SEC and NCAA bids

The SEC's reputation as a premier basketball conference took a big hit last year, when only three league teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament. It could take another hit this year.

As March Madness approaches, only two SEC teams appear to have bids locked up - Kentucky (24-1 overall, 9-1 SEC) and Vanderbilt (19-5, 8-2). Tennessee (18-6, 6-4) probably needs at least a split of its six remaining regular-season games to guarantee itself a bid. That would send the Vols into the SEC Tournament with a 21-9 overall record, a 9-7 league mark, a 5-5 record over their last 10 games and a quality win over No. 1 Kansas on their resume'.

It's possible that those three Eastern Division teams will be the only SEC programs invited to The Dance this year. Florida (17-8, 6-4) is very much "on the bubble" after losing by 12 at home to Xavier last weekend. South Carolina (14-10, 5-5) is fading fast and Georgia (11-12, 3-7) can only go if it overcomes a No. 6 seed to win the league tournament, as it did in 2008.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl predicted in preseason that five SEC East teams would make the NCAA Tournament field. That forecast is looking a little optimistic at present.

"It's got to play itself out because there's so many good teams," Pearl said this week. "Georgia has got three top-25 wins, and right now they're in last place in the SEC East. Is there any conference that has got a team like that in it that's sitting at 3-7 in conference play?"

He has a point. Despite its poor record, Georgia has some quality wins on its resume'.

"They beat us," Pearl noted. "They beat Vanderbilt. They beat Illinois. They beat Georgia Tech. Illinois is making a run in the Big Ten. Georgia Tech is making a run in the ACC. And Tennessee and Vanderbilt obviously are two teams that are at the top of the SEC. We tend to kind of beat each other up a little bit."

Whereas the SEC East appears likely to send three teams to The Dance this March, the West could be facing a shutout.

Mississippi State (18-7, 6-4) probably needs at least a split its six remaining games. That would send the Bulldogs to the SEC tourney with a 21-10 overall record, a 9-7 league mark and a 5-5 record in their last 10. That still might not be enough since, unlike UT, the Dogs don't have a win over top-ranked Kansas on their resume'.

Ole Miss (17-7, 5-5) might be able to play its way into the NCAA Tournament with a 4-2 finish to the regular season. That would put the Rebels at 21-9 overall and 9-7 in SEC play heading into the league tourney. Andy Kennedy's team plays four of its last six regular-season games at home, so a 4-2 finish appears attainable.

Arkansas (13-12, 6-4) is an NCAA Tournament longshot because of its overall record and Alabama (14-11 4-7) is a longshot because of its league record. Auburn (12-13, 3-7) and LSU (9-16, 0-11) can only get NCAA bids by winning the league tournament.

Historically, the SEC could count on five or six NCAA Tournament bids every year. The league got six in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008, five in 2005 and 2007. The fact the conference got just three teams invited in 2009 suggests the league's reputation may be slipping a bit. So, how many SEC teams will be invited this March?

"Obviously, it's going to have to play itself out," Pearl said. "But I think the teams that are on top right now - in order for it to be six - are going to have to keep winning."

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