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Next Hoops Season, Just Focus On Your Team’s RPI And Ignore The Game-To-Game Analysis

see_the_big_picture_260The big picture.

In college basketball the big picture is all that matters.  Is your favorite team’s resume good enough to earn it an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament?  The rest of it — the yo-yo, see-saw, roller-coaster, up and down, back and forth freak outs — is meaningless.

Don’t believe us?  OK, then how many Kentucky fans do you think are still sweating the Wildcats’ 72-67 March 1st road loss to South Carolina?  Anyone?

Kentucky began the 2013-14 season with dreams of an undefeated season.  As those dreams quickly disappeared thanks to November and December losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, Big Blue Nation had a Big Blue Conniption.  From messageboards to Twitter, John Calipari was taken to task for not getting the most out of what was basically the world’s best AAU team.  So what if Coach Cal’s players were young and green?  Many UK backers simply weren’t accepting excuses (even legitimate ones).

Things only got worse as the Cats proved themselves to be inconsistent throughout SEC play.  There were two losses to Arkansas.  There was the South Carolina disaster.  There was a 3-4 stretch to end the regular season.  There also was a tie for second place in the SEC with Georgia.

That’s not at all what Kentucky fans and most media members expected to see as the regular season transitioned into tourney season.

Yet here we are, once again reminded that tourney season is really the only season that matters when it comes to college basketball.  The regular season is nothing more than a means of selecting 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament.  The regular-season games themselves?  They mean zip.  Kentucky lost three times to Florida this year.  But who’s in the national title game?  Kentucky, not Florida.

Tennessee lost to a seven-man Vanderbilt squad and lost twice to Texas A&M.  But the Vols still got into the tournament, they reached the Sweet Sixteen and they were just three missed free throws from reaching the Elite Eight.  The regular season that so angered the “Bring Back Bruce” crowd in Knoxville really meant little by season’s end.  The Vols did what they had to do to get in the field and then they took advantage of matchups to keep playing long after Kansas, Ohio State, Duke and Syracuse went home (despite those schools having better regular seasons).

Florida had a magnificent regular season losing just twice.  They were undefeated in SEC play and then they took their in-league record to a sizzling 21-0 in the SEC Tournament.  They were given the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.  But the Gators drew a bad matchup in the national semifinal game and fell to UConn, one of the two teams that beat UF back in the regular season.  So for all those regular-season wins and that top overall seed, UF will still be watching tonight’s championship game along with 349 other D-I schools.

At MrSEC.com, we vow never to go too overboard over the seeding implications of regular-season wins and losses, either.  Once a team is in the field, it’s all a question of matchups.  Matchups mean more than seeds.  Kentucky and UConn were seeded eighth and seventh in their respective regions.  One 10 seed and two 11 seeds reached the Sweet Sixteen this year.  One 11 seed (Dayton) advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.  And obviously none of the 1 seeds made it to tonight’s title bout.

So next basketball season, follow our lead and focus only on three things from November to March:

 

1.  What is my team’s RPI?

2.  What is my team’s strength of schedule?

3.  How close to 20 wins are we and do we still have time to hit that mark?

 

It’s all about being good enough to earn one of the 36 at-large bids handed out by the selection committee.  And all things being equal, that means your favorite squad will probably need to win 20 games, have an RPI inside the top 40 and a SOS rank of 100 or better.  Follow that.  Pay attention to that.  And get off the roller-coaster.

A December loss to North Carolina?  A march loss to South Carolina?  Unless one or the other prevents your team from winning 20 or ranking in the top 40 of the RPI… those regular-season games should be taken with a grain of salt.  It’s time to just admit that fact and focus on the big picture instead.

That’s what we do on this site each year.  And you can bet we’re going to keep doing it moving forward.

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3 SEC Teams Still Alive In The NCAAs? Sweet, But The League Still Stunk

pondering-300x199Kudos to the Southeastern Conference teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament.  Three teams in the tourney, all three still dancing their way into the Sweet Sixteen.  Hard to complain about that showing.  In fact, it’s tempting to say that the SEC was underrated this season.

But it wasn’t.  The league as a whole was still pretty darn bad.

