With the conference schedule having only three weeks remaining in the SEC before the conference tournament in New Orleans, teams in position for the NCAA Tournament are trying to hang on to their spot and improve their seeding. Those teams on the outside looking in plan on using these last three weeks to make their best case for the selection comittee.
A couple of those teams who already know they’re in the Big Dance are Kentucky and Florida in the SEC East. Both teams are undoubtedly looking at a bid into the Tournament and possibly a very high seed. The Wildcats picked up another big win last Tuesday when they knocked off the Georgia Bulldogs in Rupp Arena on ESPN’s “Super Tuesday” showcase. On Saturday, the Wildcats struggled with LSU early, pulled ahead by a big margin, let the Tigers come back at the very end, and then won the game going away in the final minutes. That UK win moved the ‘Cats to 10-0 in the conference and and gave them their 20th win to go with only three losses on the season. Meanwhile, the Gators pulled out a win over Mississippi at home on Wednesday night. The Rebels hung right with Florida until the middle of the second half when the Gators exploded on Mississippi. The Gators next test came at Tennesee where they came up just short in an extremely close game in Knoxville. That loss hurts the Gators’ chances of catching up with Kentucky in the East standings, as UF now sits at 9-2 in the SEC and 20-4 overall.
Speaking of the Tennessee Volunteers, UT is one of the hottest teams not only in the SEC but also in the entire country. Tennessee has won six straight games over the past three weeks, five of them conference games. The streak continued this week when the Vols went on the road to a struggling Arkansas team and pulled out a win over the dangerous Hogs. UT returned home Saturday to a pumped up crowd in Knoxville to battle the Florida Gators, ranked #1 in the country just a week ago. The Volunteers pulled away in the final minute and won a huge seven-point decision to move them ahead of the Georgia Bulldogs in the standings. Now 7-3 in the league and 15-6 overall, Tennessee looks like a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament. Led by Ron Slay, these Vols are a team to watch out for when Tourney time (both the NCAA and SEC) comes around in the next few weeks.
The SEC West got a little tighter this week as Mississippi State picked up a win in their only game of the week. The Bulldogs had Wednesday off following their win over Arkansas last weekend before taking on Mississippi in Starkville on Saturday night. The Bulldogs and Rebels battled back-and-forth the whole game and then some. It took overtime for the Dawgs to finally squeak past Mississippi by four points. That win, combined with an Auburn loss, moved the Bulldogs, who are 6-4 in the conference and 16-5 overall, into a first place tie with the Tigers. Auburn also had the mid-week off this past week but had to go on the road for their only game of the week. A trip to Tuscaloosa was on Auburn’s schedule, and the Tide smoked the Tigers. Auburn was down by nearly 20 points at halftime and never recovered. Now sitting at 6-4 in the SEC and 17-6 overall, the Tigers are trying to regain some of the momentum they had about a month ago and capture the SEC West title and an NCAA berth.
Alabama is the only team not yet talked about that still has legitimate hopes of making the NCAA Tournament. Right now, the Tide has a 4-6 record in the SEC and a 14-7 mark for the season. This week is the toughest Alabama has on its schedule the rest of the way. On Tuesday, the Tide hosts the Georgia Bulldogs in Tuscaloosa. This game is crucial to UA, especially when you look at their matchup Saturday. That’s when the Tide must travel to Tennessee, possibly the hottest team in the country (though Kentucky would argue that one). After a trip to Mississippi State the next Wednesday, things lighten up a little for Bama. Without a win this week, though, the Tide can forget about the Big Dance.
Top SEC Games This Week....
The SEC West has three teams making up the bottom-most portion of the standings. The Mississippi Rebels have lost their last six SEC games while going from 3-2 in the league to 3-8. Right now, the Rebels are just above .500 overall at 12-10. The schedule this week isn’t a whole lot easier as UM gets the mid-week off before hosting the Auburn Tigers. Right with UM is LSU, who is 3-8 in the SEC and 14-9 overall. Like the Rebels, the Tigers are out of an NCAA berth unless they win the SEC Tournament. However, both of these teams have shots to make the NIT if they can put a few wins together here at the end of the season. LSU has Wednesday off and hosts the Razorbacks of Arkansas next weekend. The Razorbacks are a dismal 2-8 in the league and 7-14 overall. UA is the longest of long shots to make any type of postseason play this season.
SEC Team of the Week....
The Tennessee Volunteers are undoubtedly the top team in the SEC this week. The Vols went on the road and knocked off the Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday evening. That was a good victory for UT but not nearly as impressive as what was to follow on Saturday. That’s when the Vols knocked off Florida, ranked in the top ten, in front of the Vol fans in Knoxville as they improved to 15-6 for the season.
One of the best games in the country this week, and possibly the biggest in the SEC, takes place Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. That’s when the Tide hosts Georgia. Last Tuesday night, the Bulldogs fell to Kentucky on the road, so they’ll be trying to avoid the same fate in back-to-back weeks. Alabama is looking to somehow get themselves back into the SEC and NCAA races just in time. They’ll have to start here or may not start at all.
Another huge game in the mid-week is the matchup of the co-SEC West leaders, Auburn and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have played three in a row at home (winning all three) and now must go on the road and play for the lead in the SEC West. This game is crucial to both teams for that reason but also because both will be on the road for the weekend, Auburn at Mississippi and MSU at Kentucky. Also on Wednesday, Arkansas hosts Kentucky and the red-hot Tennessee Vols will travel to South Carolina.
