Over the years we at MrSEC.com have become pretty darn good at predicting just which SEC basketball teams will land bids in the NCAA Tournament each March. That’s because a good 95% of the selection process comes down to simple math. A grasp of past history tells us that RPIs between 40 and 50 are bubble teams and that those outside the top 50 are more likely to be left out than let in.
In picking the very last three or four at-large teams, the committee seems to use a different criteria each season. Last year, road wins were the deciding factor. In past years it’s been strength of schedule and top 50 wins. Once a team’s last 12 games were key, but that’s no longer as important as the committee tries to reward teams for scheduling bravely in the early part of the season.
Taking all the usual figures into account — and including the fact that the SEC currently ranks just seventh among conferences in overall RPI — we see the SEC as a three- or four-bid league at best. To be honest, only Florida and Kentucky appear to be locks.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, however, has placed five SEC teams into the field in his latest Bracketology report:
Florida — #1 seed, South, vs #16 seed Davidson in Orlando
Kentucky — #4 seed, Midwest, vs #13 seed Delaware in Orlando
Tennessee — #11 seed, Midwest, vs #6 seed Texas in Milwaukee
LSU — #11 seed, South, vs #11 seed BYU in play-in game
Missouri — #12 seed, East, vs #12 seed Providence in play-in game
But while five are currently in according to ESPN’s bracket guru, Tennessee, LSU and Missouri are all listed as being among the final eight teams into the tourney. Ole Miss is among the first four out.
So while Lunardi lists five in, his views really aren’t that much different from our own: The SEC has just two locks at the moment.
Below is a look at the tourney resumes for Tennessee, Missouri, Ole Miss and LSU. With RPI scores of 80 and higher there’s no point even focusing on Arkansas or Vanderbilt at the moment. While the Vols, Tigers, Rebels and other Tigers have work to do, the Razorbacks and Commodores need miracles.
|Record vs Top 50||2-4||1-2||1-4||3-3|
|Record in True Road Games||2-5||3-4||4-4||2-4|
|Losses Outside Top 100||1||1||1||2|
|Top 50 Games Remaining||3||2||2||2|
|Best Win||20 Virginia||19 UCLA||49 Missouri||12 Kentucky|
|Worst Loss||145 Texas A&M||115 Georgia||168 Miss. State||140 Rhode Island|
Folks, those aren’t very impressive resumes. And while Tennessee’s SOS stands out at the moment, the Vols will face four teams with RPI scores higher than 115 over the final stretch of the season. That will take some of the luster off of its SOS.
Moving from left to right, Tennessee will face Florida at home this week before traveling to Missouri. The Volunteers’ best win to date came over #20 Virginia back in December. A win over the Gators would help matters considerably.
Missouri only has two top 50 games remaining and both are against Tennessee (Saturday in Columbia and then in Knoxville for the regular-season finale). The Tigers have only played three top 50 games to date and lost two of them. A split with UT — at least — is desperately needed by Mizzou. And if one team can sweep the other in these head-to-head games it would be a major boost for the winning squad. Not only would the sweeper bolster its own tournament dossier, but it would also damage punch two big holes in the sweepee’s bubble.
Ole Miss’ 1-4 record against top 50 foes currently serves as an anchor for Andy Kennedy’s team. But the Rebels still have hope. Kentucky (February 18th) and Florida (February 22nd) will both visit Oxford in the coming weeks. Whip one and the resume will improve. Beat both and Ole Miss would likely make a nice jump upward in the RPI rankings.
LSU also has dates remaining with Kentucky (February 22nd) and Florida (March 1st). Unfortunately for Johnny Jones, both of those contests will be played on the road, away from Baton Rouge. Also, like Tennessee, the Tigers’ final weeks will include games with four teams all ranked 115 or higher in the RPI… which certainly won’t help LSU’s strength of schedule score.
All things considered, it appears Tennessee and Missouri will duke it out for the SEC’s third bid. And at MrSEC.com, we still think it’s very iffy that the Southeastern Conference will receive a fourth invitation.