In 2013-14 the SEC had one great team (Florida) and two pretty good teams that have gotten hot at the right time (Kentucky and Tennessee).  Five teams (Alabama, Vanderbilt, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State) finished the season with losing records overall.  That’s eight teams, so how did the other six SEC squads out of the NCAA Tournament but boasting winning records do against Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee?

 

Arkansas 2-2

Texas A&M 2-2

LSU 1-4

Missouri 1-4

Georgia 0-4

Ole Miss 0-4

 

That’s a combined 6-20 versus the three squads that received NCAA bids.  Mix that in with the five squads that finished with losing records, toss in several ugly non-conference losses across the league, and it’s easy to see why NCAA selection panelists frowned upon the SEC this season.

Having said that, it is certainly possible that the NCAA selection committee underseeded Kentucky and Tennessee due to their bad home league.  The Wildcats should have probably been a five or six seed based on their record and RPI.  And teams with Tennessee’s selection Sunday RPI have been seeded as high as seven and nine in recent years.  So we’ll give you that that much was botched.

But we were referring to the SEC as a three-bid league as far back as December.  We see no need for revision now.  No other SEC teams can legitimately claim that they did enough to earn an NCAA bid.

Now a few other random notes…

 

*  The SEC will get a fatter chunk of cash for this tourney because three teams have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen round.  Repeatedly getting three teams into the tourney has cut down on the earning power of the league.  But with every game won, the SEC receives a bigger slice of the tournament revenue pie.  Mike Slive’s league is wealthy to begin with, but the more money the better.  Obviously.

*  Might the SEC’s performance this year help during the tournament selection process next year?  Well, it certainly can’t hurt.  The league has developed a reputation over the past few years for being a bad basketball league.  It was ranked 7th among conferences in RPI this year.  The SEC went so far as to put a new czar in charge of hoops prior to the season in the hopes of gradually building the league back into a five- and six-bid conference.  That will take time.  Having national pundits point to the fact that three SEC teams are still playing in the NCAA tourney will help on the national perception front.  But as far as invitations in 2015?  The selection committee has a history of looking only at the current year’s numbers, not past years’ successes.  Ask Kentucky fans.  Last season the defending national champs had their bubble popped and were shipped to the NIT.  So national perception — yes, this helps.  Tournament selection in the future — it might not make a bit of difference.

*  I can think of two SEC coaches who might like to tell a few of their teams’ fans to stick it right about now.  John Calipari’s first four years in Lexington resulted in three Elite Eights, two Final Fours, a national title and — uh-oh — an NIT bid.  This year his kindergarten Cats “stumbled” to a 26-10 record.  Talk shows and messageboards and social media heated up.  Coach Cal was taking plenty of guff.  ”How can a guy with so much talent not win?”  But basketball seasons are long and winding roads, to paraphrase The Beatles.  UK has won five of its last seven with the only losses coming to top-ranked Florida.  After knocking off previously unbeaten Wichita State yesterday, UK has a date with Louisville this week for the right to play in yet another Elite Eight.  It’s interesting that the Calipari-to-the-NBA rumors started floating earlier than normal this season.  One wonders if UK’s coach has grown tired of the “#1 or bust” attitude of many spoiled Kentucky fans.  Or if he or someone close to him leaked such information just to remind Big Blue fans that they’d better appreciate him and his program’s current run of success.

*  Cuonzo Martin has had it worse than Calipari.  Three years ago he took over a Tennessee program that no one else wanted.  NCAA clouds left overhead by the Bruce Pearl administration were ominous and spooky.  In his first season he managed to coach a UT team picked near the bottom of the SEC into a second-place league finish.  His second team wound up on the wrong side of the bubble, but the Vols were still in the mix despite losing preseason All-SEC big man Jeronne Maymon for the year.  This year, UT was picked for third place in the SEC.  They finished fourth by one game.  Fans barked for Martin’s head.  More than 30,000 signed a petition to bring Pearl back.  AD Dave Hart was so torn that had Martin not gotten an NCAA bid eight days ago he might have been fired.  But Tennessee has now won eight of its last nine games with the only loss coming to Florida.  Most of those wins have been of the blowout variety.  UT is now 3-0 in the NCAAs and suddenly Martin has leverage.  While Calipari might be able to jump to the NBA, Martin might be looking around at other college jobs in case he wants to get while the getting is good and re-start his coaching clock somewhere else.  (Somewhere else where tens of thousands of fans don’t sign petitions to bring back ex-coaches.)

