Anyone that follows And the Valley Shook on twitter is likely bombarded by the #SECBasketballFever hashtags that PodKATT uses whenever the SEC loses a game. 58 times that has happened so far, for an average of over 4 losses per team. Sometimes they are acceptable, and sometimes they aren't. Either way, SEC fans cannot and should not be upset on Selection Sunday when the conference will undoubtedly be judged very harshly by the NCAA selection committee.
Before I get into the specifics of each team in the conference, I have to point out the math behind the prediction. We know from history roughly how many teams will make it from each conference based on the raw computer numbers. The SEC sits at 9th overall as a conference in the RPI, behind every "BCS" conference, the Atlantic 10 conference, Mountain West conference, and Missouri Valley conference. It's actually not worse than the Pac-12 was last year(they finished 10th), but it's the worst the SEC has been in the last decade.
The NCAA tournament has 68 total teams, and 31 of the teams will get into the tournament automatically by winning the conference tournament(excluding the Ivy League which does not have a tournament). Knowing that, here's my projections for the amount of teams that each conference will get in addition to the automatic bids.
Atlantic 10 +4
Big 12 +3
Big East +6
Big 10 +6
Missouri Valley +2
Mountain West +4
West Coast +1
Once you add up all of those bids in addition to the 31 auto bids, you get 64. This means, at most, the SEC would be getting 4 bids if all of the top teams won their conference tournaments. Of course, that never happens in real life, so it's entirely possible that the SEC is left with fewer than 4 bids. Other conferences could take bids away from themselves, as well, or have their bids taken from the non-NCAA teams that win auto bids. As of right now, I would only feel safe projecting the SEC as a +2, with the last bid going to Conference USA. As of right now, I think the three that would make it from the SEC are Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Now I'll give a brief rundown of each team and how I think they will do in SEC play. The number next to their name is their rank that I put for the SEC Powerpoll this week.
The Crimson Tide is one of the most talented teams in the SEC, but also one of the most inconsistent and flawed. They are one of the main reasons why the SEC this bad this season. At the beginning of the year, I thought they would seriously compete for a top 25 spot in the rankings and a high NCAA seed. Now, they are going into the conference schedule with lots of losses and a couple of bad losses.
Trevor Lacey and Trevor Releford are the leaders of the team and are responsible for much of the scoring. They are both good shooters that can win games in the final seconds, but are somewhat limited as passers. As a team, the Tide are still quite limited on offense, and do a pretty poor job of rebounding. Like a lot of teams that have similar flaws, they will slow the game down as much as possible to limit possessions and hide these flaws.
Going forward, I'm somewhat confident that they won't be in the NCAA tournament this year, mostly because I think they will lose games that they should win. They will be able to beat some of the top teams in the SEC and finish towards the middle of the pack.
It's year two for Mike Anderson at Arkansas after leaving from new SEC rival Missouri, and so far it looks like he still needs more time to be judged. The Razorbacks currently have an average 9-4 record, but played one of the toughest schedules of the SEC teams. The losses to Syracuse, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona State aren't bad at all. The problem is that the SEC won't give Arkansas many opportunities to win over top 50 RPI teams, something that the selection committee frequently uses to judge teams.
BJ Young and Marshawn Powell were considered to be the leaders in the preseason, and so far they haven't disappointed. Combined they average over 30 points a game in scoring, while Powell leads the team in rebounding and Young does so in assists and steals. The Razorbacks still play an extremely uptempo style that could cause problems for teams without depth or without the offensive firepower to match them when the shots are falling. Still, Arkansas is a team that struggles on the road and that will need to change if they want a spot in the NCAA tournament.
As I will point out many times, it's still possible for a lot of teams in the SEC to make the tournament despite the fact that I project there will be minimal spots for the conference. Whether you want to call the conference mediocre, balanced, winnable, or just flat out bad, that means that a single team can emerge from the wreckage and earn a bid by winning a lot. Arkansas is one of those teams. I think when all is said and done however, they will be on the outside looking in, perhaps directly on the bubble and in the top 6 in the SEC.
The War Eagle Tigers, also LSU's first SEC opponent, are perhaps the toughest team to project in the SEC. As you see, I ranked the Tigers much higher than Deniz. Despite being under .500, the Tigers are one of the teams that went out of their way to challenge themselves in the non-conference. Yeah, they lost some games that they should have won, but so did a lot of the conference. I didn't think a team that played more tough games was necessarily worse because they lost more. Recently, I do like how they have played by taking Illinois to the limit and beating FSU at home.
