Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Southeastern Conference tournament preview

This is part 25 of a 32-part series previewing every conference tournament in the country.  We'll detail what you need to keep track of in each tournament and the various stakes for each team.

The standings:
Kentucky 16-2
Florida 14-4
Arkansas 12-6
South Carolina 12-6
Alabama 10-8
Ole Miss 10-8
Vanderbilt 10-8
Georgia 9-9
Tennessee 8-10
Texas A&M 8-10
Auburn 7-11
Mississippi St 6-12
LSU 2-16
Missouri 2-16

Tournament format:
Nashville hosts from Wednesday March 8 to Sunday March 12.

The matchups:
1) Kentucky vs. 8/9) Georgia/Tennessee
4) South Carolina vs. 5/12/13) Alabama/Mississippi St/LSU
3) Arkansas vs. 6/11/14) Ole Miss/Auburn/Missouri
2) Florida vs. 7/10) Vanderbilt/Texas A&M

The stakes:
Kentucky can't get to the 1 line.  However, once you factor in that 2 Pac-12 teams at the top will lose this week, and that the selection committee loves to ignore the SEC final (thereby ensuring Kentucky will be ranked above Florida)...UK can't drop below the 2 line unless they lose.  This is a modest flip of opinion over the last few days on my end, but I think UK might be home free on the 2 line once you think about it.  Meanwhile, Florida is just about a lock on the 3 line.  Since the selection committee ignores the SEC title game, they're out of quality win chances.  And further, I don't think a loss will push them to the 4 line.  So Kentucky and Florida have relatively simple cases this week.

South Carolina and Arkansas are only playing for seeding.  Can't see them getting much better than a 7 under any circumstances.  They're in that gooey middle of the tournament where their seed will most likely depend more on what the teams around them do than what they do.

Vandy is your bubble team.  14 losses is a lot, but 5 Top 50 wins, the #1 non-con SoS, and a tolerable road record (5-6) means I like their position.  Florida 2x as a signature win is such a big help.  In a way, they're hurt by being the 7 seed.  Beating Florida again is a tough task; what they need is more quantity, not quality, of wins.  Would've been better off with easier games against Arky and USC.  Can they survive a loss to Florida?  In definitive terms, maybe.  Will depend on what other teams around them do.  Certainly possible they miss in that scenario.

I don't think anyone else can make a bubble run.  Maybe, maybe I'll listen to Georgia if they get to the finals, they have 8 top 50 wins so you can pretend to make an argument there.  Tennessee is a staggering 2-10 vs. the top 50, I think they've burned too many chances to matter.  I think Alabama is too far gone too.  At least these 3 teams will be in the NIT (Tennessee actually needs to beat Georgia to clinch that spot.

Further down, Ole Miss is another NIT candidate (they're 19-12, so I think they make it by sheer record.  A&M and Auburn are also over .500, but we have to shut the NIT door sooner or later on this conference.

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