A full week of conference play brought little change to the SEC standings. In the East, Kentucky won both of their games this week to continue their unbeaten streak in the conference. The Wildcats easily knocked off the Arkansas Razorbacks before returning home and winning a big game with Mississippi State. In the West, the Bulldogs grabbed a lead in the division by virtue of a win at Auburn on Wednesday. However, the two teams that were tied going into the week for the division lead remained that way at the end. The Tigers went on the road to Mississippi and slipped by the Rebels while MSU lost their Sunday contest at Kentucky. With two weeks of play remaining, MSU and Auburn are all knotted up atop the SEC West, with one head-to-head matchup still to take place in Starkville for the regular season finale of both teams.
This week, SouthernCollegeSports.com takes a look at how the teams in the race for the postseason, including the SEC, NIT, and NCAA Tournaments are positioning themselves for seeding in each of those events. Beginning with the postseason tournaments first, we can easily rule out three teams from NCAA competition due to their inability to have an above-.500 conference record: Vanderbilt (3-9), Mississippi (3-9), and Arkansas (2-10). South Carolina and LSU (both 4-8) are virtually out of any shot to advance to the NCAA’s barring a 4-0 stretch to finish off the SEC season and a win or two in the SEC Tournament. That leaves seven teams, Kentucky (12-0 / 22-3), Florida (10-2 / 22-4), Georgia (8-4 / 16-7), Tennessee (7-5 / 15-8), Mississippi State (7-5 / 17-6), Auburn (7-5 / 18-7), and Alabama (5-7 / 15-8), fighting for likely six spots in the NCAA Tournament. The most likely to be left out is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Once ranked number one in American, UA has dropped off considerably since SEC play began. They can only afford to lose one of their final four games to have any chance at all. Games left on Alabama’s schedule include a trip to Mississippi State, vs Mississippi, vs South Carolina, and at LSU. Games against the Rebels and Gamecocks should easily be won. A loss is likely at MSU which means a win on the bayou will likely be necessary for the Tide to go into New Orleans with a chance at advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky, Florida, and Georgia, all out of the SEC East, are all locks to get into March Madness. Mississippi State is just one win away from guaranteeing themselves a big on selection Sunday. With home games still remaining against Alabama and Auburn (as well as a road game with Arkansas), the Bulldogs should have no trouble making the Big Dance. Those four teams are now jockeying for seeding in the tournament. Kentucky will likely grab a number one seed unless they falter majorly in these last two weeks and make a quick exit from New Orleans. Florida is just a touch behind the Wildcats, and with a home game for UF still remaining on the schedule, it’s possible the Gators could sneak in with a number one seed as well if they get a little help on the national scene.
Tennessee, Auburn, and Alabama are likely the three teams fighting for two spots. Although they are the only team of the three to have a losing conference record, Alabama has the highest RPI at number 23. They are followed closely by Auburn at 30, and Tennessee has an RPI of 42. The reason for the differential appears to be the teams’ strength of schedule; Alabama’s is rated number seven while Auburn and Tennessee’s schedules are rated in the fifties. If Auburn and Tennessee take care of business and Alabama fails to get the job done, they won’t have anything to worry about. However, if the Tide was to go into Starkville and beat Mississippi State and Auburn were to drop a game or two this week (at LSU, vs Florida), things could get very interesting not only in the Tourney race but in the SEC West.
As for the NIT, only Arkansas appears to be totally out of the running. LSU is certainly in the mix as is South Carolina. The Tigers are 15-9 overall with a number 58 RPI. South Carolina is a sub-.500 11-12 overall and have a number 65 RPI. Mississippi is still above the break-even mark at 12-11 but don’t have an RPI rated in the top 65. Vanderbilt is 10-13 overall and has a number 62 RPI.
