Before we dive into the bubble debate, here’s a quick look at your final 2011-12 SEC standings:
* Tennessee’s actual record — according to the NCAA selection committee — is 17-13 as a win over Division II Chaminade does not count.
Your tournament schedule for this week’s games in New Orleans is as follows:
Game One, Thursday, 1:00pm ET — #8 LSU vs #9 Arkansas
Game Two, Thursday, 3:30pm ET — #5 Alabama vs #12 S. Carolina
Game Three, Thursday, 7:30pm ET — #7 Ole Miss vs #10 Auburn
Game Four, Thursday, 10:00pm ET — #6 Miss. State vs #11 Georgia
Game Five, Friday, 1:00pm ET — LSU/Arkansas winner vs #1 Kentucky
Game Six, Friday, 3:30pm ET — Alabama/S. Carolina winner vs #4 Florida
Game Seven, Friday, 7:30pm ET — Ole Miss/Auburn winner vs #2 Tennessee
Game Eight, Friday, 10:00pm ET — Miss. State/Georgia winner vs #3 Vanderbilt
Game Nine, Saturday, 1:00pm ET — #1 bracket winner vs #4 bracket winner
Game Ten, Saturday, 3:30pm ET — #2 bracket winner vs #3 bracket winner
Game Eleven, Sunday, 1:00pm ET — Finals
Now some analysis. In our view, Kentucky has a #1 seed wrapped up in the NCAA tourney. Heck, that’s everyone’s view. So they’re in. Ditto Florida and Vanderbilt. Their bodies of work have earned them slots in the field. We believe Alabama has earned an at-large bid, too.
That said, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina aren’t going to the Big Dance unless they win the SEC Tournament. Speaking yesterday with former Tennessee and — for a single interim season — Florida head coach Don DeVoe — a member of the NIT selection committee — we at MrSEC.com learned that he believes LSU and Arkansas will receive strong consideration for bids into that tournament.
That leaves us with three other squads who are currently on the proverbial NCAA bubble — Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee. (DeVoe said all three would be likely to make the NIT if they miss out on the NCAA tourney.)
Below are the NCAA files on the other nine league members. We’ll save MSU, UM and UT for later.
The numbers below — according to NCAA officials and those media members who’ve gone through mock selection sessions run by the NCAA — are most often used to select the field: strength of schedule, RPI, wins versus RPI Top 50 and Top 100 teams, quality road or neutral site wins over RPI Top 100 teams, and bad losses to teams outside the Top 100.
There is a science to Selection Sunday. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Guys like Joe Lunardi wouldn’t be so accurate with their tourney projections each year if the selection committee didn’t rely so heavily on math. There are always an exception or two, but any team not already fitting the usual NCAA profile has plenty of reason to sweat to this week.
Here are the files for nine of the SEC’s 12 squads:
||W vs Top 50
||W vs Top 100
||R/N W vs Top 100
||L vs RPI 101+
Now let’s have some fun with the three teams on the NCAA bubble. Below you’ll find the exact information we used above. But the teams are not identified. You decide who has the best case for the SEC’s 5th bid — if the SEC gets a 5th bid — entering the SEC tourney:
||W vs Top 50
||W vs Top 100
||R/N W vs Top 100
||L vs RPI 101+
So who gets the 5th bid?
If you said Team A — higher RPI, worse record versus Top 50 and Top 100 — then you picked Ole Miss, the SEC’s #7 seed.
If you said Team B — poor RPI and SOS, best records versus Top 50 and Top 100 — then you chose Mississippi State, the SEC’s #6 seed.
And if you said Team C — bad RPI and more bad losses, best SOS — then you picked Tennessee, the SEC’s #2 seed and the hottest team in the league not named Kentucky.
There’s an argument to be made for each squad. And remember, during the season, MSU beat UT… UT beat UM… and UM and MSU split their two meetings.
Also keep in mind that a team’s last 10-12 games are no longer emphasized by the selection committee. Last year, Tennessee started hot and finished cold while Alabama started poorly and then put up the SEC’ second-best league mark. Tennessee got in due to body of work. Alabama — which like Tennessee this year passed “the eye test” — was left out to its body of work.
The final bid — and again, that’s if there’s a 5th SEC bid — could be determined in New Orleans and ironically all three teams are on the same side of the bracket. Luckily for all three, they’re on the opposite side from Kentucky which means they could each put together a lengthy run before having to face the Cats.
Below is what we feel to be the best bet for each team to grab an at-large bid. (Obviously, winning the whole darn tourney would mean an automatic bid, but capturing the flag from UK will be easier said than done.) Since we’re talking about gaining an at-large bid rather than winning the tourney, instead of hoping for an easy road through the tourney, the league’s bubble teams should be hoping they face the best teams possible:
#2 Tennessee’s Best Bet For An At-Large Bid
* The Vols grabbed the #2 seed and a first-round bye but that meant exactly nothing for Alabama last season.
* UT should hope that #7 Ole Miss knocks off #10 Auburn in the first round. Beating RPI 58 UM would slightly help the Volunteers’ RPI and SOS while just playing Auburn (RPI 141) could hurt them. Also, if Tennessee beats Ole Miss, it would be their second win over the Rebels and eliminate a rival bubble team from the SEC tourney.
* Tennessee should want to face #3 Vanderbilt in the semifinals. The Vols have the worst RPI of the SEC’s bubble squads and beating the Commodores — for the second time in a week — would boost their computer numbers. It would also give UT a win of the season series against Vandy (two games to one), which might look good to the selection committee. Especially considering that UT already swept its two games with Florida this year.
* If UT can reach the finals, it will have a 19-13 record (remember: Chaminade doesn’t count) and the Vols would have won 10 of their last 11 games. Whether committee members are supposed to consider that or not, it’s hard to imagine that fact not rattling around in some voters’ minds. Finally, you’ll see this again and again below, but if the Vols face Kentucky in the finals, even a loss could help their RPI and SOS.
#6 Mississippi State’s Best Bet For An At-Large Bid
* The Bulldogs will face #11 Georgia in a first-round game that won’t do much for State’s RPI or SOS.
* Beat UGA and MSU would then face #3 Vanderbilt. A win over the Commodores would give State a two-game sweep of Vandy on the season and aid their computer numbers.
* Bulldog fans have already beaten Tennessee while they split their regular-season games with Ole Miss. A win over the Rebels might do a bit more for State’s RPI and SOS than a win over the Vols. Either way, MSU would likely be popping the bubble hopes of a competitor. What they don’t want is a surprise encounter with poor RPI Auburn.
* If State reaches the finals they’ll do so with a 24-10 record and they’ll have gotten past the SEC’s other two bubble squads. Win or lose against Kentucky — their likely opponent in the finals — the Bulldogs might have done enough by that point to earn an NCAA bid.
#7 Ole Miss’ Best Bet For An At-Large Bid
* The Rebels will face #10 Auburn in their first-round game and that’s not going to help their RPI or their SOS.
* Beat the Tigers and UM will face #2 seed Tennessee. Knocking off the Vols won’t do much for their RPI, either, but it might eliminate one of their competitors from the NCAA tourney bubble.
* Ole Miss fans should be pulling for #3 Vanderbilt to reach the semifinals at that point. Beating the Commodores would improve the Rebels’ record to 21-12 and help both their RPI and SOS.
* Even losing to Kentucky in the finals — if UK makes it — would help UM’s computer numbers.
Our best bet right now?
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.
Starting the tourney, we’d handicap the race for a potential 5th SEC bid as UT #1, UM #2 and MSU #3.
We shall see.