SCOTT: Looking in on SEC's NCAA Tourney teams

The SEC basketball landscape has become increasingly muddled over the past two weeks, and that's not good for the SEC's national rep or its chances of placing six (or more) teams in the NCAA Tournament.

SEC insiders know the SEC has never been deeper or more competitive, but outsiders tend to look at the standings and see an absence of great teams beyond a championship Florida team that has lost two of its past three games.


The SEC entered last week with 11 of its 12 teams in the top 99 of the NCAA's most recent RPI release, with Florida seventh, Kentucky eighth, Tennessee 15th, Alabama 23rd, Vanderbilt 33rd, Arkansas 43rd, Georgia 53rd, Ole Miss 63rd, Mississippi State 68th, South Carolina 92nd, LSU 99th and Auburn 115th.


Yet, with one week left in the regular season followed by the SEC Tournament, some SEC teams still have a case to make and are running out of time to prove their NCAA Tournament worthiness.


If the NCAA Tournament were starting this week, the only teams that appear to be assured of spots are Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Even Tennessee and Alabama are close enough to the bubble that they could tumble out of the tournament picture over the next two weeks.


Entering this past weekend, ESPN's Joe Lunardi had five SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament, with Florida a No. 1 seed, Kentucky and Vanderbilt a 5, Tennessee a 9 and Alabama a 10.


CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish had five SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. His teams aren't seeded, except for Florida as a 1, but he also has Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Alabama in the tournament, with Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State on the bubble.


Jerry Palm of has six SEC teams in his NCAA Tournament bracket, with Florida a No. 1 seed, Kentucky a 5, Vanderbilt a 6, Tennessee and Alabama both at 10 and Ole Miss as a 12 seed.


Here's a look at what each team needs to do to reach the NCAA Tournament:


Florida – The Gators are obviously in but no longer a lock to be a No. 1 seed after losing at Vandy and LSU on consecutive Saturdays. At the same time, this might be the best thing that could ever happen to the Gators. Remember how they lost three consecutive games in late February last season? They bounced back, won the SEC Tournament, got on a roll, and won 11 consecutive games on the way to the national championship.

After clinching the SEC championship earlier in the week, "They looked like a team that just won a championship, and competing maybe wasn't the most important thing on their mind here today," Florida coach Billy Donovan said following the loss to LSU. "There's got to be a level when you're competing, a level of nervousness, a level of on-edge, a level of concern," Donovan said.

"And I think what happens is that level of edge and concern starts to disappear the more you win. We've got to get to that point where that concentration level on block outs and rebounding is where it needs to be."


Kentucky – It's easy to get caught up in Kentucky's record and its recent three consecutive losses, but all three defeats came against likely NCAA Tournament teams. It's more important to know that the Wildcats are eighth in the RPI. They're in the tournament no matter what but could still move up or down based on the results of this week's games against Georgia and Florida and the SEC Tournament.


Vanderbilt – If there was any doubt about Vandy, the win over Florida sealed it for the Commodores. Beating South Carolina and Arkansas this week won't do a lot to raise the Commodores' stock, but losses in those games could drop Vandy to a lower seed.


Tennessee – Going 3-5 in January put the Vols on the bubble, but a 5-1 record in February has the Vols looking to an NCAA Tournament game. They could still tumble with losses to Florida and Georgia this week and make an early exit in the SEC Tournament. They probably need to beat Georgia and win a game in Atlanta, but Saturday's 83-72 win at Arkansas had to help.

"We needed a road win, guys," said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is 1-6 in SEC road games. "We didn't like the things that you say about teams when they can't win on the road."


Alabama – Nothing hurts a team like a poor finish in the regular season, and that's exactly what the Crimson Tide has done by losing four of its past five games, including last Saturday's home loss to Auburn. The Tide's best argument is its high RPI, but its situation can still improve or sink with this week's games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State and the SEC Tournament.

Win both games and the Tide will be in with an 8-8 SEC record. Split those games and Alabama is playing with fire at 7-9. Lose both games and the Tide will need a lot of help to get in the NCAA Tournament with a 6-10 SEC record.

"We don't feel like we're out of it," hobbling point guard Ronald Steele said. "We still have a shot. But we set ourselves back tonight. We have two games left. We just have to play well, and hopefully it's good enough."


Ole Miss – While Palm might have Ole Miss in his bracket, the Rebels still have a lot of work to do. Losing at South Carolina on Saturday didn't help, so the Rebels (7-7) absolutely must make the most of this week's games against Alabama and Auburn and the SEC Tournament to sufficiently raise its NCAA Tournament stock.


Georgia – An winning record in the SEC should help Georgia, but a relatively low RPI and a 17-10 record still leave the Bulldogs on the outside looking in. That means Georgia needs a strong finish against Kentucky and Tennessee this week and probably two wins in the SEC Tournament.


