This Week in SEC Hoops

Another week of conference action didnít make much difference in the conference races, but it has changed the races for the NCAA Tournament in the SEC. Mississippi State took advantage of an LSU blowout of Auburn to take a one-game lead in the SEC West standings on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs knocked off Alabama by four points and put a dent in the Tideís NCAA hopes. LSUís win over the other Western Division Tigers kept the Bayou Bengals in the hunt for an NCAA berth. It seems as if the Tigers disappear, reappear for a week or two, and then fade away again. If LSU and Alabama can keep themselves in the race on Wednesday night, they could be playing each other on Saturday (in Baton Rouge) in an NCAA elimination game. The Tigers travel to Mississippi on Wednesday night. The Rebels have lost nine games in a row after being at 3-2 in the conference at one point. UM and LSU donít like each other very much, but it may not matter because if both teams play like they each have for the past week or two, the Tigers will walk away from Oxford with a win. Alabama hosts South Carolina on Wednesday. Thereís no reason the Tide shouldnít prevail in that matchup and potentially set up the elimination game in Baton Rouge that Saturday.

Kentucky basically locked up the SEC East with a win over Georgia in Athens on Sunday afternoon. It looked as if the Bulldogs had a chance with about 6 minutes to go, but it was all Kentucky after that as UK cruised to an easy win in the final minutes. There is little doubt the Wildcats, who have yet to lose in the SEC this season, will grab a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. UK faces Vanderbilt at home on Wednesday in a game they will amost certainly win before traveling to Gainesville on Saturday. The Gators had to root for UGA on Sunday so that the game next weekend might possibly be for the SEC East co-championship. The Gators must now become Vandy fans on Wednesday night, but it likely wonít do much good. Even if UK loses at Florida on Saturday, the ĎCats will win the East, followed by Florida, Georgia, and then Tennessee.

Ranking the SEC (Prv)
Kentucky (1)
Florida (2)
Georgia (3)
Mississippi State (4)
Auburn (5)
Tennessee (6)
Alabama (7)
LSU (8)
South Carolina (11)
Arkansas (12)
Mississippi (10)
Vanderbilt (9)
The SEC West race between Auburn and Mississippi State is setting up perfectly for SEC and basketball fans everywhere. Going into this last week of play, MSU has a one-game lead on the Tigers with two games to play for each, one of which is Auburnís trip to Starkville on Saturday. MSU was stunned by Arkansas last weekend while the Tigers came up just short of Florida. Mississippi State travels to Tennessee on Wednesday while Auburn hosts Arkansas. Assuming the home teams win those games, AU and MSU will be even in the SEC standings, and the 3:00PM Saturday showdown will be for the West title. Mississippi State can claim at least a share of the title on Wednesday if they knock off Tennessee. That would mean Auburn would be playing for a share of the title on Saturday, while MSU would be playing for an outright two-game division win.

Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi State are the only teams in the SEC who have assured themselves of a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Behind them are Auburn (7-7 / 18-9), Tennessee (7-7 / 15-10), LSU (6-8 / 17-9), and Alabama (6-8 / 16-9) who are fighting for two and maybe three spots. The Tigers should feel confident they can gain a spot by knocking off Arkansas, the worst team in the conference all year long until a couple of impressive wins at Vanderbilt and vs Mississippi State this past week, at home. Tennessee hosts MSU on Wednesday and then travels to Vanderbilt. Neither of those contests will be easy, especially if the Commodores get to play the Vols knowing UTís NCAA hopes ride on this one game. UT, who once looked like a sure-thing for the NCAA, could now be left out. As discussed before, LSU and Alabama will not both make the Tournament since these teams meet in Baton Rouge on Saturday, and it is extremely unlikely the NCAA Committee will take a sub-.500 conference team. As we did last week, SCS.com takes a look at who is projected to go where going into this final week of action....

Postseason projections from SCS.com for the SEC [with seeds]:
NCAA: Kentucky [1], Florida [2], Georgia [4], Mississippi State [6], Auburn [8], Tennessee [9], Alabama [9]
NIT: LSU, South Carolina
Staying Home: Mississippi, Vanderbilt, 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 ĎWí on their home court.

Thatís 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 donít do very often: cheering for Alabama. Thatís 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).

Top SEC Games
Florida at Georgia
South Carolina at Alabama
LSU at Mississippi
Mississippi State at Tennessee
Alabama at LSU
Auburn at Mississippi State
Kentucky at Florida
Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Hoops TV Schedule
On Saturday, Florida travels to Auburn in another huge SEC game. The Gators must take home a win from the Plains if they want their game in Gainesville with UK to end the season to be for the SEC East title. Meanwhile, the Tigers will still be fighting with MSU for the SEC West title. By Saturday, the Tigers could either be one game up or a game down to MSU. The Bulldogs will visit Arkansas on Saturday. MSU has historically struggled in Fayetteville, but if thereís ever a year for MSU to win at Arkansas, it will be this one. The Bulldogs desperately need to pull out another road win before the season is complete.