Postseason projections from SCS.com for the SEC [with seeds]:
NCAA: Kentucky , Florida , Georgia , Mississippi State , Auburn , Tennessee 
NIT: LSU, Mississippi, Alabama, Vanderbilt
Staying Home: South Carolina, Arkansas
This is a huge week in the SEC. A lot will be decided in the conference, especially the SEC West, after a week full of conference games. This week is key for many teams because they would like to have a slight comfort zone and breathing room going into the final week of conference action. On Wednesday, Alabama travels to Mississippi State. The Tide can only afford to drop one more game before the SEC Tournament if they want to make the Big Dance. Mississippi State is tough to beat at home and is playing for the SEC West title. The Bulldogs can possibly gain some ground if they pull out the ‘W’ on their home court.
That’s because the Auburn Tigers, who are tied with MSU atop the West, pay a visit to LSU. The battle of the Tigers should be a good one in Baton Rouge. Last time the two teams met, Auburn hit a three-pointer with less than 10 seconds to go to win the game in Auburn. LSU will be looking for a little payback on their home court and could do MSU a major favor by knocking off AU. Auburn, meanwhile, will be doing something they don’t do very often: cheering for Alabama. That’s because a Tide win at MSU could allow the Tigers to take a step ahead in the West.
Also on Wednesday, Georgia travels to Mississippi. The Bulldogs will be taking on a UM team without much to play for as they look to improve their NCAA seeding. The Rebels have lost seven games in a row following their 3-2 start in the SEC. Tennessee also makes a trip to Kentucky on Wednesday. The Vols let a couple very winnable games get away from them this past week as they lost at South Carolina and then dropped a home game to then-struggling Alabama. Tennessee will be trying to do what no other team has been able to do in the past two months: beat Kentucky (not to mention on their home court).
Tennessee will try to get back on track Saturday as they host LSU. The Tigers have had a very disappointing season while UT’s campaign has been just the opposite. The Volunteers, however, have struggled lately and are still unsure as to if they are definitely in the NCAA Tournament. On Sunday, Mississippi will visit Alabama. The game won’t mean that much to the Rebels but is crucial to Alabama. The Tide must see this home game as a must-win if they are to keep their NCAA dreams alive.
The final game of the week is a big one. Kentucky visits Georgia in a tremendously large SEC East matchup. Florida must root on the rival Bulldogs in hopes that the UK/UF matchup the following week is for the East crown. The Wildcats will likely be undefeated at this point in the season, and a win here could send them back to Rupp Arena for a division-clinching game the following Wednesday evening against Vanderbilt. This is just the kind of game UGA needs to win to boost up their NCAA seeding right before the big selection weekend.
It’s hard not to give the award to the Kentucky Wildcats since they went on the road and won at Arkansas and then knocked off Mississippi State at home. But, in the spirit of sharing the wealth with some other conference members, the award goes to the Georgia Bulldogs this week. UGA got a huge win at Alabama on “Super Tuesday” to put a huge ripple in Alabama’s NCAA dreams. It keeps Georgia in contention for one of the two byes in the conference tournament awarded to the East. And that’s not to mention that it certainly helps when the selection committee sees that impressive road win in the SEC. Then on Saturday, the Dawgs dominated South Carolina in Athens for their second win in conference of the week.
Around the nation....
Action in the Atlantic Coast Conference tips off this week on Tuesday when NC State travels to North Carolina. Although they have a few quality wins tihs season, the Wolfpack’s RPI isn’t in the top 65. UNC, meanwhile, has an RPI of 47 with a 14-12 record overall. Another quality win would certainly help out the Tar Heels. On Wednesday, Duke travels to Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils are playing as well as they have so far this year right now. Georgia Tech is trying to stir things up in the conference right here in the last couple weeks. On Saturday, the Jackets will travel to North Carolina as the Tar Heels play their second consecutive big home game of the week. Then on Sunday, Duke takes a trip out of conference to match up with St. John’s in New York. The Red Storm desperately need a win like this to boost their RPI rating, but the Blue Devils are tough to beat anywhere. Also on Sunday, there’s a big conference showdown when Maryland visits NC State. This is a huge week for the Wolfpack with a winnable game on the road and the big-time Terps coming to Raleigh. Two wins, and they’re riding high. Two losses, and they’re in trouble.
