Seventeen days from today — on St. Patrick’s Day — the SEC Tournament champion will be crowned and the NCAA Tournament field will be set and seeded. When it comes to the league tourney, everyone’s got a shot to cut down the nets and guarantee themselves a little March Madness.
That’s the dream anyway. Georgia lived it in 2008. The Bulldogs entered the tourney with a 13-16 record (4-12 in the SEC). They managed to survive a tornado at the Georgia Dome, a pair of overtime thrillers, and having to play two games in one day to win the whole darn mess and secure an NCAA tourney berth.
Perhaps someone can find a little luck this year, too. As we said, the tourney ends on St. Patrick’s Day.
But barring miracles and luck in Nashville, the SEC is chugging toward Selection Sunday with just six teams still in the mix. And that’s being generous. Very generous. Below are those six squads, their resumes, and what they still have left on their schedules.
Please remember that with 31 automatic bids being handed out, only 37 at-large bids exist. So that RPI had better look pretty good come the third Sunday in March.
|Vs Div I||22-5||20-8||20-8||17-10||21-7||18-9|
|Vs RPI 1-50||5-3||3-4||1-4||3-4||1-4||1-2|
|Vs RPI 51-100||6-2||4-4||5-4||5-5||4-2||6-3|
|Vs RPI 200+||7-0||10-0||10-0||5-0||10-1||6-1|
|Vs Non-Conf (Away)||4-2||3-2||1-3||2-3||3-2||3-2|
|Avg RPI Win||127.7||164.4||161.3||142.3||173.9||150.2|
|Avg RPI Loss||42.8||53.2||40.2||56.8||68.1||101.0|
|Devastating Losses||None||None||None||None||@USC 202||@AUB 218|
|This Weekend||ALA 63||LSU 92||@ARK 89||@UGA 143||@MSU 238||@UF 5|
|Midweek||VU 132||ARK 89||@UGA 143||@AUB 218||ALA 63||@UM 55|
|Final Weekend||@UK 50||@UT 53||UF 5||MU 36||@LSU 17-9||UGA 143|
|Current Streak||Lost 1||Won 1||Won 3||Won 6||Won 2||Won 1|
After five years of correctly predicting the SEC’s number of NCAA tourney bids, we’ve come to realize that it’s all about the math. Yes, SEC bubble teams have to pray Cinderellas in other leagues don’t win their leagues. And, sure, there are rare exceptions to the usual math-based rules. But there’s a reason so many people can come close to predicting the exact field every year — the selection process is math driven.
Keep reading for some interesting facts on just how math-based-centric the process really is…
* Only four teams with RPI inside the top 30 have failed to grab an at-large bid since 1991.
* Since 1995 only one team from a “big six” conference (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, Big East) has failed to make the field with an RPI inside the top 40 (Cincinnati in 2006).
* Since 1995 only two teams have received an at-large bid with an RPI outside the top 70 (New Mexico in 1999 and Air Force in 2004).
* Since 1995 only 14 teams with RPI outside the top 60 have gained at-large bids (less than one per year).
* From 1995 through 2010, less than 30% of teams with RPI outside the top 30 received at-large bids.
* Conference RPI matters and the SEC is currently ranked either #7 or #8 by all major RPI services.
* The NCAA Selection Committee has downplayed the importance of how a team finishes in the hopes of forcing teams to schedule better in November and December. No longer are NCAA committee members given a sheet that shows a school’s record in its last 10 or 12 games. We include teams’ current streaks in our breakdown because at some point, most committee members will have an idea of who’s hot and who’s not and that could still weigh into their decision whether it’s printed on a piece of paper or not. It just won’t weigh as heavily as it once did.
The past two years — since the NCAA field expanded to 68 — the selection committee has handed out 37 at-large bid per season, 74 overall. Here’s how those bids have broken down:
RPI 1-29 = 40 (54.0%)
RPI 30-39 = 14 (18.9%)
RPI 40-49 = 9 (12.1%)
RPI 50-59 = 8 (10.8%)
RPI 60-69 = 3 (0.4%)
RPI 70+ = 0 (0.0%)
Taking all that information into account, here’s how things would stand for SEC clubs if the tournament field was selected today.
Florida would clearly get a bid. The Gators even have a shot at obtaining a #1 seed if they finish as hot as they started. Now that they’re getting healthy that’s a possibility.
Missouri would be in they tourney as well. They have the record, a good RPI, and a solid strength of schedule number. The average RPI of the teams they’ve beaten isn’t great — and the committee does look at that — but the Tigers would still be safely in the field.
Kentucky is a tough team to gauge due to the injury to Nerlens Noel. The Wildcats have certainly helped their cause by winning three games in a row to suggest, at least, that they’ll be alright without their big man. But that RPI is dicey and so is UK’s 1-4 record verses RPI top 50 teams. Kentucky managed to grab just one non-conference win away from Rupp Arena, as well. On the plus side, look at the average RPI of the teams that have downed the Cats. They don’t have any terrible losses. Overall a team couldn’t be more on the bubble than UK is right now. With three SEC teams in the 50s in RPI, we believe only one would land a bid. As of today, we don’t think that would be Kentucky.
Tennessee — if the season ended today — would get the nod over UK and Ole Miss for the SEC’s third bid. An RPI in the 50s gives them about a 10% chance of grabbing that at-large bid, but they have something going in their favor that the selection committee has traditionally rewarded — a good schedule. Of the three SEC squads in the 50s, UT’s SOS number is easily the highest. They’ve played 17 games against top 100 foes. They’ve played half as many teams outside the top 200 as Kentucky and Ole Miss. Also, their non-conference strength of schedule is second only to Florida’s. Now, the committee won’t be weighing SEC resumes against one another as we are here, but knowing how much attention that group normally pays to strength of schedule measures (here’s a look at a sample team sheet the committee uses), we think the Volunteers have the third best SEC resume. As of today.
Ole Miss is the anti-Tennessee. They started hot and cooled off (though the committee doesn’t specifically look at that). Their schedule is weak. In fact, two of their best wins came in head-to-head matchups against the Vols, which could further muddy the waters. But the Rebels have some resume-killing stats to overcome: RPI in the 50s, SOS of 123, 1-4 versus top 50 teams, 11 games against teams 200+, a non-conference SOS of nearly 300 (!), and the teams they’ve beaten have an average RPI rank of just 174. We’ve done this for five years and if the Rebels current resume lands them a tourney bid it would be an absolute first for the SEC. Trust us, if the committee picked teams today, Mississippi would be out.
Alabama would also be DOA despite their current #2 position on the SEC standings board. Three teams with RPI over 60 have made the field the last two years. The Tide’s resume features nothing that screams for the committee to make them the fourth 60+ team. They have a terrible loss to Auburn on their slate. Their strength of schedule is 98. And though their wins have come against some decent foes, the average RPI of the teams they’ve lost to is a staggering 101. As of today, Bama’s got more work to do than any of the squads in the SEC still clinging to hope.
So in order of likelihood, we’ve got Florida and Missouri in the tourney, followed by Tennessee and Kentucky who are very much on the bubble. Ole Miss and Alabama are bringing up the rear. And if bids went out today, we think the league would barely — barely — grab three berths with UT inching past UK based on schedule strength.
But again… that’s… as… of… today.