SEC Hoops Has Work To Do

The SEC took a step back last season, getting six bids into the NCAA Tournament but earning just four wins in 10 tournament games. Five of six SEC teams failed to advance past the opening weekend, and Tennessee was taken out in the third round.

The performance was quite a drop off from 2007 event when SEC teams posted 11 wins, six by NCAA Champion Florida. 2006 was even better for the league with Florida winning it all, LSU reaching the Final Four and Tennessee and Vanderbilt both in the Sweet 16. Indications are the SEC slide on the national stage could continue in March.

Right now you can't say any SEC team is a lock for the NCAA field of 65. If you average the rankings of ESPN's Insider RPI and you find only two teams in pretty good shape.

Tennessee (No. 28) and Florida (No. 30) are the only SEC teams in the top 40, which is the line where you qualify as a team "on the bubble". LSU (No. 45) and South Carolina (No. 50) are within hailing distance while Kentucky (No. 52) has to be wondering how this thing works. The Wildcats are No. 31 in but the Insider RPI has a much lower (No. 74) opinion of Billy Gillispie's team.

With the second half of the SEC schedule all five teams really need to finish strongly and the SEC office has to root for them to beat the lower teams in the conference. The more SEC teams beat each other up for the next four weeks the fewer opportunities there will be for the conference when the bids come out on March 15.

Several Keys for the Gators

With the weekend off the Gators get to spend extra time on their own game and getting back to the basics. Florida needs to continue to focus on improving their rebounding and taking care of the basketball with some of their toughest games still ahead. While that's what the Gators need to do on the floor, there are some key things that will determine their fitness for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Four more wins ----- Last year the Gators left the SEC Tournament with 21 wins, an 8-9 SEC record and a ticket to the NIT. The Gators are at 19 wins with at least nine more games to play. Florida can't assume just one more win will get it done so they have to target 23 wins as the magic number. With four home games remaining the Gators can count on a return to the Big Dance if they defend the O'Dome.

Tampa Triumph ----- If Florida is in that 22-23 wins range they could still be vulnerable if they are one and done at the SEC Tournament. First game exits are never helpful, but would carry more of a stigma happening in their own back yard. If Florida can go 10-6 in the SEC they should be in regardless, but a win in Tampa would seal the deal.

Go Noles ----- It might pain some of you to hear this, but every FSU win is cause for celebration in Gator Nation. The Seminoles are one of the top non-conference opponents on the Florida slate with a No. 29 ranking from the Insider RPI and No. 56 in While you're at it, you might as well root for Washington, Syracuse, NC State, and Bradley among others.

East be a beast ----- The SEC East has four teams in the top five regarding NCAA consideration and Florida plays each of them twice. Thus every East/West game is one that Florida has an interest in seeing the Eastern Division team post a win.

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