There’s big-time action in the Big Ten this week, beginning with Iowa traveling to Ohio State on Tuesday. Indiana visits Illinois on Tuesday as well. The Hoosiers could use a quality road win to boost their RPI and provide some momentum right before the postseason. On Wednesday, Minnesota will visit Michigan State. The big game of that night, however, is Michigan’s trip to Wisconsin. These two teams are the leaders of the conference right now. The Wolverines, though they have 16 wins, have an RPI of only 46. The Badgers RPI is at 31 due to their 19 wins even though their SOS is rated on 81st in the country. On Saturday, Illinois will visit Michigan. Both of these teams will be playing their second huge game of the week. Purdue will travel to Michigan State and Iowa will venture to Indiana on Saturday as well.
The Big East appears to have only a few key games this week. The first is on ESPN’s “Big Monday” when Connecticut visits Notre Dame. The Irish have a super RPI at 4, but UConn is just the opposite. With a SOS rated number 100 in the country, the Huskies’ RPI is only at 40. On Saturday, Boston College will visit the Miami Hurricanes. UM is out of any chance for a NCAA bid while BC is fighting for their lives at 14-9 (#48 RPI). After the Duke vs St. John’s out-of-conference matchup, Connecticut will visit Pittsburgh. This is a huge week for the Huskies as they play two tough games on the road; if they can sneak one win out, they should be thrilled. Pittsburgh, though ranked in the top five or ten of all the polls, has an RPI of only 21.
Action in the Big XII heats up on “Big Monday” as usual. This week’s showdown takes place in Stillwater as Bobby Knight’s Texas Tech team visits the Cowboys. OSU got a huge win over Texas last Saturday and are looking to roll on in conference play. The Cowboys are 19-5 overall and with an RPI of 9, they appear ready to grab possibly a number two seed in the Tournament. On Wednesday, Oklahoma travels to Missouri. The Tigers, 16-7, need a big home win following their disappointment at Colorado on Saturday. The Sooners have the second best RPI in the country right now and if the selection was today, they’d have a number one seed. On Saturday, Oklahoma State’s task gets even tougher. The Cowboys travel to Kansas, who is 18-5 overall. Also on Saturday, Oklahoma will travel to Texas A&M, and Texas will visit Texas Tech. The Red Raiders on definitely on the bubble right now with a 15-8 record and a 38 RPI rating. A quality home win over an in-state rival would be just what the doctor ordered.
In CUSA this week, Marquette travels to Louisville on Thursday. Both of these teams have RPI’s under 15, and both have at least 19 wins. This game will have a huge bearing on conference seeding and Tournament seeding come a few weeks later. Then on Saturday, Cincinnati will travel to Memphis for a late-night Saturday game on ESPN. The Bearcats, 15-8 overall (RPI 22), got a huge home win over Louisville last week while Memphis was also able to knock off the Cardinals in Louisville.
This is the biggest week of the year in the PAC 10. The top four teams in the league play what’s basically a round-robin this week. The action begins on Thursday when Arizona visits California. This game is on the FSN network, so check it out if possible as it should be a tight game all the way. The Bears are 19-5 overall but have a shaky RPI at 35. Arizona, coming off a huge win on the road at in-state rival Arizona State, is 21-2 overall with a number five RPI. Also on Thursday, Arizona State will travel to Stanford. ASU’s RPI is very respectable at 29, and the Sun Devils are sitting at 16-8, needing just a few more victories to be sure of an at-large bid. Stanford, meanwhile, has a 20 RPI rating and is 21-6 overall. For the weekend, the teams swap opponents. Arizona will play Stanford in Palo Alto in an ABC regionally televised game. Then on Sunday, ASU will visit California in a game to be shown on FSN.