As noted yesterday in the Q&A, the team generally relies upon Frankie Sullivan for scoring, and when others are able to step up and help him is when the Tigers are at their best. Allen Payne seems to have emerged as the number 2 guy, while Rob Chubb anchors the inside. Essentially, they rely on a single player to control the offense, but Sullivan is good enough to do so.
I don't think the Tigers have a postseason bid in their future, but I think they will finish ahead of some teams in the SEC. They likely will be 10th or worse, but will have a significantly better record than the bottom teams. I would expect to see a couple of home upsets for Auburn just because players like Sullivan can get hot and be unstoppable. Unfortunately, the good teams like Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri will find ways to outscore him most times.
At one point during this season, I thought the Gators could challenge for a 1 seed and run away with the conference. Then, after a last second collapse against Arizona and a loss to Kansas State, the Gators seem to have lost that opportunity unless they go on a completely dominating run in SEC play. The Gators did set themselves up nicely for a high seed by dismantling Wisconsin, Marquette, and FSU, but without a site anywhere near Gainesville, it looks like the Gators will be playing at neutral sites in the entire NCAA tournament should they indeed make it.
The team is essentially the same as last year's team. Losing Erving Walker may end up being a blessing if Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin are able to continue to score efficiently. Patric Young is a good center, he just needs to continue to stay out of foul trouble. Erik Murphy is a great shooting forward and could cause match up problems for a lot of teams in the SEC.
Overall, there's a lot to like about this team. As of right now I think Missouri is better, but that can change over the course of the season. I expect to see the Gators in the NCAA tournament and they have the talent to compete for a final four spot.
I think the first team that PodKATT said #SECBasketballFever about was this Georgia team after they lost the second game of the season against the Penguins of Youngstown State. In Mark Fox's fourth year, the Bulldogs look like one of the worst teams in the SEC. At the beginning of the year, the Bulldogs were pesky and nearly upset both Indiana and UCLA. Both games were closer than the final scores. However, since losing those two games in the Legends Classic, the Dawgs were only able to win 5 of 8, and none of them are resume building wins.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will get attention from a lot of media members and coaches this year because of the big numbers that he is putting up, but like Auburn's Frankie Sullivan, he's carrying the team. The stat line of 17 points and 7 rebounds is impressive, but there's a lot of players that do that. Unfortunately, there's not enough scoring punch from any other players to give him the chance to actually win some games.
As high as I was on Auburn, I'm low on Georgia. Caldwell-Pope is very talented, but I don't see anyway that he's going to efficiently score his 17 a game in the SEC. He might maintain the average, but he will do so with a low shooting percentage and a high usage rate. I don't see a postseason bid in the future for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The defending national championship Kentucky Wildcats are another somewhat disappointing SEC team. After starting off the season with a hard fought win over the Maryland Terrapins, the Wildcats weren't able to score a quality win over any other team on their schedule, and even lost their first home game under John Calipari. None of their losses are bad and that will likely remain true this entire season. Unfortunately, like other teams, they don't have many opportunities to get that marquee win.
Number one recruit Nerlens Noel has settled into his role quite well, but comparing him to Anthony Davis is still foolish and incorrect. He's a good defensive player, but still quite raw on offense and that might not change this year. He's actually turned out to be an above average rebounder, which I think is surprising since usually blocks and rebounds are mutually exclusive. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress are both solid and should be NBA picks just like the rest of Calipari's recruits usually are. Ryan Harrow has also done a good job of settling into his role and should be OK as long as he listens to Calipari.
The raw talent is present in Lexington, but unlike most, I don't expect another deep NCAA run from the 'Cats. Most expected them to be elite this season, either now or "at the end", but I don't think a team can be drastically changed in such a short time. Progress has been made, and the Wildcats should be solidly in the field of 68 in March, but I think that they will fall short of expectations when the lights get brighter and the pressure builds.
Our LSU Tigers are in a group of teams that should probably be labeled "to be determined", along with Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee. All of these teams have flawed non-conference schedules in one way or another, and all will be judged mostly based on what they do in SEC play. The Bayou Bengals were unable to score a marquee road win over Boise State or Marquette, but were able to avoid being upset by an inferior team. The schedule as a whole was light, and may or may not have prepared them for life in the SEC.
