wow. I have looked at all your articles today on basketball and I am surprised that you haven't written anything on Vanderbilt and their championship. The day is early yet, so perhaps you will post something soon.
Last Monday, in our lengthy preview of the SEC tourney and review of the SEC’s NCAA resumes, we broke down the league’s tournament outlook:
“The SEC is a four-bid league. Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State — in that order — still have more work to do. At least that’s what the math says.”
A day later we showed you where four different bracket gurus had the SEC lined up for five bids. They all had MSU in the field.
We stuck to our guns.
From studying the resumes of previous tourney teams, we knew that squads with high RPI and/or high strength of schedule numbers just don’t get in. One or the other or both could be said for the Bulldogs, Rebels and Vols. So we doubled-down — just as we did last year when we said all along that Alabama would not get a bid due to its high RPI.
Turns out… we were right. Again.
As we’ve said numerous times, this has nothing to do with premonitions or guesswork. It has to do with math. Pure and simple. And while other bracketologists were saying the SEC had a 5th bid in hand, we were saying someone else had to play their way into the field. Turns out, no one else did. So, four bids.
That means there’s no way around this fact: The SEC had a down year in basketball.
The league was expected — preseason — to land five teams in the NCAA Tournament in 2012: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
Kentucky and Vanderbilt — by virtue of an SEC Tournament championship — lived up to their preseason hype. Florida was a bit disappointing thanks in large part to injuries. Alabama was a tad less than expected due to off-court issues. Mississippi State was just flat disappointing. No one else in the league had a body of work that came close to matching the usual tourney profile.
Spin it, dance around it, deny it, but the truth is — in hindsight — 2011-12 was not a banner year for the conference.
Now, a few notes on the SEC’s tourney bids:
Seed: #1 in South Region (Atlanta)
First Game: Winner of Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky in Louisville (Thursday, 6:50pm ET, TBS)
The Cats didn’t look great in New Orleans. In fact, John Calipari’s “who cares about this tourney” talk might have backfired with his young team. They looked pedestrian — for them — against LSU and Florida before falling to Vandy. Whether that loss re-focuses the team or not remains to be seen.
UK was put in the same region with Indiana — the only team aside from Vandy to beat the Cats — and with Duke. Yep, 20 years later, another Wildcats-Blue Devils regional finals could be in the forecast.
Seed: #5 in East Region (Boston)
First Game: Harvard in Albuquerque (Thursday, 4:40pm ET, TNT)
Finally, some tournament success for Kevin Stallings and his team. VU fans wanted something special out of this year’s veteran team and they got in New Orleans. Stallings was left crying into a towel after upsetting Kentucky. UK fans were left simply crying. Vandy fans had to love it all.
Now — by sheer coincidence, of course — the Harvard of the South will be playing the Harvard of reality. Get past the Crimson and Wisconsin awaits. CBS’s Greg Anthony likes the ‘Dores and picked them as his sleeper to roll all the way to the Final Four… a path that would take them past Syracuse, Ohio State and Florida State in their region.
What we know is this: If Vandy is shooting well, the Final Four is a real possibility. If they’re not hitting their shots, it could be yet another first-round exit at the hands of an underdog. Streaky team.
Seed: #7 in West Region (Phoenix)
First Game: Virginia in Omaha (Friday, 2:10pm ET, TNT)
The committee did the Gators no favors. Florida’s injuries — especially the loss of Will Yeguete to a broken foot — have left them vulnerable. Kudos to Billy Donovan’s squad for fighting as hard and as well as it did against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semis.
Unfortunately, UF will have to get past a dangerous Virginia squad and #2 Missouri just to reach the Sweet Sixteen. And their soon-to-be SEC rival would have probably grabbed a #1 seed had they played a tougher non-conference schedule. IF the Gators can pull the upset, they’ll likely face Marquette — the tournament’s #10 overall seed according to the committee — or one-loss Murray State in the round of 16. Tough path.
