As SEC basketball enters the final games before conference play the league as a whole is appearing to be a let down from the preseason hopes. What started as an 8 or 9 bid league suddenly looks to be a 4 or 5 bid league.
The SEC ranks sixth of all the conferences so far this season. They hold the sixth position despite going just 4-8 against the American Athletic Conference who ranks just behind them.
Only two teams remain in the top 25. Auburn remains at No.8 in the country and Kentucky sits at No.19. Tennessee has floated inside the top 25 for most of the season but got bumped after back to back losses to Memphis and Cincinnati last week.
Despite the league being down there have been some nice surprises. Auburn remains the loan undefeated team. At 11-0 they have the best record in the SEC. The biggest knock against the Tigers this season is their extremely soft schedule. To date their most impressive win is at home against a 9-3 NC State team that ranks 38 in the NET.
The second main surprise is Arkansas. A year ago the Razorbacks finished 18-16 with no argument for the NCAA tournament and a second round loss to Indiana in the NIT. After a coaching change the Razorbacks suddenly find themselves with a solid case for being a tournament team.
The Razorbacks also are victim to a soft schedule. Their most impressive to date is North Texas at 111 in the NET. Their lone loss came to Western Kentucky who comes in at 94 in the NET.
The first team that comes to mind is Kentucky. Calipari’s squad came out with a bang knocking off the preseason No.1 team Michigan State seemingly with ease. 7 short days later set Big Blue Nation into turmoil with a home loss against Evansville. The loss was the first by Kentucky as a No.1 team at home against an unranked opponent.
Kentucky then went on a six game winning streak. But last week sent the fanbase into another frenzy. A bad loss to a less than stellar Utah team followed by a loss to Ohio State in a game the Wildcats rarely led has the season looking bleak. With Louisville looming on the schedule they could be looking at Calipari’s second three game losing streak in his time at Kentucky.
Florida has been an enormous bust in the conference. The Gators were ranked No.6 in the preseason polls. Some experts even predicted Florida in the Final Four. Early losses against Florida State and UCONN threw plenty of doubts into those predictions. With losses to Butler and Utah State the Gators find themselves at 7-4 with one game to go before entering conference play.
Alabama had a lot of hype around the program to begin the season. The Tide has done nothing to uphold these expectations. Early losses against Pennsylvania and Rhode Island immediately quelled the excitement. Losses to UNC, Iowa State and Penn State, though not bad losses, have only continued what is looking to be a lost season at 6-5.
LSU is the final team to greatly miss expectations. While the Tigers weren’t expected to carry the conference by any means, their lackluster performance only continues the downward trend of the conference.
LSU sits at 7-4 with losses against VCU, Utah State, East Tennessee State and USC. They don’t have any good wins to help build a resume and offset any of those bad losses. Their final game before conference play is against undefeated Liberty at home which suddenly turns into an opportunity for the Tigers to build their resume.
Middle of the League Limbo
The middle of the league is full of teams that don’t seem to stand out. There is little order in their ranking and seems to get more jumbled with each week.
Teams like Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Missouri and Georgia are all teams that have mediocre resumes in the out of conference.
Tennessee started off as an overachiever but after losses against Memphis and Cincinnati they find themselves just another team in the SEC. Their win against Washington still gives them an edge if it comes to a bubble watch later in the season.
South Carolina has great wins against Clemson and Virginia most recently. But they have bad losses like Boston and Northern Iowa looming over them. They’ll have to make a lot of noise in the SEC to be a contender for a bid.
Mississippi State looks good at 8-3 but has bad losses against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. Their best win looks like Kansas State at this point which won’t do much for their resume in March.
Ole Miss doesn’t have any bad losses with their only losses being to Memphis, Butler and Oklahoma State. But there aren’t a lot of big wins outside of a close win against Penn State. The Rebels have one more big opportunity with Wichita State on the road to close out the non conference on January 4th.
Missouri is another confusing team that sits at 7-4. They have close losses to Xavier, Butler and Oklahoma mixed with a bad loss to Charleston Southern. They play their opponents hard but their best wins to date are Illinois and Temple. They’ll need to do some work in conference play and also take advantage of the Big12/SEC challenge that gives them a currently ranked West Virginia team.
Georgia’s young team probably needs one more year to be a legitimate threat in the SEC but finds themselves at 8-3. They already have wins against Georgia Tech and SMU as well as a close loss to Michigan State.
Their other two losses are to a good Dayton squad and a respectable Arizona State team. The Bulldogs have two more out of conference games left with a big chance to build their resume. They’ll get Austin Peay at home and then travel to a good Memphis team to make a statement the rest of the SEC has been unable to do.
All of these teams could make a run for the tournament pending a good SEC run. But there’s no clear front runner among them. It might not be til late February until one of these teams separate themselves from the others.
Texas A&M and Vanderbilt round off the rest of the conference. While these two teams get a section unto themselves they aren’t teams to overlook. At present time it looks like neither team has any chance of making a run in the SEC to make the tournament. But they could cause some disruption.
Texas A&M sits at a meager 5-5 with bad losses to Harvard and Fairfield. But just last week the Aggies hosted then 9-1 Oregon State and dominated them for 40 minutes. After not being a team to take seriously last year, Buzz Williams has the Aggies as a serious threat in the conference.
Vanderbilt is still in the rebuilding stages under new head coach Jerry Stackhouse. He still has two tough teams on the non conference schedule but is right on pace with last year’s team that had two NBA picks on the team. It’s highly unlikely Vanderbilt goes winless in the SEC in consecutive years and should be another team to make the rest of the league wary.
Early NCAA Picks
- No.8 Auburn
- No.19 Kentucky
- Ole Miss
- Mississippi State
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
It’s a very early guess on the conferences’s teams. The only sure thing as of today is that Auburn and Kentucky are teams that would get serious consideration for a top 4 seed for March. Outside of that there’s a group of teams from the SEC that need someone to separate themselves for a higher seed.
Arkansas, Ole Miss and Georgia have done enough in the non conference to be considered possible tournament teams. Florida and LSU are close but have a collection of bad losses that have them trailing. Should they insert themselves as some of the SEC’s top teams come conference play they’ll play themselves back into the playing field.
In a league that currently looks like a 5 bid league at best, there’s little room for the underdog. Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri and Alabama are all teams that could surprise the league and steal a bid. Should any of those teams finish around 11-7 they’ll make a strong case for the tournament.
The league looks to be down this year as far as the out of conference games have gone. But that shouldn’t stop any team from making a run at the tournament. Even if the SEC shapes up to be a 5 bid league, there’s no telling who could round off the 3-5 spots. As in any other year, March brings out the best in teams.
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