*  It might be time for the NCAA to ditch its RPI formula and just use Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.  The hoops fan/math geek has done some nice work over at KenPom.com this year, as usual.  Of the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA tourney, Pomeroy has 14 of them ranked in his top 21.  Only Stanford (34) and Dayton (43) are distant from the main pack.  For the record, Pomeroy has Florida #1, Tennessee #6 and Kentucky #11 in his current national rankings.  If nothing else, the NCAA selection committee might steal a glance at his rankings next March before they start handing out seeds.

 

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Two Teams In, 12 Remaining SEC Teams Battling For One Bid (Probably)

gfx-by-the-numbersWith a perfect 18-0 conference mark and the nation’s #2 RPI, Florida should be locked in as a #1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.  And despite recent struggles, Kentucky — #20 in the RPI — is also a gimme when it comes to this year’s at-large bids.

As for the rest of the league?  There’s still work to do.

Tennessee has worked its way to the top of the SEC’s at-large hopefuls, but the Vols still probably need one more win in Atlanta to feel confident.  Missouri’s chances have taken a hit (after a blowout loss at Tennessee) as have Arkansas’ hopes (after a blowout loss at Alabama).  Everyone else will likely need an SEC Tournament title if they’re to reach the NCAAs.

Ah, but would an upset winner in the Georgia Dome give the SEC a fourth team in the dance or would that Cinderella simply steal the spot of a bubble team like Tennessee?  With the SEC’s conference RPI still around seventh, we’re guessing an unexpected champ like Georgia (2008) or Ole Miss (2013) would replace Tennessee (or Missouri or Arkansas) as the league’s third team in the tourney.

As we’ve shown you previously, only 15 of the 111 at-large bids handed out since the field expanded to 68 teams have gone to teams with an RPI rank between 40 and 49.  Only 11 of 111 have gone to teams ranked between 50 and 59.  And only three have gone to teams with RPI ranks over 60.  So below we’ll look at only those SEC squads with RPI rankings in the 40s, 50s and low-60s.  That’s only three teams, folks — the Vols, the Mizzou Tigers, and the Razorbacks.

 

  School   Tennessee   Missouri   Arkansas
  Record   19-11   21-10   21-10
  SEC Record   11-7   9-9   10-8
  RPI Rank   44   50   62
  SOS Rank   24   74   82
  Avg RPI Wins   140.2   144.0   158.1
  Avg RPI Losses   62.9   64.8   61.2
  N-Conf Record   8-4   12-1   11-2
  N-Conf Avg RPI   131.8   153.3   180.1
  Road Record   4-7   3-7   3-6
  Vs RPI 1-50   2-5   2-3   4-5
  Vs RPI 51-100   5-3   5-5   4-3
  Vs RPI 101-200   8-3   9-2   6-2
  Vs RPI 201+   4-0   5-0   7-0

 

As you can see, Tennessee has a clear advantage over its league rivals when it comes to the numbers that appear on the selection committee’s team sheets.  About the only place where the Vols lag behind is in non-conference record, but the Tigers and Hogs played easier non-conference slates.

Pre-Atlanta, we believe any at-large bid going to the Southeastern Conference would go to Tennessee.

If the league were to get a fourth at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, we — unlike most bracketologists out there — believe Mizzou would be in line for that berth before Arkansas.  The Tigers beat the Razorbacks in both of their head-to-head matchups and they currently hold advantages in RPI, strength of schedule, and non-conference strength of schedule.  The Tigers are 7-8 versus top 100 foes while Arkansas is 8-8 (albeit with two more wins versus top 50 squads).

At the moment, we don’t see the SEC landing four at-large bids.  And we don’t picture Tennessee as a lock for the tourney, either.  So who needs to do what in Atlanta?

On Thursday, both Missouri and Arkansas will be in action.  The #8 seed Tigers will open the day with a 1pm ET battle with #9 seed Texas A&M.  The Aggies are RPI 141.  A loss would snuff out Mizzou’s hopes once and for all.  To merit discussion on Selection Sunday, Frank Haith’s team will need to get past A&M and into Saturday’s semifinals versus top-seeded Florida.  Upset the Gators and Missouri’s chances would skyrocket.  Lose to the Gators in a good game and it could still aid the Tigers’ overall numbers.

