With the conference season halfway done, the SEC is in decidedly better shape than last year, when Cupid arrived and saw a mess of bubble teams that had no shot of reaching the second weekend. This year, as many as six teams could find themselves dancing, although as always, there’s still a lot that can happen.
Here’s the breakdown right now.
Kentucky: 23-1 (8-1 SEC)
Strength of Schedule: 51
Key wins: Vanderbilt, at Florida, Mississippi
Bad losses: None
Big games remaining: Tennessee, at Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, at Tennessee
The Cats have hovered in the top five all year, and should be in contention for a top seed come March. Despite some inconsistent efforts and youthful mistakes, they’ve simply been able to overwhelm people with their talent all year. Their non-conference schedule doesn’t look great, especially with North Carolina, Louisville and UConn struggling, but if they continue to win like they have, it won’t matter. With three tough road games left, it’s not unconceivable that the Cats could stumble once more, but barring a major surprise, they should be quite pleased on Selection Sunday.
Tennessee: 18-5. (6-3 SEC)
Strength of Schedule: 38
Key wins: Kansas, Mississippi
Bad losses: at USC, at Georgia
Big games remaining: at Kentucky, at Florida, Kentucky, at Mississippi State
The Vols have responded better than many thought after the dismissal of star Tyler Smith, but they still have work to do to improve their seed. Since losing Smith, the Vols have knocked off Kansas, but also have dropped a pair of games to Vandy, and struggled to win against Florida and LSU. They still have a pair of games left with Kentucky, and winning one of those would be huge for their resume. Right now, the Vols look to be around a 5-seed, but they could go a couple spots in either direction depending on how strong they finish the season.
Vanderbilt: 18-5 (7-2 SEC)
Strength of Schedule: 24
Key wins: Tennessee (2), Florida, Missouri
Bad losses: Western Kentucky, at Georgia
Big games remaining: at Mississippi, Kentucky, at Florida
The Commodores are a team to keep an eye on in March. They have veteran leadership, a balanced attack, and are playing well as of late, having won nine of 11 since the calendar flipped to 2010. If they’re able to score an upset of Kentucky in a huge home game on Feb. 20, they could find themselves as high as a three-seed in the NCAA. Right now, they’re probably in 5-seed range along with Tennessee, but they’re certainly capable of climbing higher. Look for Vandy to be a tough out this year in the NCAA Tourney.
Mississippi: 17-6 (5-4 SEC)
Strength of Schedule: 52
Key wins: at Kansas State
Bad losses: None
Big games remaining: at Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Florida
The Rebels are in good position to make the tournament, but they may need to find another signature win somewhere. They don’t have any terrible losses, with four of their six losses coming to teams ranked in the top 15, and the early season win over Kansas State continues to look better. However, the Rebels need a strong finish to avoid being on bubble watch. If they’re able to get to 10 conference wins, and make a good showing in the SEC Tournament, they’ll likely find themselves in the 8-9 seed range. Knocking off Vanderbilt would be a huge boost for their resume.
On the Bubble:
Florida: 17-7 (6-4 SEC)
Strength of Schedule: 70
Key wins: Michigan State, Florida State
Bad losses: South Alabama
Big games remaining: at Mississippi, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, at Kentucky
The Gators have been rolling lately, having won six of their last seven heading into a showdown with South Carolina on Wednesday. They don’t always win pretty, and have relied on some late-game heroics more than once, but regardless, they’re still sitting in a good position heading into March. They have two great non-conference wins, and even the loss to Richmond doesn’t look as awful as it did at the time. However, they’re still searching for a big SEC win to add to their resume. If they’re able to hold home court against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, as well as knock off Auburn and Georgia, 10 conference wins should get them into the tournament. They’re certainly not a sure thing, but they’re on the right track.
Mississippi State: 16-7 (4-4 SEC)
Strength of Schedule: 126
Key wins: Mississippi
Bad losses: Rider, Western Kentucky
Big games remaining: Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee
The Bulldogs have plenty of work to do if they want to dance into March. The good news for them is that they’ll have plenty of chances, starting with a showdown against Ole Miss on Thursday. The Bulldogs also have homes dates with Kentucky and Tennessee, and they’ll probably need both to make their resume more tournament-worthy. Rick Stansbury’s club has some nice pieces, but they haven’t seemed to find a rhythm in conference play, having lost four of their last five. It’s not too late to make a run, but for a team that entered the season with expectations of a deep run through March, they’ve been largely disappointing so far.
On the Outside But Have a Chance:
South Carolina: 14-9 (5-4 SEC)
In all likelihood, the Gamecocks will need to win the SEC Tournament to earn a bid, but don’t count them out. Devan Downey is making a run at SEC Player of the Year, and he’s shown the ability to carry the team through long stretches. Another win over Kentucky certainly wouldn’t hurt, but overall, they still probably need to win out to even think about the bubble.
Arkansas: 13-11 (6-3 SEC)
Like South Carolina, the Hogs probably have too much work left to do to count on an at-large bid, and will need to run the SEC Tournament to get in. However, with Courtney Fortson back, the Hogs are a dangerous team, and they’re playing their best ball of the season right now. They may not win it, but look for the Hogs to at least put a scare into someone during the SEC Tournament.
There’s always next year:
Georgia 10-12 (2-7 SEC)
They may be the best 10-win team in the country, but at the end of the day, they’re still a 10-win team. The Dawgs have some good pieces, but just don’t have enough to compete this year.
Alabama 13-11 (3-7 SEC)
Like Georgia, the Tide can’t be faulted for their effort, but they just don’t simply have enough talent. On the bright side, spring football practice is only a couple months away.
Auburn: 12-12 (3-6 SEC)
The Tigers have attempted close to 600 three-pointers this year. When you’re shooting them at 32 percent, that’s not a recipe for success.
LSU 9-15 (0-10 SEC)
Nothing much to say here. The Tigers just simply aren’t a good team. Help may be on the way next year, but unfortunately, they have to finish this season first.