Gators, ‘Dores, ‘Cats Punch Tourney Tickets

I'm always amused when people call a team a "lock" for the NCAA Tournament based on the assumption that squad will continue to play the way it has.

I don't buy that. To me a "lock" means you don't have to win another game and you are part of the big dance anyway.

With that theory in place, three SEC teams locked down NCAA bids with their wins this weekend. Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky will all be part of the field when the NCAA selects the 68-team bracket on March 13.

Florida 21-5, 10-2 --- The Gators have the highest RPI in the SEC at No. 14 and are tied for the SEC lead. With four games against strong teams still to be played that RPI would not take a beating even if the Gators dropped them all. The Gators have strong non-conference wins over Xavier, Kansas State and FSU. Right now Florida projects as a No. 4 seed, which would allow the Gators to play in Tampa for the first two rounds.

Vanderbilt 20-8, 8-4 --- The Commodores have moved into second place in the SEC East and have a chance to earn a bye in the conference tournament. Vandy has a strong No. 15 RPI ranking and non-conference wins over Marquette, Saint Mary's and North Carolina.

Kentucky 19-7, 7-5 --- The Wildcats are loaded with talent, but have not played very well (6-7) away from Rupp Arena. Still, Kentucky has the same RPI as Vandy and non-conference wins over Louisville, Notre Dame and Washington. They could really use a quality road win, but there are no more opportunities out there for them.

Those teams won't all lose out, obviously. Florida plays at both Vanderbilt and Kentucky while the Commodores also have to travel to Rupp. Those games will help determine the SEC Champ and division title, but will have no bearing on the teams' post-season possibilities --- they're in.


Most are projecting the SEC as a five-bid conference this year, and if that's the case, it would appears three teams are fighting for two slots. Let's look at their resumes as of Monday morning.

Tennessee 16-11, 6-6 --- The Vols might wish Bruce Pearl's suspension had lasted longer since they are 1-4 with him on the bench since the start of league play. The Vols have great non-conference wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh and several other good ones, but the poor play of late has put them in some jeopardy. Tennessee, RPI No. 31, could really use a win at Vandy on Tuesday night.

Georgia 18-8, 7-5 --- I think Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie are the two best players on any one team in the SEC. The Bulldogs (RPI No. 37) appear to be in good shape, but they lack any really significant wins outside the league. As a result they must have a strong finish. Thursday's game in Gainesville and the season finale at Alabama are huge games for the Bulldogs' NCAA chances.

Alabama 18-8, 10-2 --- Is it possible that the Crimson Tide could be the SEC Champion and not get invited to go dancing? Well, the answer is clearly, yes. Alabama has the worst RPI of any SEC contender (No. 79) and they have a terrible non-conference slate and record. Playing in the much weaker SEC West (8-20 vs. SEC East) doesn't help either. Anthony Grant's team probably needs to beat Florida or Georgia in the final week, and maybe both.


The rest of the SEC is out of the running for any at-large consideration, though the opportunity to screw things up by winning the SEC Tournament is always out there. Georgia pulled it off in 2008. Mississippi State did it in '09 and almost did it last year, too.

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