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Two Teams In, 12 Remaining SEC Teams Battling For One Bid (Probably)

gfx-by-the-numbersWith a perfect 18-0 conference mark and the nation’s #2 RPI, Florida should be locked in as a #1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.  And despite recent struggles, Kentucky — #20 in the RPI — is also a gimme when it comes to this year’s at-large bids.

As for the rest of the league?  There’s still work to do.

Tennessee has worked its way to the top of the SEC’s at-large hopefuls, but the Vols still probably need one more win in Atlanta to feel confident.  Missouri’s chances have taken a hit (after a blowout loss at Tennessee) as have Arkansas’ hopes (after a blowout loss at Alabama).  Everyone else will likely need an SEC Tournament title if they’re to reach the NCAAs.

Ah, but would an upset winner in the Georgia Dome give the SEC a fourth team in the dance or would that Cinderella simply steal the spot of a bubble team like Tennessee?  With the SEC’s conference RPI still around seventh, we’re guessing an unexpected champ like Georgia (2008) or Ole Miss (2013) would replace Tennessee (or Missouri or Arkansas) as the league’s third team in the tourney.

As we’ve shown you previously, only 15 of the 111 at-large bids handed out since the field expanded to 68 teams have gone to teams with an RPI rank between 40 and 49.  Only 11 of 111 have gone to teams ranked between 50 and 59.  And only three have gone to teams with RPI ranks over 60.  So below we’ll look at only those SEC squads with RPI rankings in the 40s, 50s and low-60s.  That’s only three teams, folks — the Vols, the Mizzou Tigers, and the Razorbacks.

 

  School   Tennessee   Missouri   Arkansas
  Record   19-11   21-10   21-10
  SEC Record   11-7   9-9   10-8
  RPI Rank   44   50   62
  SOS Rank   24   74   82
  Avg RPI Wins   140.2   144.0   158.1
  Avg RPI Losses   62.9   64.8   61.2
  N-Conf Record   8-4   12-1   11-2
  N-Conf Avg RPI   131.8   153.3   180.1
  Road Record   4-7   3-7   3-6
  Vs RPI 1-50   2-5   2-3   4-5
  Vs RPI 51-100   5-3   5-5   4-3
  Vs RPI 101-200   8-3   9-2   6-2
  Vs RPI 201+   4-0   5-0   7-0

 

As you can see, Tennessee has a clear advantage over its league rivals when it comes to the numbers that appear on the selection committee’s team sheets.  About the only place where the Vols lag behind is in non-conference record, but the Tigers and Hogs played easier non-conference slates.

Pre-Atlanta, we believe any at-large bid going to the Southeastern Conference would go to Tennessee.

If the league were to get a fourth at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, we — unlike most bracketologists out there — believe Mizzou would be in line for that berth before Arkansas.  The Tigers beat the Razorbacks in both of their head-to-head matchups and they currently hold advantages in RPI, strength of schedule, and non-conference strength of schedule.  The Tigers are 7-8 versus top 100 foes while Arkansas is 8-8 (albeit with two more wins versus top 50 squads).

At the moment, we don’t see the SEC landing four at-large bids.  And we don’t picture Tennessee as a lock for the tourney, either.  So who needs to do what in Atlanta?

On Thursday, both Missouri and Arkansas will be in action.  The #8 seed Tigers will open the day with a 1pm ET battle with #9 seed Texas A&M.  The Aggies are RPI 141.  A loss would snuff out Mizzou’s hopes once and for all.  To merit discussion on Selection Sunday, Frank Haith’s team will need to get past A&M and into Saturday’s semifinals versus top-seeded Florida.  Upset the Gators and Missouri’s chances would skyrocket.  Lose to the Gators in a good game and it could still aid the Tigers’ overall numbers.