There is a full slate of weekend action that begins with Alabama’s trip to Tennessee. Both teams will be coming off tough mid-week games and be looking for a big win. Arkansas will travel to LSU on Saturday as well. Auburn visits Mississippi after the Rebels have had the mid-week off. Auburn will either be one game up or back of Mississippi State by this game. Also on Saturday, Vanderbilt hosts the Florida Gators, and South Carolina visits Georgia.
There is one game on the schedule for Sunday. Mississippi State will visit Kentucky in Rupp Arena. These two teams are two of the toughest defensively in the conference. Both are very stingy rebounding teams but can also score some points. The Wildcats should be able to pull out the win at home.
Around the nation....
Action in the Atlantic Coast Conference tips off this week on Tuesday when Clemson visits Virginia. The Cavaliers are fighting for a bid into the ACC Tournament while Clemson is hoping they can get an invitation to the NIT. A matchup on Wednesday between Duke and Maryland is for much bigger stakes. Both of these teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament, but these teams are battling each other for the top spot in the ACC, along with Wake Forest. Speaking of the Demon Deacons, they travel to Georgia Tech on Thursday in a crucial road contest for Wake Forest. Georgia Tech is in the middle of the pack in the ACC and should provide a huge test for the Deacons. On Saturday, North Carolina visits Maryland. UNC is still holding out hope they can sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but their chances don’t look great right now. A big road win in Maryland would surely help. NC State, also a team on the NCAA bubble, travels to Duke on Saturday. It’s the Devils’ second tough game of the week, but fortunately for them, both are at home. Finally on Sunday, Virginia will visit Wake Forest as the Deacons return home to where they knocked off Duke last week.
It’s a big week in the Big Ten this week beginning on Tuesday. Michigan State, one of the teams on the NCAA bubble in the Big Ten as they sit at 6-5 and 14-9, travels to Illinois. The Illini are at a good position at 16-5 following their loss at Purdue. On Wednesday comes probably the biggest and most surprising game of the year. That’s when Michigan travels to Purdue; believe it or not, this is a matchup of two of the tri-leaders in the Big Ten. The other tri-leader? Michigan State? No. Indiana? No. Illinois? No. Wisconsin! All three of these teams sit at 8-3 in the conference. Michigan is at 15-9 overall as they head to Purdue, who is 16-6 for the season. Wisconsin goes on the road twice this week, first to Penn State and then to Iowa on Saturday. On Wednesday, Indiana will travel to Iowa for a huge game. Both of these teams are on the major NCAA bubble at this point. The Hawkeyes desperately need this home win over a quality opponent as they have a 5-5 record in the conference and 13-8 overall. The Hoosiers, last year’s national title runner-up, sit at 5-6 and 15-9. Finally on Saturday, the Boilers travel to Ohio State who is 12-11 on the season. Another road win for Purdue in the Big Ten would be huge.
In the Big East Monday, Pittsburgh travels to Georgetown on ESPN’s “Big Monday” presentation. The Panthers are just back of Syracuse and Notre Dame in the Big East West. On Tuesday, St. John’s visits Syracuse, who is coming off a big win over Notre Dame at home on Saturday. On Saturday, the Red Storm will visit Connecticut, who is on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Finally on Sunday, there’s a huge out-of-conference matchup as Syracuse visits the Michigan State Spartans.
Big XII bubble-member Texas Tech travels to Texas on Monday night to take on the Longhorns. Bobby Knight’s team has a losing 4-6 record in the Big XII but still looks good at 14-7 overall. On Wednesday, in-state rivals Oklahoma State (8-2 ; 19-4) and Oklahoma (8-2 ; 17-4) hook up in Norman. Just as it was last time, this game should be a war as both teams play tremendous defense. On Saturday, Texas and the OSU Cowboys will tackle each other in Stillwater as both will be coming off very tough mid-week games. Missouri, who looks as if they’ll be in the NCAA’s at 6-4 and 15-6, travels to surprisingly good Colorado, who is 5-5 and 15-8 overall. A win over a quality team like Missouri at home is almost essential to the Buffs’ case to make the NCAA Tournament. Finally on Sunday, the Kansas Jayhawks visit Oklahoma. KU is the only one-loss conference team in the Big XII.
Conference USA has a couple of interesting matchups this week as Memphis travels to Louisville and Louisville then visits Cincinnati. On Wednesday, the Tigers, who are currently leading the CUSA National division, travel to take on the red-hot Cardinals who are coming off a huge road win at Marquette last Saturday. Then on Saturday, the Cardinals travel to Cincinnati. Right now, the Bearcats are behind both Louisville and Marquette in the American division standings.
There’s a full slate of action out West this week. It begins on Thursday when California, currently second in the PAC 10, travels to UCLA. Also on Thursday, Stanford will visit Southern California. Then on Saturday, Arizona State will host in-state rival Arizona. The Sun Devils are making a great case for being a NCAA team, and this win could only solidify their argument. California will visit Southern Cal and Stanford travels to UCLA also on Saturday. There’s also a huge non-conference matchup out West this weekend. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-6 ; 14-8) venture to the West coast to take on Gonzaga (10-1 ; 19-6) as part of ESPN’s Bracket Buster Saturday. Both teams are making cases for themselves as mid-majors to be put in the NCAA Tournament.