Seed: #9 in Midwest Region (St. Louis)
First Game: Creighton in Greensboro, NC (Friday, 1:40pm ET, TBS)
At least they’re in this year. Last year the Tide had a great second half to their season, finished 12-4 in the SEC and failed to earn a bid thanks to an 80+ RPI. Now they return to the field for the first time in six years.
But Creighton is no slouch. There’s a reason they’re the higher-seed versus the Tide. The Blue Jays won the Missouri Valley Conference and play an uptempo style that should provide a good compare/contrast type of game to watch against Anthony Grant’s D-first gang.
If Bama tops Creighton, up next would likely be a bout with #1 seed North Carolina in Greensboro. Best to focus on Creighton for now.
First Game: Savannah State in Knoxville (Tuesday, 8:00pm ET, ESPNU)
The NCAA may run the NIT, but the two tourneys have two very different selection committees. Armed with the same information as the NCAA’s group, the NIT’s committee — chock-full of ex-coaches — looks strongly at how a team finishes, unlike their NCAA counterparts.
For that reason, Tennessee grabbed the best seed of any SEC squad in the NIT field. (The NCAA committee revealed that Mississippi State was closest to making their tourney as one of the last six teams discussed. Again, go back to what we said last Monday about who had the most work to do. Turns out — as we said — State was close, but not close enough.)
As a top seed, the Vols could play three home games before reaching the the semi-finals at Madison Square Garden. The top-seeded teams in UT’s bracket are #2 Miami, #3 LaSalle and #4 MTSU. The Vols will need to beat Savannah State and then the winner of MTSU and Marshall to reach New York. (Correction: Initially we stated that the NIT had apparently decided to take eight teams to New York rather than the traditional four… mainly because we looked at this poorly designed bracket on the NCAA’s official website. Our apologies.)
First Game: Illinois State in Oxford (Wednesday, 9:30pm ET, ESPNU)
Again, the NIT’s committed looked at how the teams finished. The Rebels reached the SEC semifinals while Mississippi State washed out in the first round and struggled down the stretch.
We explained the NIT’s ins-and-outs above, so we’ll look only at who’s in Ole Miss’ path. To reach Madison Square Garden — and Andy Kennedy has twice led the Rebels to the Big Apple including last season — UM will need to top Illinois State and then beat the winner of Stanford and Cleveland State. That game would also be played in Oxford. The #1 seed in Ole Miss’ bracket is Arizona.
First Game: UMass in Starkville (Tuesday, 7:00pm ET, ESPN2)
The heat on Rick Stansbury — at least from fans — is scorching hot right about now. Not only did a team with talent to spare on paper not make the NCAA field, but it barely got a home game in the NIT. Don’t expect the attendance to be through the roof for that one.
If MSU gets by UMass, they will then play with winner of #1 seed Seton Hall and Stony Brook. If NCAA bubble-worthy Seton Hall wins, the Bulldogs will travel to Jersey to face them. If Stony Brook pulls the shocker, State will host them in Starkville.
St. Joseph’s (#2) and Drexel (#3) are on the other side of State’s bracket.
First Game: Oregon in Eugene (Tuesday, 9:30pm ET, ESPN)
The Tigers lost four of their last five games and should be happy to grab an NIT bid. It’s a sign of progress as Trent Johnson works to build a solid foundation on the Bayou.
After facing off in Arlington, Texas last football season, LSU and Oregon will meet this year on the Ducks’ home court (which might be the most horrific thing in the history of college basketball). Win in Eugene and LSU will either travel to #2 seed Dayton or face #7 seed Iowa at home. Washington and Northwestern are the #1 and #4 seeds on the other side of LSU’s bracket. (Washington, by the way, is the first “power conference” regular season champ to be snubbed for an NCAA at-large bid, so they should have plenty to play for.)
A dark horse to reach the NIT, the Razorbacks were not invited to either that tourney or the 16-squad College Basketball Invitational. Mike Anderson’s first season in Fayetteville is therefore in the books. You have to wonder how it would have turned out had Marshawn Powell not hurt a knee and lost his season.