Tennessee will try to get back on track Saturday as they host LSU. The Tigers have had a very disappointing season while UTís 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 wonít 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.

SEC Team of the Week....

The award could go to a few different teams in the SEC this week. Kentucky knocked off Tennessee on Lexington on Wednesday and then went on the road to Georgia and won on Sunday. But itís not the Wildcats... Arkansas got a road win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday and then got an impressive win over nationally-ranked Mississippi State on Saturday. But since Arkansas isnít in contention for postseason play, it isnít the Hogs... The award goes to LSU. The Tigers smoked Auburn by more than 20 points on Wednesday and then stole a game on the road on Saturday at Tennessee to leave themselves with a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Once looking dead and totally unimpressive, the Tigers are now within two wins of making a remarkable comeback and making the NCAA Tournament.

Around the nation....

SCS.com takes a look at the teams in the major conferences around the nation still fighting for NCAA spots....

In the ACC, Wake Forest is leading the way with a 11-4 record in the conference and a 21-4 mark overall. The Demon Deacons have quietly had a tremendous season so far and should grab no less than a #2 seed. If a team or two slides between now and Selection Sunday, the Deacons could slide into a #1 seed. Duke dropped a heart-breaker at St. Johnís on Sunday but still sits at 10-4 / 20-4. The Blue Devils are in line for a #2 seed as well and could move up or down a spot depending on what happens the rest of the season. Maryland, last yearís national champ, is also at 10-4 in the league and has a 18-7 mark for the season. The Terps played a tough non-conference schedule and should grab no less than a #4 seed. Those three teams are sure-bets to make the NCAA Tournament. Behind then, NC State is at 8-5 in the league prior to a game against Maryland Sunday night. A win there would surely lock up a spot in the Big Dance for NCSU. Even with a loss, however, the Wolfpack are, in my mind, undoubtedly in the Tournament. There are 4 teams at 5-9 in the league with these overall records: Clemson (15-10), Georgia Tech (12-13), North Carolina (15-13), and Virginia (14-13). The Yellow Jackets likely played themselves out of any chance by losing late at UNC. With two more wins before the season is complete, UNC could grab a spot even though theyíd be under .500 in the ACC. That will be near-impossible, however, as the Heels must travel to Wake Forest and host Duke. A two-game win streak for Clemson could give Clemson a chance, and they have two winnable games: vs NC State and at Georgia Tech. Virginia hosts both Georgia Tech and Maryland this week, and with their strong non-conference schedule, the Cavs could move into the Tournament. NCAA-bound teams: Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland, NC State

Top National Games
Kansas at Texas Tech
Syracuse at Notre Dame
Illinois at Wisconsin
Seton Hall at Pittsburgh
Oklahoma State at Colorado
Oregon at Arizona State
Wyoming at BYU
Wake Forest at NC State
Purdue at Michigan
Connecticut at Boston College
Texas at Oklahoma
Cincinnati at Marquette
Oregon at Arizona
California at Arizona
Wyoming at Utah
Kansas at Missouri
SCS.com's Hoops Predictions

There are co-leaders in the Big Ten as both Wisconsin and Illinois have 10-4 conference records. Both have 20 wins and will easily make the NCAA Tournament. Past those two teams, itís a mad dash for the final spots from teh Big Ten. Michigan is not eligible this year due to NCAA violations, but the following teams are battling it out: Minnesota 8-5 / 16-8, Purdue 9-6 / 17-9, Michigan State 8-6 / 16-11, and Indiana 7-7 / 17-10. It appears each of these teams should make the Tournament barring a total collapse this last week and in the conference tournament. With the exception of Indiana, all of guaranteed themselves at least a .500 conference record; the Hoosiers Minnesota and then travel to Penn State, both winnable games. Ohio State and Iowa, both 6-8 in the league, would need to win their final two conference games to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. OSU goes to Northwestern and hosts Michigan State while the Hawkeyes go to MSU and then host Northwestern. I suspect both of these teams will be on the outside looking in. NCAA-bound teams: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana

The Big East has a full list of teams trying to slide into the Tournament. Connecticut, at 9-4 and 18-6, already has a spot reserved and is now playing for better seeding. The same can be said for Syracuse (11-3 / 21-4), Pittsburgh (10-3 / 20-4), and Notre Dame (9-5 / 21-7). Seton Hall, at 10-4 / 16-9 is all but in. If the Pirates had just one or two more wins overall, they could definitely feel secure. They have really come on strong in the last two months. Boston College is right there with Seton Hall as well at 9-5 and 16-9. The Eagles have turned it up in the past few weeks and are just a win away from feeling secure. The Eagles host Villanova and Connecticut this week. Behind those six, there is only Villanova with a shot to make it. Nova is 8-6 in the conference and 15-12 overall. At a guaranteed-.500 in the Big East, it appears it would be difficult for them to be left out. The opportunities are definitely there for Villanova this weekj to prove themselves worthy; they travel to Boston College on Monday and then host Pittsburgh next Sunday. A win in either of those games wraps up a spot for Nova in my opinion. It appears Providence (6-8 / 13-12), St. Johnís (5-9 / 12-12), and Georgetown (5-9 / 13-12) will be just on the outside looking in. NCAA-bound teams: Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Boston College, Villanova, Seton Hall

The Big XII has been either the first- or second-best conference this season, depending on who you ask. The top five teams in that league already have spots reserved in the Big Dance while two others are still trying to secure themselves a place. Kansas (12-2 / 22-6) is close to having a #1 seed, as are both Texas (11-3 / 20-5) and Oklahoma (11-3 / 20-5). Any of those three teams could get a #1; who does may actually be decided in the Big XII Tournament in two weeks. Missouri (9-5 / 18-7) and Oklahoma State (9-5 / 20-7) can also feel secure about being in the Big Dance. The same cannot be said for Colorado (7-7 / 17-10) and Texas Tech (6-8 / 16-9) however. The Buffaloes need to win at least one game this week for will likely be left out. CU hosts Oklahoma State on Wednesday. A win there would not only be that magic 8th win the league but also an impressive win to add to the resume of Colorado. If the Buffs donít pull that one out, they host Nebraska on Saturday in what should be an easy victory. Texas Tech must win both games this week to find a place in the Tournament. The Red Raiders host Kansas on ESPNís Big Monday showdown Monday evening. A win here is a necessity and would provide Texas Tech with some momentum prior to their final contest, a trip to Baylor. Bobby Knight will need to work a little of his magic to get the Red Raiders into the Tournament, but it can definitely be done. NCAA-bound teams: Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Colorado

The PAC 10 has an elite group at the top of the standings and a very weak group at the bottom. There really arenít any questions as to whoís getting in and who isnít at this point. Only Arizona State (9-6 / 17-9) has only slight worries. The Sun Devils host Oregon and Oregon State this week and should easily find at least one win this week. Arizona (15-1 / 23-2) will grab a #1 seed overall while Stanford (13-4 / 22-7) should also earn a high seed, possibly a #3. California (12-4 / 19-6) is probably looking at the #4-range while the Ducks of Oregon (10-6 / 20-7) will be just behind the Golden Bears. I expect ASU to grab a seed in the range of #6. NCAA-bound teams: Arizona, Stanford, California, Oregon, Arizona State

Three teams in Conference USA have already assured themselves of a spot in March Madness this season. Marquette (13-2 / 22-4), who knocked off Louisville this past week, Louisville (10-4 / 20-5), and Memphis (11-3 / 20-5) should all grab #5 seeds or higher. Cincinnati (8-6 / 16-9) is next in line. The Bearcats host UAB and then travel to Marquette. The home win should boost them in while the road win would do wonders for seeding. Charlotte (8-6 / 13-13) and UAB (8-6 / 16-5) are close but may be on the outside looking in when itís over. Charlotteís record is just not good enough. UAB has the better chance of the two. With a win this week, the Blazers could very quietly slide into the Tournament. As mentioned before, UAB travels to Cincy on Wednesday; UAB then hosts Memphis in their season finale on Saturday. Saint Louis (7-7 / 13-12) and Tulane (7-7 / 14-13) will likely be on the outside looking in this year. NCAA-bound teams: Marquette, Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, UAB

In the Mountain West there are some interesting races down the finish. Utah (9-2 / 21-5) and BYU (8-3 / 19-7) are undoubtedly in the Tournament this season. Wyoming (7-4 / 19-7) will likely make the Tournament barring a collapse in the next two weeks. UNLV (7-5 / 18-8) could use another win or two in the next week. The Runniní Rebels go to Wyoming on Monday and then host San Diego State on Saturday. Theyíll likely win one of those games and will need a good showing in the conference tournament to feel good about their chances. NCAA-bound teams: Utah, BYU, Wyoming, UNLV

Updated March 3, 2003