There's actually quite a bit of balance on the roster. Anthony Hickey is likely the best guard when he is able to play. Charles Carmouche provides the necessary leadership that the team needs. Johnny O'Bryant, when healthy, is a very effective post player, while Shavon Coleman has been fantastic so far in his first season with the Tigers. The freshmen have cooled down since the start of the season, but they still look to have the talent to make contributions for LSU in SEC play.
Overall, I like the direction that LSU is going, but I don't think there is a spot for them in the NCAA tournament. I don't think they are capable of winning every game that they should and they will likely lose some road games against inferior teams. The non-conference schedule will sink any computer numbers that they have should they finish anywhere near the bubble without winning a couple of games against the top of the SEC. Still, Jones has a great chance to turn the "rebuilding year" into something that could be called a "re-tuning year".
Perhaps the most difficult team to project in the entire SEC is the Rebels. It seems that by having 10 wins going into conference play that they are one of the better SEC teams, but I think they need to prove quite a bit. The Rebels got somewhat unlucky in the Diamond Head Classic and lost to Indiana State. That meant that they would be playing only mid-majors San Francisco and Hawaii rather than getting the chance against Arizona or San Diego State to score a marquee win. The rest of their schedule is very light, though the win against Rutgers could end up being solid.
Murphy Holloway is the leader and averages a double double so far this season. The Rebels as a team are one of the highest scoring in the entire country, though that could change quickly against the SEC. The good thing is that since there are so many bad SEC teams, they should be able to outscore teams and avoid some upsets that other teams may take. I would like to see more of the Rebels on the road, since they have struggled somewhat away from home, but were also able to win away from home which is more than some teams can say.
I think the outlook for the rest of the season is cloudy. The Rebels did barely enough to not sink their NCAA chances to this point, and may be judged favorably when compared to the rest of the SEC. Still, they cannot afford any bad losses and will need to win the home games against the top SEC teams. That could give them a strong enough resume to get into the field, though it may be in a play-in game. I don't think I'm going out on too huge of a limb to say that they will be in the NCAA field. They likely won't make it past the first weekend, but it may be enough for Andy Kennedy to keep his job.
I think at this point it is unquestionable that Mississippi State is the worst team in the SEC. The season started off rough with a road loss to the Troy Trojans and it never got better from there. The Bulldogs were actually the worst team in Maui this year, having a worse record than division two host Chaminade. Losses to other teams such as Alabama AM pretty much eliminate any hope for a postseason game.
The Bulldogs have pretty much everything wrong with the team. They only have 10 total players, 9 of whom play regular minutes. They shoot it quite poorly, rebound decently, but also score poorly. In addition to all of that, they have new coaching with Rick Ray, who is surely trying to introduce a new style of play. The Bulldogs may win a couple of games this year, because the SEC has shown they are capable of playing down to the level of an opponent, but more often than not they will be playing in empty arenas being blown out.
The team at the top of my initial rankings is the newcomers, the Missouri Tigers. Unlike most of the SEC, they played tough non-conference schedule and won the games they should have won. Losing to Louisville by a big margin may have thrown some off the scent, so to speak, but I still think the Tigers give the SEC the best chance to reach the final four. Wins over Illinois, VCU, and Bucknell will boost their computer numbers, while their two losses won't sink them.
Lawrence Bowers has been fantastic so far since returning from a season ending injury last year. Jabari Brown has played as well as advertised so far and has been able to adequately replace Michael Dixon, who was kicked off the team. Phil Pressey is making his case to be the Cousy Award winner and should be an easy selection as a finalist for that award. Missouri could end up with multiple players on the multiple All-American award lists.
Ironically enough, I'm not quite sure that Missouri will even win the conference yet. The Tigers got a tough schedule, having to play Florida, South Carolina, LSU, Ole Miss, and Arkansas all twice. The Tigers look to be the best team, but playing a tougher schedule gives them more opportunities to drop a game that the Gators or Wildcats otherwise would not. Still, I think they have the best chance to get the highest seed from the SEC and to go the furthest in the NCAA tournament.
