SEC BASKETBALL

Tournament bound and those on the bubble


Published: Friday, February 24, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 at 12:21 a.m.

SURE BETS AND NOT YETS

The Southeastern Conference has proven this season that it ranks among the best basketball leagues in the country.

The SEC ranks fourth in the nation in conference RPI, according to most major webistes. The website Live-RPI.com has the SEC fourth overall, behind the Big Ten, Big East and Big 12.

Yet as of now, only three league teams are assured of NCAA Tournament bids. Three more teams are on the bubble.

Here's a look at how SEC teams stand heading down the stretch of the regular season:

THEY'RE IN

Kentucky

Overall Record: 27-1

Conference Record: 13-0

NCAA.com RPI: 4

Key Wins: Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville

Bad Losses: Indiana

Outlook: Barring an unforeseen collapse, the ‘Cats will wrap up a No. 1 seed and likely will earn the top overall seed in the tournament. Look for Kentucky to wind up in either the South (Atlanta) or Midwest (St. Louis) Region. Kentucky will probably play its first two games close to home in Louisville's new state-of-the-art arena.

Florida

Overall Record: 22-6

Conference Record: 10-3

NCAA.com RPI: 17

Key Wins: Arizona, Vanderbilt, Florida State

Bad Losses: Rutgers, Tennessee (twice)

Outlook: The Gators will try to finish the season strong to wrap up a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. A lower seed could mean that Florida will have to travel farther west (Omaha, Albuquerque or Portland) for its first two games.

Vanderbilt

Overall Record: 20-8

Conference Record: 9-4

NCAA.com RPI: 24

Key Wins: Marquette, Alabama, North Carolina State

Bad Losses: Indiana State, Cleveland State

Outlook: The Commodores are locked into an NCAA Tournament berth with a winning record in SEC play. But Vanderbilt will need to finish strong down the stretch to assure a high seed. It won't be easy. Vanderbilt closes the regular season at No. 1 Kentucky, home vs. No. 12 Florida and on the road at rival Tennessee. Vanderbilt has faded late in each of the past two seasons under current coach Kevin Stallings. It will be interesting to see if a more experienced Vanderbilt team with five returning starts can change that trend this March.

ON THE BUBBLE

Alabama

Overall Record: 18-9

Conference Record: 7-6

NCAA.com RPI: 37

Key Wins: Wichita State, Virginia Commonwealth, Purdue

Bad Losses: South Carolina

Outlook: There is a feeling that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee would like to reward Alabama for head coach Anthony Grant's strong stance on discipline (suspending frontcourt starters Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green for multiple games). But the Tide will need to play well down the stretch. Green is back practicing and if he returns could be a big factor in remaining games against Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss. Alabama played a strong non-conference schedule but needs to finish with a winning record in the SEC.

Mississippi State

Overall Record: 19-9

Conference Record: 6-7

NCAA.com RPI: 59

Key Wins: Arizona, West Virginia, Vanderbilt

Bad Losses: Akron, Georgia, Auburn

Outlook: The Bulldogs looked in great shape until their recent four-game losing streak. Mississippi State had a chance to pick up a signature win against No. 1 Kentucky but couldn't hold a 13-point halftime lead. Mississippi State needs to win at least two of its final games (vs. Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas) to stay on the bubble heading into the SEC Tournament.

LSU

Overall Record: 17-10

Conference Record: 7-6

NCAA.com RPI: 63

Key Wins: Marquette,

Bad Losses: South Alabama, Coastal Carolina

Outlook: Yes, LSU's RPI is a little low but the Tigers have time to make up some ground. LSU has won four straight and have winnable games remaining against Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn. If the Tigers can sweep those three games they will wrap up a first-round bye in their home state (New Orleans, La.) in the SEC Tournament. A win or two there could get LSU back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

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