LITTLE ROCK — One hundred and twenty-six games are not going to be enough to sort out which Southeastern Conference teams get into the NCAA Tournament, which ones land in the NIT, and which ones are left out.
Think of the SEC Tournament next week as an extended overtime and that seeds two, three, and four cannot afford to lose their opening game.
Four of the five teams that were in consideration for an NCAA bid took a step backward on Saturday by losing on the road and the way things are going, the SEC’s only representatives in the NCAA might be Florida and Missouri. In that case, the NIT can cherry pick four, maybe even five or six SEC teams. The NCAA selection committee could make it simple for all concerned by admitting that Florida is in and that only the four semifinalists in Nashville will be considered.
If the SEC only gets two or three teams in the NCAA, I’m not sure whether that reflects parity or mediocrity. Since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, only once has the league had fewer than four teams in the NCAA. In 2009, Mississippi State joined LSU and Tennessee by winning the conference tournament.
Arkansas is on the heels of the NCAA hopefuls. Like Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the Razorbacks need a 2-0 week to be viable. Ole Miss must do even more to have any chance of overcoming its loss to Mississippi State. Even Missouri, which shows up in the NCAA brackets of all the experts, cannot afford 0-2.
Alabama and Tennessee have the best chance for short-term perfect.
Alabama’s road game is at Ole Miss and the Rebels will have a difficult time getting their heads straight, knowing the ramifications of the loss at Starkville. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy called the loss inexcusable and said he had no explanation. He might want to note Marshall Henderson tried 18 threes and missed 15.
Alabama finishes at home against Georgia.
Tennessee’s six-game winning streak ended at Georgia when Trae Golden was a non-factor. The Vols’ road game is Auburn and they couldn’t ask for easier. In Knoxville, they play Missouri and the Tigers, like everybody else in the league, have not been very good on the road.
Kentucky is the biggest question mark.
Getting updated final stats on Arkansas 73, Kentucky 60 game while waiting for a 3-minute dance solo, the Razorbacks’ poor shooting percentage did not jibe with the final score. Turns out, Arkansas took 26 more shots than Kentucky — the result of plus-12 in offensive rebounds and 11 fewer turnovers.
There was no need to watch the replay. People who saw the game said Sunday the effort was the best-ever under Mike Anderson and somebody at the office on Monday said the same thing.
If the Wildcats have a hangover, they could lose on the road at Georgia or at home to Florida.
Going with the trend, put Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky down for a win at home and a loss on the road and Ole Miss for an 0-2 week. If accurate, Kentucky and Alabama will be 12-6, followed by Tennessee and Missouri at 11-7, and Arkansas and Ole Miss at 10-8.
A year ago, the 12-team SEC had eight teams in the postseason, including 7-9 LSU in the NIT. But, in 2011, Mississippi State was 9-7 in conference and excluded from the postseason. Division play was still in vogue and the NCAA invited two 9-7 teams and one 8-8 team from the Eastern Division. From the Western Division, Alabama (12-4) and Ole Miss (7-9) played in the NIT.
Nothing will be decided this year until the results are in from the four quarterfinal games on March 15. An upset or two and the suspense will last until the NCAA announcement on March 17.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.