Hoop Vols need 18 for bid

Several college basketball experts, including Jerry Palm, say Tennessee is in the NCAA Tournament field if it wins 17 games. The Vols (16-10) could hit that plateau with a victory in Saturday's regular-season finale at Vanderbilt.

That may be overly optimistic, however.

Four SEC teams are considered locks for NCAA bids -- Kentucky (25-3), Florida (24-5), Georgia (18-8) and Mississippi State (18-8).

Four more SEC teams are ''on the bubble,'' with only two likely to get bids. All four bubble teams won impressively on Wednesday night. Tennessee beat Mississippi State 59-49, Alabama trounced South Carolina 82-59, Auburn bounced Arkansas 69-54 and LSU dumped homestanding Ole Miss 77-64.

Each team has a decent case for inclusion in the NCAA field.

• Auburn has the best overall record among the SEC's bubble teams (19-9) and a solid league record (8-7). The Tigers are unlikely to win their regular-season finale at Mississippi State, however. Assuming they don't, they'll be 19-10, 8-8 heading to the league tournament. Moreover, Auburn comes up short in the category of ''quality wins.''

• LSU has the second-best overall record among the bubble teams (18-9) but stands just 7-8 in league play. The red-hot Tigers host Alabama in their regular-season finale, which gives them a good chance to finish 19-9 and 8-8. They boast a quality win over top-ranked Arizona, and have won their last four games in most impressive fashion. The Selection Committee favors teams with momentum, and LSU seems to have it.

• Alabama has the third-best overall record among bubble teams (17-9) but stands just 7-8 in conference play. If the Tide can win at LSU on Saturday, 18-9 and 8-8 would look pretty good to the Selection Committee, especially since Bama had a brief reign as the NCAA's top-ranked team in late December. A quality win over Xavier doesn't hurt, either.

• Tennessee has the worst overall record among SEC bubble teams (16-10) but its 8-7 league mark is better than LSU's and Alabama's. The Vols should prevail Saturday at Vanderbilt, which is coming off a 62-point loss at Kentucky, putting UT at 17-10, 9-7. Quality wins over Florida and Georgia should help the Vols' case but a recent four-game skid hurts it.

Bottom line: The loser of the LSU-Alabama game will finish 7-9 in SEC play and almost certainly drop out of NCAA Tournament consideration. That still leaves three teams battling for two NCAA bids heading into the SEC Tournament.

If the Big Orange can beat Vandy, then win its first-round SEC Tournament game (vs. the winner of Saturday's Ole Miss-Arkansas game), Tennessee should be in. If the Vols go ''one and done'' in New Orleans, however, they may have to settle for an NIT bid.

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