Since the beginning of SEC play, the conference’s NCAA Tournament situation was clear. Kentucky, Florida and likely South Carolina would be in the field. The question was who could join three. Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee flirted with the bubble a few times but two teams were able to break through. Arkansas looks like a lock as the fourth bid with their late surge to finish third in the SEC.. Vanderbilt always had strong numbers but did not have the wins, but now they are on the cusp of a possible fifth bid.
All RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) ratings taken from ESPN. Seed projections are my own.
Kentucky Wildcats: 26-5 (16-2)
RPI: 6 ... SOS: 23 ... Seed Projection: 2
Quality wins: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Arkansas ... Bad losses: None
John Calipari’s Cats captured another SEC Championship with their wins over Florida, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M last week. They finished the season on an eight game winning streak. If they can continue what they’ve done and win the SEC Tournament then a two seed awaits. If they fail to win it all in Nashville, they’ll likely be a three seed.
Florida Gators: 24-7 (14-4)
RPI: 5 ... SOS: 7 ... Seed Projection: 4
Quality wins: Kentucky, Arkansas, Seton Hall and Miami ... Bad losses: None
Florida controlled their fate in the race for the SEC crown but could not seal the deal in Rupp Arena, falling to Kentucky. They wrapped up the season winning at home against Arkansas before losing at Vanderbilt. The defeat against Vandy could end up costing them a three seed. Their RPI and SOS ratings are great. If they can get to the SEC Tournament final they will likely snatch a three seed. If they win it they definitley will be a top three seed.
Arkansas Razorbacks: 23-8 (12-6)
RPI: 26 ... SOS: 65 ... Seed Projection: 8
Quality wins: South Carolina ... Bad losses: Mississippi State, Missouri
At one point, Arkansas was 1-3 in SEC play and had just lost at home to Mississippi State. They then won five straight SEC games to get onto the bubble before losing to Missouri and Vanderbilt. Appearing dead again, they won five straight to lock up a bid to the NCAA Tournament. They split their final two games, losing at Florida before knocking off Georgia at home. The Hogs finish third in the SEC via tiebreak. As long as they win their first game against either Ole Miss, Auburn or Missouri, they will have no need to sweat on Sunday. Lose and they should still be safe but it could get dicey.
South Carolina Gamecocks: 22-9 (12-6)
RPI: 30 ... SOS: 43 ... Seed Projection: 8
Quality wins: Florida ... Bad losses: Memphis
The Gamecocks are in the same situation as Arkansas. They enter the SEC Tournament in a much different position from a month ago. On February 7, the Gamecocks were sitting atop the SEC standings with a 9-1 record in league play. That night they suffered the four-overtime home-loss to Alabama. A 3-4 run in the final seven games followed and now the Gamecocks are on the fringe of the bubble. They will likely play Alabama in their first game of the SEC Tournament. Win that first game and Carolina will be in for sure. If they lose to Alabama again, or even worse to LSU or Mississippi State, then it will be another long Sunday.
Vanderbilt Commodores: 17-14 (10-8)
RPI: 44 ... SOS: 3 ... Seed Projection: 11 (First Four)
Quality wins: Florida (x2), Iowa State, Arkansas, South Carolina ... Bad losses: Missouri and Bucknell
Vandy hovered around .500 most of the SEC season but they always had a great SOS rating giving them a glimmer of hope. After getting hammered at Missouri by 20, the hope looked crushed but the ‘Dores responded by winning four straight. They then took Kentucky to the wire in Lexington before completing a season sweep of Florida. Now they are firmly on the bubble. They play Texas A&M first in a must win game. If they knock off the Aggies they’ll play Florida for the third time. A win against the Gators would put them in good shape. At that point, they would only be a win over Arkansas, Ole Miss, Auburn or Missouri would away from being in the final playing for an automatic berth. It all starts Thursday though, lose and they are out. Win and lose to Florida and they will be rooting for every conference tournament favorite throughout the weekend.
Georgia Bulldogs: 18-13 (9-9)
RPI: 48 ... SOS: 15
Quality wins: None ... Bad losses: Oakland and Texas A&M
Georiga had a small window of making the tournament heading into the final game at Arkansas but they were blown out. Now they would have to win the SEC to make the NCAA. They are still safely in the NIT after winning five of their last seven. They open with Tennessee in Nashville. A win over the Vols would lock that NIT berth and give them a crack at Kentucky.
Alabama Crimson Tide: 17-13 (10-8)
RPI: 88 ... SOS: 83
Quality wins: South Carolina ... Bad losses: Auburn (x2) and Texas
Avery Johnson’s Alabama are limping into Nashville after dropping three of their last four. They were on the bubble heading into those final four games but lost to Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee. They managed to beat Ole Miss on senior night to lock up the fifth seed at the SEC Tournament. They will play the winner of Mississippi State and LSU first. Win that game and they will wrap up a bid to the NIT. They would play South Carolina next.
Ole Miss Rebels: 19-12 (10-8)
RPI: 67 ... SOS: 64
Quality wins: South Carolina... Bad losses: None
The Rebels picked up a signature win in their final game, knocking off South Carolina on senior night. Before that they lost at Alabama, costing them a fifth place finish in league play. They await the winner of the Auburn-Missouri matchup. Win their SEC opener and they should have an NIT spot locked up. They would play Arkansas in the next round should they advance.
Tennessee Volunteers: 16-15 (8-10)
RPI: 73 ... SOS: 19
Quality wins: Kentucky and Kansas State ... Bad losses: Mississippi State
The Vols came from behind to beat Alabama on senior day last weekend. That win kept their NIT hopes alive after losing at LSU. They likely need to beat Georgia in their SEC Tournament opener to feel safe but their win at Texas A&M should keep them ahead of the Aggies for the fourth and final NIT spot. Worst case for the Vols is Vanderbilt missing out on the NCAA, they would likely be the odd-team out for the NIT, especially with an early exit in Nashville.
Texas A&M and Auburn have little hope of making the NIT. Auburn would have to knock off Missouri, Ole Miss and Arkansas to make the SEC semifinals. That coupled with other teams struggling in Nashville could get them in the NIT. A&M would need to beat Vanderbilt and then upset Florida to make the NIT. LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri will have to win the SEC Tournament to get the automatic berth for postseason basketball.