At about 3:30pm ET on Thursday, #5 seed Arkansas will face the winner of Wednesday night’s Auburn (RPI 176) versus South Carolina (RPI 157) game.  The Hogs won’t be helped by playing a squad with such a shoddy RPI.  A win is a must.  With a win, the Razorbacks would get a head-to-head shot at #4 seed — and bubble rival — Tennessee on Friday afternoon.  UT gets one of four double-byes in this year’s tourney.  A matchup between the Vols and Hogs could serve as a de facto NCAA Tournament play-in game.

Tennessee, then Missouri, then Arkansas.

Based on the numbers used by the selection committee as well as the history of at-large bids handed out over the past three seasons, that’s how we rank the SEC’s few remaining NCAA Tournament hopefuls.  But there’s still work to be done this week before any of those teams breathe a sigh of relief.

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Reputation Is Everything For The SEC… In Football And In Basketball

gfx - honest opinion“Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

You’ll find that line in the King James Version of the Gospel of Matthew.  You might know it better in its more colloquial form: “live by the sword, die by the sword.”  And when it comes to the SEC’s two revenue sports, you can change the word “sword” to “reputation.”

With the SEC landing just three NCAA Tournament bids this year, there are plenty of league coaches talking about what went wrong:

 

Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin: “It’s almost like a mid-major mentality in this league, when you’ve got your second-place team that doesn’t get in the NCAA Tournament.  This is a BCS league.  It’s one of the best leagues in America.  That shouldn’t happen.”

 

Kentucky’s John Calipari:  “(One of the) things that hurt us was the impression the league’s down.  Everyone seems to say it.  That’s why I tell the coaches we’ve got to brag about each other.  We’ve got to set that straight.”

 

Florida’s Billy Donovan:  “When you have coaching changes, when you have player turnover, when you have departures of really good players, it’s going to take some time.  The unfortunate part with all those transitions going on is you really pay the price in November. … What happens is your league gets labeled in November and December.”

 

But as the Associated Press points out, five SEC teams ranked lower than #230 in non-conference strength of schedule.  Those teams that did play tough non-conference competition lost twice as many games as they won.  SEC members went a combined 15-33 against the other five major conferences this year.

Coaches can try to spin it, but the Southeastern Conference was down this year and everyone knows it.  Its reputation was deserved this year, but Martin, Calipari and Donovan are still correct in suggesting that reputation matters on Selection Sunday.

We just find it ironic that the SEC is the league moaning about reputation.

Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Hoops: Kentucky Falls To Georgia, Saturday Game Against Florida Looms Large

basketballsGeorgia 72 – Kentucky 62.  Video Highlights

1. Season-high 10,062 fans turn out at Stegeman Coliseum for Senior Night.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leads the Bulldogs with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

2. First loss for Kentucky to a team outside the RPI top 100.  John Calipari: “I am so disappointed in the job I’ve done with this team.”

3. What’s next for Kentucky? “Beat Florida, don’t suffer a bad loss in the SEC tournament, and lace up those dancing shoes.”

4. “Kentucky absolutely needs to beat the Gators, or it will likely be NIT-bound come Selection Sunday.”

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Injury To UK’s Noel Could Hurt All SEC Teams’ Tourney Hopes

nerlens-noel-mugThe season-ending ACL tear suffered by Nerlens Noel on Tuesday has the sports world again debating whether players should be able to jump straight into the NBA from high school.  (Sorry, but just about every company has some form of hiring requirements, whether it’s a college degree or a minimum age.  The NBA can set its own rules.)

Noel’s injury also has many college basketball writers predicting doom for Kentucky’s Wildcats.  (They weren’t a great team before, but they at least had potential to make a deep tourney run.  Now that’ll be much tougher.)

But there’s one nugget that hasn’t been discussed — how Noel’s injury will hurt the SEC’s other tourney hopefuls.  Granted, there aren’t many SEC teams inside the NCAA Tournament bubble in the first place.

Florida is a lock.  Missouri will be in barring a collapse.  Ole Miss is playing its way out of the tourney by losing four of its last five in a weak SEC.  Alabama and Texas A&M are long shots at best.

