which could help their RPI) and Ole Miss (which could slide them past the Rebels on the NCAA dance card).  What they cannot afford are losses to LSU (104), Georgia (122), or Auburn again (216).


Our tourney projection for 2/22/13…

Florida, Missouri, and Alabama make the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Arkansas grab invites to the NIT.



With the sec weak, if Florida was to get knocked out early, It could give a hot team like Tennessee a shot at the Conference Tournament Championship.


 @JeffMcCartney Many times the favorite will phone it in and wait for the big tournament. Remember a few years ago when Not even on the bubble Georgia won the tournament.



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