Arkansas – It wasn't that long ago when the Razorbacks could be found on most projected tournament brackets. All that's fallen apart under the weight of four losses in the past five games. Despite a relatively strong RPI, a 5-9 SEC record likely means the Hogs will need a miracle to get a shot in the NCAA Tournament. That miracle might just require an SEC Tournament championship. Such a miracle might be the only thing that can save Coach Stan Heath, as well.


Mississippi State – Losing to Georgia on Saturday elevated Georgia and hurt Mississippi State, but the Magnolia state Bulldogs are still 7-7 in the SEC and capable of winning the West. Beating Arkansas and Alabama and winning a game or two in the SEC Tournament will at least give the Bulldogs some consideration.




For what it's worth, both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have submitted bids to host NIT games, despite entering the weekend tied for first place in the West.


"The problem for Ole Miss and Mississippi State is they did absolutely nothing out of conference," Palm told the Mobile Register. "Alabama may still be ahead of them in the hearts and minds of the committee. Mississippi State isn't even on my radar. I don't know what they could do as far as getting an at-large, really.


"All three of these teams are about the same. I could see none of them getting in. Alabama's been at or near the bottom of my bracket for a long time. The win over Kentucky was something it desperately needed, but I don't see a lot of margin for error for Alabama. The thing about Alabama is people like Alabama. They're a ranked team. They've been ranked all year for no apparent reason, so people like them. The same is not true for Mississippi and Mississippi State. There's something to be said for people liking you, because it's a subjective process, you know?"


There isn't much Ole Miss and Mississippi State can do at this point but win.


"We've just got to keep winning games," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. "We're just pleased to be in the conversation. A lot of times when you hear the bubble term, people get offended. I'm flattered. I'm glad we're in the conversation, and I think it's a reflection on these kids for getting us into this situation."


"When it comes to who's selected and how they're selected when it's this close," Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury added, "nothing will shock me."




Was it really a sign of support or the kiss of death when Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt received the dreaded "vote of confidence" from University of Arkansas Chancellor John White last week?


White responded to what he called "rampant speculation" about Nutt's future, issuing a written statement in the wake of Nutt's aggressive decision to spread his message to various print and broadcast media outlets in an attempt to thwart the perceived turmoil surrounding the program.


Despite going 10-4 and winning the SEC West last season, some vocal Arkansas fans are focusing on the way the Razorbacks closed the season with three consecutive losses, the controversy surrounding Gus Malzahn, Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams, and the revelation that a booster's e-mail spewing critical remarks about players had been forwarded by Nutt's wife, Diana.


"I want to be abundantly clear — the University of Arkansas is committed to head football coach Houston Nutt's leadership of the Razorback football program," White said in the written statement. "It's unfortunate that the days and weeks following a remarkable football season, which featured 10 straight wins and an SEC West championship, have been burdened by rampant speculation and sensationalist remarks over the future of the program."


Nutt declined comment, but his future remains a topic of active speculation among Arkansas fans, especially in light of athletic director Frank Broyle's recent decision to retire effective the end of this calendar year.


If the Razorbacks fall apart this season and the decision is made to dismiss Nutt, who will make it? If the Hogs match last season's success, who will offer Nutt an extension? Who will really be in charge this fall if any big decisions need to be made?


For now, all we know is what White told us all in his statement.


"The university and athletic department administration stand firmly behind the leadership of Houston Nutt as the head coach of the Razorback football team," White wrote. "While some have attempted to cloud the record by offering persistent and even personal attacks on Coach Nutt's character and integrity, the remarkable accomplishments of our football program in his tenure can't be overshadowed.


"In nearly a decade as the head coach, he has enhanced Razorback football both on the field and in the classroom. Last year's championship season was truly a team effort under the guidance of the SEC coach of the year. Houston Nutt has been and remains the right man to lead the Razorback football program."




While highly touted South Carolina quarterback signee Stephen Garcia is considered an excellent passer, it turns out he's not very elusive – at least when he's trying to outrun the police in Columbia, S.C.


Garcia, who is already enrolled in school and will participate in spring practice, was recently arrested outside the Knock Knock Club where he had attended a private party thrown by former South Carolina soccer player Ayo Akinsete.


Garcia was charged with drunkenness and failure to stop on police command. An officer on the scene reported that Garcia ran away from him and tried to hide in an alley, then turned toward the officer "in a threatening manner."


Think that will work against the SEC's best defensive linemen?


Maybe Garcia is more elusive than he first appeared to be. After all, Coach Steve Spurrier originally suspended Garcia from participating in team activities such as team weight lifting and running sessions until further notice, a punishment many athletes might consider a break instead of a bust.


Less than 24 hours later, Spurrier reversed field and allowed Garcia to rejoin the team.

"He made a mistake, no question about it," Spurrier said. "We hope he's learned his lesson. ... He's told everyone it was the worst day of his life. Getting handcuffed and taken into jail and spending the night there and about all the next day also — hopefully it was a good scare for him and he won't get himself in that kind of position again."




Richard Scott is a Birmingham based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at

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