For these last couple of weeks of the season, we'll be focused in on the teams who are likely to make the tournament. Right now, the Tigers are a bubble team, who need to win their last games against these four conference rivals (A&M, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida) to put themselves in the big dance, regardless of SEC tournament performance. If they drop any two of the four? It'll take a convincing showing in Nashville (if not winning the whole damn tournament) to get these boys dancing. Let's see where everyone else is at.
Texas A&M (AP: 15, KenPom: 20) Tournament?: Lock
The Aggies dropped back to back games at Vanderbilt and against South Carolina, which aren't as bad of losses as they seem on the surface. Vandy has been a disappointment, but they have the requisite talent to play the role of tourney buster this year, and the Aggie's game against the Gamecocks came down to the last couple of possessions. A&M will head to Tuscaloosa tonight for a matchup with the Tide before heading to Baton Rouge Saturday to battle for control of the top of the conference. For A&M, these last four weeks are all about seeding. This is a great chance for LSU to get a resume boosting win at home, where the PMAC has been extremely kind to the Tigers so far this year. A split of the season series with the Aggies will be the perfect jumping off point for Simmons and co, who have two more marquee games (home against Florida and at Kentucky to end the season) in their final stretch to make an impact on the selection committee (LSU AD Joe Alleva is on said committee, so it's not like its going to take a herculean effort to sneak in the dance.) Here's a good article from our friends over at Good Bull Hunting on the Aggies struggles of late and where they go from here.
Kentucky (AP: 22, KenPom: 15) Tournament?: Near lock (barring collapse)
Interestingly enough, KenPom's advanced statistical methods have Kentucky ahead of A&M, though the AP poll gives much more respect to A&M's resume so far. That's fair, but if we're talking performance potential, who's more likely to make an impact in the tournament... Kentucky is becoming the real threat out of the SEC. This a tournament team no questions asked, barring a complete letdown during this ending stage of the season. The Wildcats picked up a solid win at home against Florida (who's been up and down, more on them next) and had another easy victory at home against Georgia last night, but they get a real road test headed down to USC on Saturday. A win there could put them on track for a strong end to the season, a high seed, and set them as the odds-on favorite heading into the SEC tournament.
Florida (KenPom: 29) Tournament?: In (likely 6-9 seed)
Shellacked by Kentucky in Rupp recently, which hurt, but is also to be expected as that's a regularity for most SEC teams. This came on the heels of a close win over the Arkansas at home, where the Gators have excelled this year. Despite the loss to UK, this team is still playing great defense and cleaning the boards on both ends of the floor, and when their offense is clicking they can hang with anyone. Entering the season as a bit of an afterthought due to the departure of Billy Donovan, this Florida team has put themselves in great position for an at-large bid. They squeaked by Ole Miss in the O-Dome last night, and now Alabama comes to Gainesville on Saturday for what should be a good game. Depending on how strong the Gators finish, they could be a team to watch for in Nashville.
South Carolina (KenPom: 45) Tournament?: In (likely 6-9 seed)
South Carolina is still a huge question mark for many. While they've now got a signature win (a close one on the road against the Aggies), they still have a poor strength of schedule and it's hard to tell what to expect from them in these next two high profile games. They're EXTREMELY lucky to be getting LSU, Kentucky, and Florida all at home during this final February stretch, which could make the difference for them in securing a quality seed. They don't have a standout, but Frank Martin has this team locked in on both ends of the floor. They still haven't really played anybody, but that changes coming up, and it should be a telling stretch.