Florida and Kentucky are the only sure things
Plain and simple, the SEC gives me a headache. Here's what we know: Florida and Kentucky will be in the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi and South Carolina won't be.
The other eight teams? Anyone who says they know is lying.
Here's how I broke down the SEC bubble this week:
• Tennessee (No. 8 seed, S-Curve No. 30): The Vols lost three straight heartbreakers on the road before nipping a pretty mediocre South Carolina team at home. Their power numbers (InsideRPI No. 17; SOS No. 12) are outstanding and there are some nice nonconference wins on the résumé. Tennessee, though, is just 2-2 in the SEC, and at times I think they couldn't guard me.
• Vanderbilt (No. 9 seed, S-Curve No. 34): When you beat three InsideRPI Top 25 teams in as many chances, you're going to shoot up the seeding chart. Knocking off Tennessee and Alabama at home wasn't entirely unexpected, but the win at Kentucky certainly was. Vandy is the hottest team in the SEC not named Florida. The Commodores must be seeded ahead of the mixed bag below, yet behind Tennessee due to a much weaker nonconference profile.
• Alabama (No. 10 seed, S-Curve No. 36): The Crimson Tide should be a No. 9 seed in this week's bracket, but that would have slotted them against Notre Dame in the first round (repeating a regular-season matchup). Then again, 'Bama should be happy to be in the bracket at all after laying yet another egg on the road at Auburn on Tuesday. But we can't completely ignore a team which went 13-1 against the No. 16 nonconference schedule and is, however inexplicably, No. 12 in the latest ESPN coaches' poll.
• Georgia (No. 9 seed, S-Curve No. 37): On the surface, the Bulldogs don't seem to have much of an NCAA Tournament case. They've lost to Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wisconsin, Florida and Alabama (at the buzzer). They've also beaten Wake Forest, Gonzaga, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Arkansas (the latter on the road). Georgia is 3-2 in the SEC, good for an intra-conference RPI of No. 17, and -- despite six losses -- has a Sweet 16-level adjusted scoring margin (ASM) of 16.01. In this weekly actual bracket, the Bulldogs and Alabama were flip-flopped to avoid the 'Bama-Notre Dame rematch.
• Arkansas (No. 10, S-Curve No. 40): Yet another feast-or-famine SEC team that was on the verge of falling below the cut line before trouncing LSU. The Hogs have mostly awesome numbers except for their 2-3 conference mark. Could make an argument for Arkansas to be ahead of Alabama, but three losses in a row leading up to LSU pretty much dropped the Razorbacks off the national radar. One thing we can do is wait for the Arkansas-Alabama rematch this Saturday and then eliminate the loser.
• LSU (OUT, S-Curve No. 68): Yes, I know the Tigers are still ranked. Yes, I know they were in the Final Four last year. But what have they really done since topping Texas A&M at home in early December? The only impressive win since then -- UConn at home -- really isn't, and LSU has lost badly to both SEC bubble teams it has played. The Tigers are only three spots out of the projected NCAA field at this point, but need to make a convincing stand over their next three games (Vanderbilt, @Georgia, Alabama).
• Mississippi State and Auburn: Neither team is in the at-large discussion at the moment, but could be before long with .500 conference records and two-digit InsideRPI rankings. Mississippi State is probably the better team, but Auburn had that impressive ESPN thumping over Alabama. I'd say it's one chance in three that one of these two plays their way onto the NCAA bubble.
Of course, if you don't like these rankings or analysis, just wait until the next SEC game is played. That's how often this conference cluster changes.
Joe Lunardi is the resident bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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