By rhis time next week the SEC Tournament will be under way in Nashville. Hopefully, by then, we’ll have a clear idea of who’s destined to reach the NCAA tourney and who’s not. As of today, the numbers point us in a certain direction, but the SEC and the overall bubble for this year’s tourney are so weak that it’s still not an open-and-shut case. Normally by this stage of the season it is.
Below is a look at how all the SEC’s teams’ resumes look as of this morning. Amazingly, even with Kentucky’s painful loss to Georgia last night, the Wildcats still have hope. The same is true for three other SEC squads if — big if — they take care of their business, finish the season strong, and get plenty of help from other bubble teams who fall apart late.
At the bottom of this post we’ll give your overall picks for at-large bids as of today.
|Vs Div I||24-5||22-8||20-10||18-11||22-8||18-11||18-10||18-12||17-13||15-15||13-16||14-16||8-21||9-21|
|Vs RPI 1-50||4-3||3-3||1-4||2-3||1-3||0-4||1-4||3-5||2-3||0-6||0-5||0-3||0-5||0-3|
|Losses Vs RPI 100+||0||0||1||2||0||3||1||1||4||5||0||5||2||8|
|Losses Vs RPI 200+||0||0||0||0||2||1||2||1||0||1||1||2||4||1|
|Vs Non-Conf (Away)||4-2||3-2||1-2||2-3||3-2||3-2||1-2||0-3||2-2||0-4||2-4||3-1||1-6||1-4|
|Last 10 Games||7-3||7-3||6-4||7-3||5-5||6-4||7-3||6-4||4-6||6-4||5-5||2-8||1-9||1-9|
* There are about 50 different sources that try to replicate the NCAA’s official RPI formula. The vast majority are similar.
* The information handed out to the NCAA selection committee does not emphasize or list the way a team finishes the season. Each team’s schedule is listed according to wins and losses, so there’s no way to look at schedule from start to finish and determine who’s hot and who’s not. This has been done to make sure teams schedule better non-conference games in November and December. However, the people on that panel must have some knowledge of who is playing well and who isn’t. So we list each school’s record over its final 10 games. It might not be a big factor, but it has to be some factor.
* While the NCAA selection committee says it uses RPI more for seeding than for filling the field, a quick study of the past 10 brackets suggests that just the opposite is true.
* The information provided to the selection committee includes about 15 different ways of looking at strength of schedule. Pay close attention to who’s scheduled well and who hasn’t.
* Rather than teams playing their way into the field, history tells us that most teams — thanks to the math of the RPI and SOS — actually play themselves out of the bracket. For that reason, we’ve put certain “bad” numbers in italics. The more bad numbers, the longer the shot of grabbing an at-large bid.
* Of the 68 invitations that will be extended next Sunday, only 37 of those are at-large bids. You often hear coaches say, “My team is clearly one of the 68 best in the country.” But the reality is, if a team doesn’t grab its league’s automatic bid it must actually be one of the 37 best in the country.
* Since the field expanded to 68 and the number of at-large bids increased to 37 two years ago, the teams finishing between 1-39 in RPI have received 54 of the 74 bids extended. There have been just nine teams with RPI in the 40s who’ve landed at-large bids. Only eight squads ranked in the RPI 50s who’ve been invited. Only three teams in the 60s have made the field. No team with an RPI over 70 has been invited the past two years.
* Since 1995, only two teams with RPI over 70 have been extended invitations.
* Since 1995, only one team from a “big six” conference (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12 and Big East) has failed to make the field with an RPI inside the top 40.
* Since 1991, only four teams with RPI inside the top 30 have failed to land bids.
* Since 1995, only 14 teams outside the RPI top 60 have been granted at-large bids (fewer than one bid per year).
* The SEC’s overall RPI ranks it eighth among all conferences. That’s a very weak number and if this year’s bubble weren’t so soft, several SEC teams would already be out of tourney contention.
So, all that said, who’s in and who’s out?
Florida and Missouri are definitely locks. The Gators’ defense is smothering foes again now that Billy Donovan’s roster is healthy. Mizzou doesn’t have a truly bad number on its entire resume. They’re in.
Kentucky is next in RPI, but the Cats have issues. Including the Florida game in which he was injured, UK is just 3-4 since Nerlens Noel went down. The selection committee might not put a lot of weight on a team’s last 10 games, but it does pay attention to injuries. Kentucky’s losses at Arkansas and at Georgia this week have to have raised questions in committee members’ minds regarding the team’s strength without Noel. While last night’s loss in Athens was the Cats’ first outside the top 100, John Calipari’s team is just 1-4 against top 50 foes. A win over Florida this weekend and a nice tournament run could CAT-apult UK into the field, but as of today, we believe they’d be out of the tourney.
Tennessee’s RPI in the mid-50s has to be a concern. Also, games against Georgia and Auburn in the past week have put a serious dent in the Volunteers’ strength of schedule numbers. Their non-conference SOS has been hurt by the losses this week of teams they played earlier in the season. A week ago, the Vols’ resume looked a lot more solid. As of today, we would have them barely — barely — in the tournament field. But a win over Missouri tomorrow and the avoidance of a flame-out in the SEC tourney are still musts.
Ole Miss’ RPI is on par with Tennessee’s. The Rebels have also bested UT twice in head-to-head matchups. Unfortunately those are just about the Rebs’ two best wins on the season. Every year there are one or two surprises on Selection Sunday. One or two teams get in or are left out when the math suggests otherwise. Mississippi has to pray it’s that team this year because the math for UM is bad. The strength of schedule, the ghastly non-conference strength of schedule, the record versus top 50 RPI teams, two devastating losses to teams outside the top 200. Is Ole Miss one of the 68 best teams in the country? Probably. Are they one of the best 37? That math says absolutely not. Ole Miss fans need to hope their team can grab a road win at LSU, then get hot next week in Nashville, while bubble teams elsewhere all topple.
Alabama’s resume isn’t horrible. Especially considering the fact that several of the Tide’s bad losses came with Andrew Steele was out of action due to hernia surgery. But we’ve already told you how rare it is for teams with RPI over 60 to land at-large bids. And Bama’s RPI is above 60. Like Ole Miss, Anthony Grant’s team needs to finish very, very hot and get a whole lot of help elsewhere.
So, just as we said last Friday: Florida and Missouri are in. Tennessee barely gets the nod over Kentucky, but both could easily miss the tourney altogether. Ole Miss is kaput barring a finish that includes a lot of breaks. Alabama is dead, as well, barring a close that includes even more breaks.