Kentucky looks like a tourney team — barely — based on its current numbers: an RPI of 43, a record of 17-7.  Trouble is, if UK starts losing without Noel, the Cats’ RPI will start to fall.  And if Kentucky’s RPI falls, the RPI numbers for all the SEC’s teams will fall right along with it.  A win over a Kentucky team with an RPI of 43 is one thing.  A win over a Kentucky team with an RPI of 53 or 63 is another.

So in case the non-Wildcat fans out there needed another reason to feel bad about the big man’s injury… there you have it.  Noel’s injury could hurt your team on Selection Sunday, too.

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Bama Falls In NIT Finals

Alabama’s NIT run came to a sad end last night in a 66-57 loss to Wichita State in the tournament finals.  The Tide’s shots didn’t fall and once again JaMychal Green found himself in foul trouble.  This time, Bama couldn’t find a work-around.

“We lost to a better team today,” Anthony Grant said.  “I can live with that.  Hopefully, this experience will makes us better.”  He added: “Their depth, physicality and skill were better than ours today.  They were a better team today, but it take nothing away from the season our team had.  It’s a disappointment for our seniors, but for our younger players, it’s a building block.”

After starting the season 5-6, the Crimson Tide lost just six games in their final 26 contests.  In reach the NIT finals they also concluded a unbeaten season at Coleman Coliseum. 

Alabama’s assistants earned bonuses for their work in the NIT.  Green, Trevor Relford made the NIT’s all-tournament team.  Bama’s players will also take away some great memories from their trip to New York and Madison Square Garden.

Obviously, the NCAA Tournament is every team’s goal.  Not getting a bid on Selection Sunday was a bitter disappointment from Grant’s team.  But the coach was able to focus his team and take advantage of the opportunity they were given, albeit in the NIT. 

Expectations for 2011-12 will be higher.  And the offseason work in Tuscaloosa will likely include some form of raise or extension for the Tide’s popular new coach.

Not bad for a team off the season heading in a totally different direction.

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How The NCAA Tournament Bracket Should Really Look?

As it’s about to slide to one of our many backpages, we wanted to remind folks of the RPI-based tournament bracket we put forth for your perusement last night.

In it, we took the human element out of the NCAA Tournament selection process and filled this year’s bracket with only conference tournament winners (automatic bids) and the top remaining teams in the RPI (at-large bids).

We even turned the seeding process over to the computer and used a simple S-curve to divy up the teams and create the matchups.

You can eye the silicon-chip-friendly bracket right here. 

Personally, we like the human touch — and yes, we enjoyed the music of Rick Springfield in our youth — when it comes to tourney selection.  But if the NCAA could arrive at a formula for picking and seeding teams, it might quiet some of the complaints that arise each year following Selection Sunday.  That’s the theory anyway.  We think folks would just complain about the formula instead.

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The Folks In Alabama Want More Respect For Tide Basketball

The fact that Alabama (18-8, 10-2) isn’t ranked in either major poll is making news in the Heart of Dixie today.  The question is: Why?

In football, poll rankings matter at the very top.  Find yourself ranked #1 or #2 and you’ll get a chance to play for the BCS championship.  But in basketball, the major polls have no meaning.  Bupkes.

When this year’s tournament field is announced, grab a list of the latest basketball polls and compare teams’ rankings to their seedings.  They don’t often match up.  You may see a team ranked #13 land a #2 seed.  You may see a team ranked #15 get saddled with a #6 seed.  

The NCAA has been conducting “Here’s how we pick the field” mock selection scenarios for several seasons now.  They just completed one last week.  Ever heard anyone who’s gone through the process discuss the USA Today/Coaches’ Poll or the AP Poll?  Nope.  RPI rankings matter on Selection Sunday, polls do not.

For that reason, it’s probably wise for Anthony Grant to keep making comments like this one:  “We haven’t all year paid much attention to the rankings or anything else, other than just controlling the things that we can control.”

Good for him.  Fretting the views of pollsters would only be a waste of time.  You listening, Tide fans?

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