From now until Selection Sunday there will be an SEC bubble watch to recap the following week in SEC hoops and to provide some clarity to the SEC’s tournament hopes. With the top three in the league looking set for the “Big Dance” come March, the league is still searching for a fourth bid. Right now, Arkansas is currently the fourth bid from the conference.
RPI and strength of schedule rankings taken from ESPN. Seed Projections are my own.
Kentucky: 17-3 (7-1)
RPI: 4 ... SOS: 15 ... Projected Seed: 1
After the loss to Tennessee this week, the Cats probably would have dropped off the one seed line if it was not for the upsets around the country. With Villanova, Kansas, Florida State and UCLA going down over the last week, Kentucky is still right there. Hosting Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge this weekend, the Cats can solidify themselves as a one seed heading into the final month of the regular season.
South Carolina: 16-4 (6-1)
RPI: 16 ... SOS: 26 ... Projected Seed: 6
The Gamecocks look to be in good position for the NCAA tournament. The numbers are solid, but the only problem is that there is not a lot of games on the schedule to improve those numbers. Then there is the losses to bubble teams Seton Hall, Clemson and Memphis. The wins against Michigan and Syracuse are also not looking as good they could have been. With the league what it is, the only game Carolina could lose that would not be considered a bad loss is at Florida. Losing a home game against Georgia, Alabama or Arkansas would be damaging losses to seeding but not a bubble buster. Defeats in those coupled with losing games against the bottom of the league will have Carolina sweating in March again.
Florida: 15-5 (6-2)
RPI: 10 ... SOS: 5 ... Projected Seed: 7
Florida has solid numbers in RPI and strength of schedule. Of their five defeats, only the home loss to Vanderbilt is a bad loss. The Gators are basically in the same position as South Carolina. They do, however, have a few more chances to boost their resume. They can avenge their defeat against the Gamecocks later on and also have Kentucky on the schedule twice. They have Oklahoma in the Big 12/SEC Challenge this weekend before playing Missouri, then get Kentucky at home. They are in a similar position to South Carolina in that could find themselves on the bubble later.
Arkansas: 16-4 (5-3)
RPI: 27 ... SOS: 57 ... Projected Seed: 10
Arkansas has a good record and solid numbers, but they are lacking quality wins. Their best win is a road win against Tennessee, their only RPI top 50 win. They have four more against the top 100 but they are against Arkansas-Little Rock, Houston, North Dakota State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Only one of their four losses is a bad loss, losing at home to Mississippi State. Arkansas needs to pick up a win against the top three or they could be in a similar situation to what South Carolina was in last year. Their record is what has them in there now. Currently in fifth, they need to finish alone in fourth place in the SEC by the end of the season as well. They avoided a bad loss at Vandy last time out. They travel to Oklahoma State before hosting Alabama this week, two games the Hogs need to win if they want to make the tournament.
Alabama: 12-7 (5-2)
RPI: 66 ... SOS: 68
The Crimson Tide have enjoyed a nice start to SEC play as they currently sit alone in fourth place. They started the week by blowing out Georgia in Athens after losing at Auburn by 20 last weekend. The Tide played a good schedule this year but did not take advantage of it. Sitting at 3-9 against the RPI top 100, Alabama needs to go on a run to get onto the bubble. Their best win is their last one in Athens. They have losses to bubble teams like Dayton and Clemson but also have a pair of bad losses to Texas and Auburn. They also lost to Valparaiso early, which can become a bad loss if the favored Crusaders fail to win the Horizon League. The Tide has Mississippi State at home before traveling to Arkansas and hosting Auburn. They’ll need to win those three to put themselves on the bubble before playing at South Carolina and hosting Kentucky back-to-back.
Mississippi State: 13-6 (4-3)
RPI: 106 ... SOS: 156
With a poor RPI and strength of schedule, the Bulldogs would have to go on a run to get into the bubble conversation. They have played well in conference play at times, winning at Arkansas and beating Texas A&M at home and also giving Kentucky a game. They can push the 18-20 win range and get into the NIT. The NCAA tournament is probably too far away unless they finish in the top four of the SEC and make a run in the conference tournament. They have road games at Alabama and Ole Miss this week, and if they can pick up wins in Tuscaloosa and Oxford, they’ll be in good shape for the NIT.
Georgia: 12-8 (4-4)
RPI: 52 ... SOS: 28
The Bulldogs have good numbers but a poor record. They had a controversial loss at Texas A&M but followed that up by getting blown out by Alabama on their home floor. Georgia was probably sitting on the right side of the bubble before last week, but sit firmly in the NIT right now. They have a chance to get back on the right side of the bubble in the coming weeks. They host Texas in the Big 12/SEC challenge, which can only change the Bulldogs’ position if they lose. Following the game against Texas, they travel to Kentucky and South Carolina.
Tennessee: 11-9 (4-4)
RPI: 47 ... SOS: 4
Tennessee has played a very tough schedule. That, coupled with a win against Kentucky, is good enough to have the Vols in the NIT at the moment. If they can hit 18-20 wins, they’ll have some postseason basketball. They host Kansas State this weekend, a team that is in good position for the NCAA tournament. If they beat K-State, they go to Auburn and Mississippi State before hosting Ole Miss and Georgia. If the win over Kentucky sparks a streak, they could find themselves on the bubble in a few weeks. Their record is the main problem but there have been plenty of teams with poor records against tough schedules in the tournament. The problem is those teams are rarely from the SEC.
Auburn: 13-7 (3-5)
RPI: 78 ... SOS: 102
Auburn’s problems are thanks to a poor start in SEC play. They went 9-2 out of conference against what was supposed to be a tough schedule, but their strength of schedule has taken a big hit with UConn and Oklahoma both currently sitting under .500. They also have a very bad RPI loss to Boston College (174). Their only two RPI top 100 wins are Alabama and Texas Tech. They could be good enough for the NIT now, but they sit in ninth in the league and the SEC only got four teams in the NIT last year. The Tide have a chance to pick up a big win for not only themselves but the conference with a trip to TCU, who sit firmly on the bubble at the moment. Following that they play Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi State. A 3-1 run would put them in the NIT bracket.
Ole Miss: 12-8 (3-5)
RPI: 61 ... SOS: 32
The Rebels sit in a similar situation to Auburn. However, they have much better numbers in RPI and strength of schedule. They have played 11 games against the RPI top 100, going 3-8. They can get a huge boost if they beat Baylor in Oxford this weekend. They’ll need to crack the top 8 in the SEC to qualify for the NIT.
Texas A&M: 11-8 (3-5)
RPI: 69 ... SOS: 25
The Aggies are in the same spot as Ole Miss. They picked up a win over the Rebels and Georgia last week to get back into the race. Their next four games will decide their postseason fate. A&M travels to West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge before playing Vanderbilt, LSU and Missouri. They can lose to West Virginia, but a couple defeats against the other three will end their NIT hopes.
Vanderbilt: 9-11 (3-5)
RPI: 60 ... SOS: 1
Vandy has played the toughest schedule in the country, but they will not be in the postseason with a losing record. If they can get above .500 and into 18 win territory, they can be an NIT team with their RPI and SOS. They host Iowa State before traveling to Texas A&M this week.
LSU and Missouri, barring a huge win streak, have no chance at making either tournament.