The Gamecocks made the biggest splash in the off season by landing former Kansas State coach Frank Martin. So far, he has done a decent job record-wise, but the Gamecocks aren't nearly as good as their record. Losses to St. John's, Elon, and Clemson will look much worse once the season continues and those teams get beat in conference. There's not really a win on the schedule that the 'Cocks could say is anything close to a marquee win, either.
Bruce Ellington could help out on the basketball side again, as LaShay Page is out for the rest of the season with an injury. Ellington has always been a solid two sport star. Brenton Williams has done a pretty good job leading the team without Ellington, though he should have some setbacks now that the competition is getting significantly tougher. Still, having Martin on the sidelines will surely help both in the short term and long term for the Gamecocks program.
South Carolina fans shouldn't expect to find themselves in the post season, but I think Frank Martin is good enough to lead them to one of the smaller tournaments like the CBI or CIT. It will be a step in the right direction for the program, but I think it's unlikely that the Gamecocks make any real noise this season,
News came out recently that likely sealed the deal for the Volunteers this season; Jeronne Maymon is out for the year. Coming into the season, he was looked at as a sidekick for super-soph Jarnell Stokes, but instead will be red-shirting after his surgery has not healed completely. The Vols were hit or miss in the non-conference schedule, losing some ugly games to Georgetown and Virginia, but also winning some big games over Wichita State and Xavier. If the SEC season doesn't go horrible for the Vols, they could find themselves with a bid in the NCAA tournament.
Jordan McRae and Trae Golden are the leaders in the back court, but so far, they have been quite inefficient on offense. That inefficiency has definitely cost them games so far, but both have the talent to improve over the course of the season. Jarnell Stokes is still a great rebounder and scorer, but he's going to need help that may or may not come from the rest of the front court.
Looking ahead, I think you could flip a coin and decide where Tennessee will end up. Things could go well for them again if Cuonzo Martin is able to go on a run like he did last year. It could go badly if the team isn't able to have an offensive game enough times this year. They will certainly need it against teams like Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri who are sure to score at least 70 each against the Vols. In the end, I think the Vols will miss the NCAA tournament because of poor play against the elite SEC teams.
This is perhaps the team that I know the least about, and I think many in the SEC would agree with me. The non-conference schedule provided very little insight as to whether or not we will see this team make some noise or go into the first SEC season quietly. A big loss to St. Louis, while embarrassing based on the score, isn't a bad loss. However, losing at home to Southern is, and it could be the difference between an NCAA bid and an NIT bid should the Aggies exceed expectations.
Based on talent, I don't really think the Aggies are the 12th team in the SEC. Based on what they have done to this point, they are. Teams like Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia have many more losses, but by challenging themselves, I thought they were better even though they lost. I think in time this will change, but for now I really couldn't find a spot for Texas AM that I felt comfortable putting them when I truly didn't believe they deserved to be there, yet. Elston Turner is having a breakout year and could have a similar year to Devan Downey from South Carolina in which he wins a game for the Aggies that they should otherwise lose.
Overall, I don't think they will find themselves in the NCAA tournament, mostly because I think they are entirely average when compared to the rest of the SEC. They, like LSU, will suffer losses to inferior teams on the road and find themselves in the NIT.
Last, and perhaps least, is the Vanderbilt Commodores. After a stunning victory over the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC tournament last year, the 'Dores are in a total rebuilding year. They were able to pick up a win over Xavier in overtime to give them a .500 record going into SEC play, but Vanderbilt fans don't have a lot to look forward to. They were routinely beaten badly by teams in the non-conference schedule, the worst perhaps being a 50-33 loss to Marist.
Kedren Johnson leads the team with 16 points a game, but there's not much else after that. Kyle Fuller adds 11 a night, but the team as a whole averages more turnovers than assists. Most statistical categories have the 'Dores at 300th or worse, and this should keep them near the bottom of the SEC for the remainder of the season. Needless to say, there won't be a postseason bid for Vanderbilt this year. Still, with all that they lost, that should have been expected, even if they have good coaching.
This year, Deniz and I will also be working together on the SEC Powerpoll, and here is what Deniz has to say about the state of the SEC.
Jeff, I agree with you for the most part, but I think you really underrated Texas A&M, which is a solid, mid-table squad, and I wouldn't have a 6-7 Auburn squad in 8th place. I think I follow your reasoning since they looked very good against FSU and Illinois, but I need to see more consistency before I excuse their awful start to the season The rest of the differences are fairly subtle.
