SEC Bubble Breakdown

With the SEC Tournament about to get underway it's important to know what each team in the league would need in order to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The field of 65 is expected by most to include four SEC teams, but I'm betting on five because the Chairman of the Selection Committee is none other than SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.

Having someone from your league chairing the committee has paid huge dividends in the past, and its hard to imagine Slive won't deliver this time around.

I've broken the 12 SEC teams into five different categories heading into this weekend's action. For purposes of this discussion the "ranking" I use for each team is an average of their ranking according to ESPN Insider RPI, Jeff Sagarin and Ken Pomeroy (Kenpom.com).

Absolutely In --- LSU (#39), Tennessee (#33) --- The Tigers are 25-6 and the champions of the SEC. Despite a very weak non conference schedule they are certain of an invite. Tennessee has one of the best strengths of schedule (#12) in the country, which offsets a disappointing 19-11 regular season. However if they don't win a game or two in Atlanta the Vols could be looking at a #8 or #9 seed.

Solid Bubble --- Florida (#46), South Carolina (#53) --- Okay, the category "solid bubble" is an oxymoron, but I needed some way to separate those who need to do a little or need just a little bit of help from those who need a lot. Florida and Carolina are virtually interchangeable in that the Gators are 22-9 and the Gamecocks are 21-8. They split two games head to head by the combined score of 166-163 (advantage Florida). Carolina gets a bit of an edge for one more SEC win, and a better record (8-4) in the last 12 games than Florida (6-6) has. Still, the Gators' win over Washington dwarfs anything Carolina did in non-conference play. The Gators more desperately need a win in Tampa because a bad loss to Arkansas would be fatal. If either makes it to Saturday they are certainly in, but if not, they will be rooting for every favorite in the country.

Shaky Bubble --- Auburn (#63), Kentucky (#62) --- The Wildcats would be in an even lower category if not for a pretty solid non-conference schedule. Still, their 8-8 SEC record and 4-8 mark in the last 12 has Big Blue singing the blues. Auburn has a hot finish (9-3) and a 10-6 SEC mark going for it, but the Tigers only top 100 non-conference win is over #97 Virginia. It also hurts them that they lost to Florida, Kentucky and Carolina during the regular season. Both teams have to make it to Saturday to even get a glance and probably have to do more. A Florida/Auburn game if it happened Friday night could well put the winner in and leave the loser out.

Flimsy Bubble --- Vandy (#79), MSU (#83) --- All three have their pluses, but they also have too many minuses to be taken seriously as at-large candidates. Each already has at least 11 losses, but they can hope that a run to the final plus an absence of upsets elsewhere might give them an outside chance, but it is a very long shot for either the Commodores or Bulldogs.

Bubble Busted --- Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia --- The best of this quartet has a 17-13 overall record and all four have losing records in a less than stellar SEC. I'm sure folks in Oxford and Tuscaloosa think a run to the final and a good showing there could sneak them in, but only if Mike Slive brings some magic dust into the committee room.

So there you have it… two are in and four are out. Six others have varying levels of hope. For the Florida Gators, I think a win over Arkansas should put them into the field of 65, but it's not a guarantee. A win over Auburn in round two would be. Otherwise about the only thing Florida fans should root for is a Friday afternoon loss by South Carolina and strong runs by the two favorites, Tennessee and LSU.


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