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MrSEC Tourney Watch: Four SEC Teams In, One On The Bubble

Each year here at MrSEC.com, we try to project which SEC teams will make the NCAA Tournament.  As our longtime readers know, we’ve done a darn good job of identifying the haves and have-nots over the years.

That said, Joe Lunardi we ain’t.  ESPN’s bracketologist looks across the nation and studies the numbers for 300+ schools.  We look at the SEC in a vacuum.  But the criteria the selection committee use are pretty standard.  So while Eastern Delaware Tech might lose late and open the door for School X from the SEC, for the most part, we can identify NCAA Tournament teams even without looking at every other team in every other conference.  It’s simply a matter of fitting the profile.

Below you’ll see all the up-to-date data on each SEC hoops squad.  Included are:

 

Record (Conference Record)

RPI rating

Strength of schedule rating

Record versus RPI Top 50 teams

Quality road wins versus RPI Top 50 teams

Bad losses to teams outside the RPI Top 100

 

Over the past few years, the NCAA has opened its doors to journalists to take part in mock selection sessions.  The observations from most of the men and women who’ve gone through the process are similar:

 

* Conference record and overall conference strength don’t matter a whole lot.

* There is no longer any emphasis on how a team finishes.  November and December matter just as much as January and February.

* Strength of schedule, quality road wins, and a team’s record versus RPI Top 50 teams are the three most important criteria used.

 

Are there exceptions?  Sure.  Every year there are one or two teams who don’t fit the profile and that fact sends Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas into orbit.  (As if Team #68 really has that much room to complain.  VCU — which made the Final Four — was last year’s “how’d they get in” team.)

But year-in and year-out — using the data provided below — it’s usually pretty easy to spot which SEC teams will and won’t go dancing in March.  That said, here’s our current take:

 

Kentucky

Record:  25-1 (11-0)

RPI:  3

SOS:  53

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  6-1

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  1 — Vanderbilt

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  0

Tourney Forecast:  Lock

 

Florida

Record:  19-6 (7-3)

RPI:  26

SOS:  56

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  4-3

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  1 — Ole Miss

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  3 — Rutgers, Tennessee (twice)

Tourney Forecast:  Lock

 

Vanderbilt

Record:  17-8 (6-4)

RPI:  29

SOS:  5

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  3-4

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  2 – Marquette, at Alabama

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  1 – Indiana State

Tourney Forecast:  Lock

 

Alabama

Record:  16-8 (5-5)

RPI:  32

SOS:  22

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  2-4

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  0

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  1 – South Carolina

Tourney Forecast:  On the bubble

 

Mississippi State

Record:  19-6 (6-4)

RPI:  44

SOS:  72

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  4-3

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  1 – Vanderbilt

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  0

Tourney Forecast:  Probable

 

Ole Miss

Record:  15-9 (5-5)

RPI:  50

SOS:  49

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  2-6

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  0

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  1 – at Auburn

Tourney Forecast:  Doubtful

 

Arkansas

Record:  17-8 (5-5)

RPI:  69

SOS:  78

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  3-4

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  0

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  2 – Houston, Oklahoma

Tourney Forecast:  No chance for at-large bid

 

LSU

Record:  14-10 (4-6)

RPI:  75

SOS:  47

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  2-7

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  0

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  2 – Coastal Carolina, South Alabama

Tourney Forecast:  No chance for at-large bid

 

Georgia

Record:  12-12 (3-7)

RPI:  98

SOS:  18

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  1-6

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  1 – Mississippi State

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  2 – Auburn, Tennessee

Tourney Forecast:  No chance for at-large bid

 

Tennessee

Record:  12-12* (5-5) (Committee won’t count win over non-DI Chaminade)

RPI:  110

SOS:  37

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  3-7

Quality Road Wins vs Top 100:  1 — Florida

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  3 – Oakland, Austin Peay, College of Charleston

Tourney Forecast:  No chance for at-large bid

 

Auburn

Record:  13-12 (3-8)

RPI:  132

SOS:  93

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  1-8

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  0

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  2 – UTEP, Tennessee

Tourney Forecast:  No chance for at-large bid

 

S. Carolina

Record:  9-15 (1-9)

RPI:  176

SOS:  52

Record Inside RPI Top 50:  1-8

Quality Road Wins vs RPI Top 50:  0

Losses Outside RPI Top 100:  6 – Elon, Tennessee State, Southern Cal, Providence, Auburn, Tennessee

Tourney Forecast:  No chance for at-large bid

 

In our view, Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt are locked in to tourney bids at this point.  They’ve already built strong enough resumes to overcome poor finishes… should they actually finish poorly.

Mississippi State’s strength of schedule hurts, but the Bulldogs do have a winning record versus Top 50 RPI teams and they have a quality road win at Vandy.  We list them as probable, but it’s a very strong “probable.”

Alabama — which is battling turmoil off the court — is squarely on the bubble.  The Tide’s strength of schedule helps, but a good road win would do them well and they need to take care of business against at least one more Top 50 RPI opponent.

On paper, Ole Miss is still alive.  With a strong, strong finish the Rebels may be able to play their way onto the tournament bubble.  But at this point, that’s highly doubtful.

The rest of the teams in the league?  If past form holds, even hot finishes won’t gain them at-large bids.  From 2006 through 2011, the worst RPI for an at-large team has been 67 (Southern Cal last year and Stanford in 2007).

Arkansas fans will point out that the Razorbacks are close to 67 with a 69 RPI rating.  But 67 is the exception, not the rule.  And the Hogs have zero road wins on the year, a poor strength of schedule, and two bad losses to Houston and Oklahoma from early in the season.  Even with a strong finish, UA would likely need to win the SEC tourney to reach the NCAAs.

Tennessee fans won’t like that RPI talk, either.  Their team has turned itself around, added a star freshman at midseason, and won four of its past five games.  But the Vols won’t get to count a win over Chaminade, their RPI is a woeful 110, and they’re dragging around bad losses to Oakland, Austin Peay and College of Charleston a la Jacob Marley and his chain of lockboxes.  Also, remember that November/December is supposed to count as much as January/February these days.

Overall, the SEC is on pace to land four teams in the tourney.  Preseason projections had the league with five.  If Alabama gets its act together and grabs a bid, all will be right with the world.  If the Tide or Ole Miss do not sneak into the field, then it can be said the Southeastern Conference indeed had a “down year” on the hardwood.

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