There should be no crying in the land of popped bubbles today. No whining should emanate from Dixie. The NCAA’s selection committee made its choices yesterday and 11 of the SEC’s 14 teams simply didn’t deserve to go dancing this year.
Alabama ended its season at 20-12 with an RPI of 60 and a strength of schedule of 76 (non-conference of 84). Worse, the Tide was 0-6 against RPI top 50 teams and had three losses outside the top 100… plus another outside the top 200. If Anthony Grant’s team wanted in, it needed more than a win over Tennessee in Nashville (as we told you on Friday). UA needed to take down Florida but it didn’t/couldn’t.
Kentucky had a slightly better record at 21-11, but it’s RPI was 57. It’s strength of schedule was 70. It’s non-conference SOS was 73. While the Cats did manage three top 50 RPI wins, they also suffered three sub-100 losses. But the real undoing of John Calipari’s fourth squad was the season-ending knee injury to Nerlens Noel back on February 12th. Needing to prove that they could thrive without their big man, UK instead went 4-4 down the stretch. That includes three losses in the Wildcats’ last four games, all to teams with RPI of 95 or worse.
Tennessee had a bubble-worthy resume, but there should be no complaining from the Volunteer State. Good enough for the conversation? Yes. Definitely better than some other teams who landed at-large bids? Hardly. UT’s strength of schedule was 58 and its RPI 59. It’s non-conference SOS was a solid 47. Tennessee was 3-5 against top 50 RPI foes. All pretty good. But the Vols had a pair of sub-100 losses. Those twin losses to Georgia (RPI 140) and an annual SEC Tournament flop — this time against Alabama — sealed the Vols’ fate. UT surely had its chances. Even going back to November the Vols went three-of-11 from the foul line against Georgetown in a 37-36 loss. Hit two more free throws and beat the Hoyas (RPI 11 and a #2 seed in the tourney) and the Vols might have made the field. In the end, UT left too much fruit hanging on the tree.
As for Arkansas and LSU not making the NIT field, well, that’s just further proof that the NIT has improved since the NCAA has taken it over. Still a bracket for also-rans, the NIT is now forced to take those teams who won their conference’s regular season title only to be upset in their conference tourney. That’s a good thing for the little guy. It’s a bad thing for all the middle-of-the-road, big conference teams that used to fill the field.
The Razorbacks won one game – one — outside their home state this year and that victory came at Auburn (RPI 252). The Hogs were 3-6 against top 50 RPI foes and had a whopping four losses outside the top 100. There should be no whining in the Natural State.
LSU lost three of its last five games with its two wins coming over Texas A&M (RPI 101) and Georgia (RPI 140). The Tigers were a measly 1-6 against RPI top 50 teams and had two losses outside the RPI top 200.
The Southeastern Conference was supposed to be improved on the hardwood this year. It was not. Missouri earned a tourney bid, but they were hardly the top 10 team they were expected by many to be. They couldn’t close out games away from home. At all.
Ole Miss put together its best season ever with 26 wins and an SEC Tournament championship (to finally get people off Andy Kennedy’s back). But the Rebels’ schedule was so weak (120) and its non-conference SOS so bad (280), that UM might not have made the field had it not cut down the nets in Nashville. (And, no, we don’t buy what the selection committee sells post-bracket-reveal each season because their logic changes from season to season.)
The Southeastern Conference was littered with disappointments this season: Kentucky wasn’t a top five team even before Noel’s injury. Tennessee was hurt by the loss of Jeronne Maymon for the season. Arkansas was talking NCAA tourney before the season. So was Alabama. Auburn was far worse than expected. Mississippi State was abysmal, though Rick Ray had to deal with injuries, suspensions, and a roster thinner than a dime. South Carolina was as awful as predicted. Georgia was down, then up for a bit, then back down. Texas A&M started hot only to fall apart. Vanderbilt got better as the year went on but there was really nowhere to go but up after the Commodores’ horrible start.
Think of it another way — What coaches deserve a slap on the back for the work they did this year? Kennedy in Oxford. Billy Donovan at Florida. Johnny Jones at LSU.
Did anyone else live up to or exceed expectations?
No. So there should be no weeping over burst bubbles in SEC territory today. The league got what it deserved — three bids to the Big Dance. No more.