In the end, the Southeastern Conference lived down to its reputation once again. The NCAA Tournament selection committee looked at the league’s #7 RPI rank among conferences and punished the league accordingly. Florida was handed the overall #1 seed in the tourney but Kentucky was arguably under-seeded and Tennessee was thisclose to not even receiving a bid.
Now, we just hate to say “told ya so,” but… told ya so. Below are a few of our resume breakdowns from throughout the regular season. While Joe Lunardi and ESPN’s Bracketology page had the league with five or even six teams in the dance for much of the season, our high-water mark was four. And for the vast majority of the season we focused on three, stating on numerous occasions that only two teams clearly deserved bids at all:
1/6/14: Six NCAA Bids For The SEC? Looks Like Three Or Four To Us
1/27/14: The SEC A Two-Bid League? Latest Resumes Show 7 Fighting for Bid #3
2/10/14: The SEC Still Looks Shaky When It Comes To NCAA Tournament Bids
3/10/14: Two Teams In, 12 Remaining SEC Teams Battling For One Bid (Probably)
We show you this not to rain on Lunardi’s parade, but to remind you that we’re typically pretty good judges of what the SEC’s NCAA prospects are long before Lunardi’s calculator arrives at the same conclusion (his last report correctly projected Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in the dance).
The best example of the committee’s disdain for the SEC this season is Tennessee. The Volunteers finished with RPI #41 and a strength of schedule ranked 22nd best in the country. The Vols won five of their last six (never even trailing in those five wins). Four of their 12 losses this season came to teams that wound up with 1 seeds in the tourney (three to Florida, one at Wichita State). Three other Vol losses came to NCAA Tournament teams Xavier, NC State and Kentucky. The Vols spanked ACC regular-season and tournament champion Virginia in December.
All that and Tennessee still landed in a play-in game, one of the last four teams to make the field at all (along with Xavier and NC State, ironically).
So how have previous RPI #41 teams been seeded? According to the NCAA’s own RPI archives for previous Selection Sundays, like this:
Temple was a 9 seed last season. Xavier was a 10 seed in 2012. Richmond was a 12 seed (and a conference tournament winner) in 2011. Washington was an 11 seed in 2010. Texas was a 7 seed in 2009. And Texas A&M was a 9 seed in 2008.
None of those squads were forced to play in a First Four game (they’ve only been around for the last three tourneys), and most of those teams were seeded higher than Tennessee. Some much higher.
Is that a sign of disrespect toward Cuonzo Martin’s squad? No, it’s a sign of disrespect toward the Southeastern Conference.
When you struggle outside the league — as many SEC teams did this year — it’s going to come back to bite the whole league in March. And when you schedule laughably bad non-conference games — as many SEC teams did this year — that will also come back to bite the conference in March.
This year, the SEC gave several teams a pass on their non-conference slates because it didn’t want to cost its schools money by forcing them to cancel games that were already on the books and contracted. Expect the conference office to be a bit more forceful in its scheduling demands for 2014-15, though Alabama proved that just scheduling better foes guarantees very little. Anthony Grant’s team played Oklahoma, Duke, Wichita State, Xavier and UCLA in November and December. They won none of those games. So that doesn’t help the SEC’s RPI much more than scheduling five creampuffs would have.
The real fix for SEC basketball is an overall, league-wide upgrade in facilities and coaches. That’s the only way the SEC will ever be able to build itself back up in hoops. That’s the only way SEC teams can go outside the league footprint to recruit successfully — which is a necessity in basketball.
Until SEC schools start throwing more money at the problem the league will continue to suffer on Selection Sunday. This marks the third NCAA Tournament since 2009 in which the league only landed three teams in the field. That didn’t happen once from 1991 through 2009. It’s time to fix the problem by upgrading facilities and tossing big bucks at proven coaches. But there’s a catch. With the league struggling for NCAA Tournament respect, most of those proven coaches might not want to climb on board Mike Slive’s ship.
Below is a look at all seven SEC teams set to play basketball this week and their paths to the Final Fours of the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament…
SEC in the NCAA
1 Florida vs 16 Albany or 16 Mount St. Mary’s
March 20th, South Region
Next Possible Foes: 8 Colorado or 9 Pittsburgh
Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 8 Colorado, 4 UCLA, 2 Kansas
8 Kentucky vs 9 Kansas State
March 21st, Midwest Region
Next Possible Foes: 1 Wichita State or 16 Cal-Poly or 16 Texas Southern
Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 1 Wichita State, 4 Louisville, 2 Michigan
11 Tennessee vs 11 Iowa (First Four, Play-In Game)
March 19th, Midwest Region
Next Possible Foe: 6 UMass
Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 6 UMass, 3 Duke, 2 Michigan, 1 Wichita State
SEC in the NIT
3 Arkansas vs 6 Indiana State
Next Possible Foes: 2 California or 7 Utah Valley State
Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 2 California, 1 SMU
4 San Francisco vs 5 LSU
Next Possible Foes: 1 SMU or 8 UC-Irvine
Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 1 SMU, 2 California
2 Missouri vs 7 Davidson
Next Possible Foes: 3 Southern Miss or 6 Toledo
Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 3 Southern Miss, 1 Minnesota
2 Georgia vs 7 Vermont
Next Possible Foes: 3 Louisiana Tech or 6 Iona
Top-Seeded Path to Final Four: 3 Louisiana Tech, 1 Florida State