NCAA bubble heavy with SEC teams

By Les Johns | @KernelJohns

ljohns@kykernel.com

Saturday was a crushing day for NCCA tournament bubble teams from the SEC. Every team that desperately needed a win found a way to lose. Ole Miss crumpled the worst, dropping a game to Mississippi State, who had lost 13-straight and had just two conference wins.

With just two games left before the SEC Tournament, there are several teams that have work to do to make the Big Dance.

Florida Gators (23-5, 13-3)

Quality wins: Wisconsin, Marquette, Missouri, UK

Bad losses: none

Remaining schedule: Vanderbilt, at UK

The Gators are the only SEC absolute lock for the NCAA Tournament. They have been consistently ranked in the Top-10, and should be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed when the brackets are announced.

The Gators could be poised to make a deep tourney run as they begin to get healthy with the return of Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier from injuries.

My pick: In. Easily, without a doubt.

Missouri Tigers (21-8, 10-6)

Quality wins: Illinois, Florida, Alabama

Bad losses: at LSU, at Texas A&M

Remaining schedule: Arkansas, at Tennessee

A bid is Missouri’s to lose at this point. Most projections have them comfortably in, but with two tough games remaining, they could find themselves in a position to have to make a run at the SEC Tournament in Nashville to solidify their standing. The Tuesday night game at home against former Missouri head coach Mike Anderson and the Arkansas Razorbacks is crucial.  Win that game and the Tigers are in no matter what.

My pick: In. The committee will love the win over a Big Ten team, and a win in either of the last two regular season games will look good.

Kentucky Wildcats (20-9, 11-5)

Quality wins: Maryland, Tennessee, at Ole Miss, Missouri

Bad losses: Baylor, Texas A&M

Remaining schedule: at Georgia, Florida

The Cats hold their fate in their own hands, but they do have work to do. They absolutely, positively can’t afford to lose at Georgia Thursday. The Bulldogs are tough at home, coming off a win over another SEC bubble team, Tennessee, Saturday.

If the Cats come away from Athens with a win, then beating Florida Saturday would lock up a bid.

The most likely outcome is a win at Georgia and a home loss to Florida. If that happens, then the Cats need to win a game or two in Nashville.

The good news for UK fans is that the Cats are 11-1 in SEC Tournament games played in Nashville, winning three of the four tournaments there they have competed in. The environment will be very much like a home game, with most of the 18,000 fans in the crowd cheering on the Cats.

I think the Cats make the field, but the key game is Thursday against Georgia. A loss there and then they would essentially have to win the SEC Tournament.

My pick: In, but barely. The Cats will play in one of the play-in games in Dayton.

Tennessee Volunteers (17-11, 9-7)

Quality wins: Massachusetts, Wichita State, Alabama, UK, Florida

Bad losses: Georgia, at Georgia

Remaining schedule: at Auburn, Missouri

The Vols won six games in a row before losing at Georgia. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi didn’t have UT in the field Friday, but inexplicably moved them now to his “last four in” slot after the seemingly-debilitating loss.

They have another chance for a quality win Saturday, hosting Missouri. If they beat the Tigers, they may make the field, if they can avoid any further embarrassing losses. The strange thing is that if they hadn’t lost to Georgia twice, they would be firmly in right now.

My pick: Out. The late-season surge won’t be enough after dropping the regular-season finale to Missouri and losing early in the SEC Tournament.

Alabama Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-5)

Quality wins: Villanova, Tennessee, Kentucky

Bad losses: Mercer, Tulane, at Auburn

Remaining schedule: at Ole Miss, Georgia

The Tide are tied for second in the SEC, but are have faced an uphill-battle getting on the smiling side of the bubble all season. The reason is their weak schedule and performance in the non-conference slate. They dropped five of their last seven out-of-conference, including some surprising losses at home.

Anthony Grant’s team passes the eye test, however, and had an eight-point second-half lead at Florida Saturday until a late Gator run.

If Alabama picks up a quality road win Tuesday night at Ole Miss, they may finally have built a resume strong enough to overcome their early-season struggles.

My pick: Out if they lose to Ole Miss Tuesday. In with a win.

Ole Miss Rebels (21-8, 10-6)

Quality wins: at Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee

Bad losses: at South Carolina, at Mississippi State

Remaining schedule: Alabama, at LSU

The Rebels have lost six of their last 10, likely eliminating themselves from playing the NCAA and placing head coach Andy Kennedy firmly on the hot seat.

The loss to a Mississippi State squad that had lost 13 games in a row was the final deathblow. That was a game the Rebels couldn’t afford to lose to have any hope of an at-large berth to the NCAA.

My pick: Out. No way after the loss to Mississippi State.

Arkansas Razorbacks (18-11, 9-7)

Quality wins: Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, Kentucky

Bad losses: at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt

Remaining schedule: at Missouri, Texas A&M

If the NCAA tourney was played at Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena, the Hogs would be a No. 1 seed. The Razorbacks’ 1-10 record in games played on the road will haunt them, however, and keep them out of the field.

My pick: Out.