And now, the turn toward home.
The SEC didn’t disappoint over the weekend, taking the Big 12/SEC Challenge from the nation’s best conference with six wins. The Big 12 had 16 non-conference losses coming into the challenge before Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt got it done for the SEC. The Big 12 remains the leader in conference RPI, but the SEC is now third.
Lines are becoming clear in the Bracket Matrix as well:
Yep, this is still happening:
- Auburn is 19-2 (7-1)…and they’re getting better. After a narrow loss at Alabama, the Tigers beat Georgia by 14, won at Missouri by 18, then beat LSU by 25. Those are three bubble teams, and they all went in Bruce Pearl’s wood chipper. They’re eighth in KenPom and now a two seed in the matrix. And, already a game up on the field, they only have one game with Kentucky (February 14 at Auburn) and Florida (February 24 in Gainesville) left on the schedule. We were waiting for one of those two to show themselves as the league’s elite team…turns out it’s been the team atop the standings all along.
- Tennessee was picked 13th in preseason, have you heard? They’re just behind the Tigers (who were picked ninth) in KenPom at #10, and now a four seed in the matrix. Only four Tennessee teams have earned a four seed or higher in the 64+ team NCAA Tournament: Jerry Green’s 1999 and 2000 squads were both a four, and Bruce Pearl’s 2006 and 2008 teams were both twos. UT’s head-to-head loss to Auburn is costly for winning the league outright, essentially making the Vols three games back. But with a strength of schedule still rated first in KenPom, the Vols have a slightly easier road the rest of the way home. Tennessee too has games left with Kentucky (in Rupp, February 4) and Florida (in Knoxville, February 21), plus a road trip to Tuscaloosa where the Tigers fell next Saturday. But its other seven games are against teams currently out of the field of 68 in the matrix.
Yep, they’re still here:
- Florida is 6-2 in the league, though they are just prone enough to weirdness to make their fans nervous. The Gators had a 1-4 stretch in late November/early December, then ripped off six in a row. They won at A&M by 17, won at Missouri at the buzzer, then did the same at Rupp. They spanked Arkansas in Gainesville. But their two conference losses? At Ole Miss (11-10 overall), then to South Carolina in Gainesville. The Gators are a five seed in the matrix; they’ll be around.
- Kentucky too. Back-to-back losses two weeks ago put the Cats out of the Top 25, but a win at #7 West Virginia featuring a 17-point comeback solved that problem. In John Calipari’s previous eight seasons at Kentucky, his teams have either been juggernauts by tournament time (three number one seeds and a two last year) or still capable of maturing at the right time to make a run (Final Four appearances as a four and eight seed, plus another four seed and one NIT). This team won’t see the top two lines of the bracket, but what they did at West Virginia shows they’ll still be capable of making that run from further down; they’re a five seed in the latest matrix.
Bubble In (for now)
- Arkansas is a nine seed in the Bracket Matrix. RPI (26) likes them more than KenPom (47). The Razorbacks still have two games with Texas A&M, a visit from Kentucky, and a trip to Alabama on the schedule. But, having already lost to Mississippi State and LSU, consistency may be the biggest thing between them and the bracket. They’re at A&M tonight.
- Alabama is also a nine seed in the matrix, and scored a huge resume win over Oklahoma in the challenge. The Tide also have an advantage in RPI (29) over KenPom (56). They’re tied for third in the SEC right now with the Vols and Cats at 5-3, but their schedule is murderous down the stretch. Their last 10 games include Florida twice, visits from the Vols, Arkansas, and Missouri, plus road trips to Kentucky, Auburn, and Texas A&M. If this team gets in, they’ll deserve it.
- Texas A&M continues to live on the right side of the line thanks to their pre-conference resume. A 10 seed in the latest matrix, the Aggies are 2-7 since being ranked fifth in the nation. KenPom still really likes them at 35th, and their RPI agrees at 36th. Can the ship be righted?
Bubble Out (for now)
- Missouri is in the first four out in the matrix. But the Tigers have lost three in a row since beating Tennessee, all by double digits, and now they’re at Alabama and vs Kentucky back-to-back. It’s still good progress for a program that won eight SEC games in the last three years, but Cuonzo Martin will need more of that February magic to get this team in the field.
- South Carolina is in the next four out. The Gamecocks are 70th in KenPom and 56th in RPI, but did beat Kentucky and Florida already. Like Alabama, their schedule gives them all the opportunity they need. After hosting Mississippi State tomorrow, Carolina is at A&M, at Arkansas, vs Florida, at Tennessee, vs Auburn. They’re also at Auburn in the season finale. The Gamecocks are very much in control of their own destiny.
- Georgia looked great at 11-3 (2-1) coming off a win over Alabama. Since then they’re 1-5, the lone victory by one point over LSU. They’ve still got two with Florida (starting tonight in Athens) and two with Tennessee, plus a visit from Auburn. But the margin of error is thin; the Dawgs could be out of the hunt before Tennessee sees them the first time on February 17.
- LSU is likely to vanish from this conversation after dismissing two players and suspending two others, leaving them with seven scholarship options against Tennessee on Wednesday in Knoxville. Back-to-back wins at Texas A&M and Arkansas put them in a few brackets, but they’ve not followed up with any wins of note and would need something like an 8-2 finish just to have a Top 50 RPI.
The SEC has never put seven teams in the NCAA Tournament. Right now the Bracket Matrix has seven in and Missouri just out. The league has a lot to be proud of to this point; now we’ll see who can separate themselves in the final 10 games.