I think we can look at the league in four tiers. Tier 1 are the teams that will make the NCAA Tournament with near certainty. In Tier 2, there are the teams that could get in as 9-12 seeds but which also could slip into the NIT. In Tier 3, there are teams on the outside looking in, and the Tier 4 teams would need a complete turnaround to even merit NIT or CBI consideration.
1) Missouri (12-2, 1-0): The Tigers have played admirably this year, considering senior Michael Dixon's dismissal from the program. So far, Mizzou has the SEC's best non-conference win, over Illinois in a neutral court, and has only lost to Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis and on the road to UCLA. They don't appear to be a national title contender, but they are the strongest team in the SEC so far.
2) Florida (10-2, No SEC games yet): Florida looked like the SEC's best chance for a title contender at the start of the season. However, their wins over Wisconsin and Florida State are not nearly as impressive in January as they were when they occurred, as both programs are in rebuilding years. The Gators had an epic meltdown in Tuscon and lost to Kansas State by 6 points, before Christmas. They open SEC play on Wednesday.
3) Kentucky (9-4, No SEC games yet): Kentucky has more upside than Missouri, but their team really doesn't compare to last year's group. While last year's team had experienced stars like Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb, only Kyle Wiltjer returned from last season's championship team. Other than their season-opening win against Maryland, UK has lost all of their games against future NCAA teams, but freshman Archie Goodwin has exceeded my expectations.
4) Ole Miss (11-2, No SEC games yet): The Rebels have been the surprise team in the SEC so far. While their non-conference schedule hasn't been particularly difficult, they have put away teams like Coastal Carolina, which blew out Clemson, and Rutgers. Last year's team reeled off 5 straight SEC wins last February and March, before falling to conference champs Vanderbilt, and this year's squad is better.
5) Tennessee (8-4, No SEC games yet): In the pre-season, I expected the Vols to be the fourth best team in the conference. I still do, but it may take a week or two for the team to move up in the power rankings. However, it should be noted that Tennessee's non-conference schedule was among the most challenging in the league, with games against Georgetown, Memphis, Wichita State, and Oklahoma State. Unfortunately, Tennessee's only knocked off Wichita State.
6) Arkansas(9-4): The Razorbacks lost to Michigan and Syracuse, but neither of these elite teams really blew them away. Their current 5-game winning streak doesn't include any powerhouses, but they are a team worth watching.
7) LSU (9-2): The Tigers' best win so far is against Seton Hall. Their road trip included a tight win against UC-Irvine and losses to Marquette and Boise State, but their uptempo game has been fun to watch. With a healthy Johnny O'Bryant and a (hopefully) reformed Anthony Hickey, the Tigers could be a dark horse to make the NCAAs.
8) Texas A&M (10-3). The Aggies have an embarrassing loss to Southern, but have otherwise performed decently in the non-conference slate. They have a surprisingly high RPI of 55, eight spots ahead of Kentucky.
9) Alabama (8-6, 0-1): The Tide gave Cincinnati a decent test in December, but they have struggled over Christmas break, with losses to Tulane and Mercer.
10) Auburn (6-7): Auburn had a dismal start to the season, starting 2-5. But in the past week, they knocked off Florida State and played a close game against Illinois. I'm not sure how to rank them. They are definitely the most polarizing team in the rankings.
11) South Carolina (10-3): While the Gamecocks have a better record, they have played an extremely light non-conference schedule. Their current RPI strength of schedule is a dismal 346th in the country.
12) Georgia (6-7)
13) Vanderbilt (6-6)
14) Mississippi State (5-7)
Growing pains were surely expected for these three teams. Vanderbilt lost their 6 best players and Mississippi State lost 4 of their top 5 without adding any elite newcomers. However, Georgia has been very disappointing when you consider that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Nemanja Djurisic both returned after solid freshmen seasons.
I think the one thing that everyone can agree on is that parity, mediocrity, or flat out average teams can lead to excitement. The SEC will be up and down this season and as much as I try to predict everything, there's a team that I'm ignoring or incorrect on that will emerge from the pack. Basketball is a game that is heavily influenced by momentum and the mental state of a team. A road win can lead to big home crowds and big home wins. A disappointing loss can spiral into multiple losses. In the end, the best teams usually, but not always, come out ahead but will do so with battle scars.