At about 3:30pm ET on Thursday, #5 seed Arkansas will face the winner of Wednesday night’s Auburn (RPI 176) versus South Carolina (RPI 157) game.  The Hogs won’t be helped by playing a squad with such a shoddy RPI.  A win is a must.  With a win, the Razorbacks would get a head-to-head shot at #4 seed — and bubble rival — Tennessee on Friday afternoon.  UT gets one of four double-byes in this year’s tourney.  A matchup between the Vols and Hogs could serve as a de facto NCAA Tournament play-in game.

Tennessee, then Missouri, then Arkansas.

Based on the numbers used by the selection committee as well as the history of at-large bids handed out over the past three seasons, that’s how we rank the SEC’s few remaining NCAA Tournament hopefuls.  But there’s still work to be done this week before any of those teams breathe a sigh of relief.

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Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas And LSU Fight For Life On The NCAA Bubble

gfx-by-the-numbersFour teams, one spot.  Maybe.

The SEC currently ranks as the #7 conference in overall RPI.  Only two of its teams rank inside the top 47 teams in the nation.  Five teams rank below 100 in the RPI.  Overall, it’s not a great outlook for a league that was hoping to receive a few more NCAA Tournament bids this year.

Last week we broke down the at-large bid numbers for the past three NCAA tourneys (since the field expanded to 68 and the number of at-large bids rose to 37).  Those findings again:

 

*  82 of 111 at-large bids (73.8%) have gone to teams ranked between 1-39 in RPI on Selection Sunday.  Florida and Kentucky, therefore, are sitting pretty despite the latter’s recent struggles.

*  Just 15 of 111 at-large bids (13.5%) have gone to teams ranked between 40-49 in the RPI.  That’s where Missouri and Tennessee sit today.

*  Only 11 of 111 at-large bids (9.9%) have gone to teams ranked between 50-59 in the RPI.  Arkansas is currently in that range, but just barely.

*  Just three of 111 at-large bids (2.7%) have gone to teams ranked 60 or worse in the RPI.  That leaves LSU with slim hopes.

 

No other SEC squads rank higher than 84th.  So barring some final week wins and long SEC Tournament runs, the Georgias and Mississippis of the world can start focusing on the NIT.

Below are the current NCAA resumes for the four SEC teams still vying, hoping and praying for NCAA at-large berths.  We’ve used much of the same data that’s found on the actual team sheets provided to selection committee members.  And while the committee no longer considers the final 10 or 12 games as a category for comparison (in order to make teams schedule tougher early in the season), we still list each team’s record over its last 10.  While it might not be a category listed on the NCAA’s team sheets, committee members will likely know who’s hot and who’s not.

See for yourself who looks bid-worthy:

 

  Category   Tennessee   Missouri   Arkansas   LSU
  Overall Record   17-11   20-9   20-9   17-11
  SEC Record   9-7   8-8   9-7   8-8
  RPI   48   49   57   63
  SOS   16   78   75   54
  Avg RPI Wins   144   144   163   153
  Avg RPI Losses   56   68   54   64
  Non-Conf Record   8-4   12-1   11-2   9-3
  Non-Conf Avg RPI   132   154   180   155
  True Road Record   2-7   3-6   3-5   2-8
  Vs RPI 1-50   2-6   2-2   4-5   3-5
  Vs RPI 100+   10-2   12-1   12-1   12-3
  Best Win   Virginia (#10)   UCLA (#22)   Kentucky (#19) twice   Kentucky (#19)
  Record Last 10   6-4   5-5   7-3   5-5
  Remaining Games   at AU, MU   A&M, at UT   UM, at ALA   at VU, UGA

 

SEC squads will be competing with teams outside the SEC for tourney bids — obviously — but after conducting these types of exercises for 5+ years, it’s safe to say that none of the four teams listed above have sewn up anything yet.

Tennessee and Missouri stand the best chance of getting in based on their RPI.  Those two will meet in the season finale Saturday in Knoxville.  That contest will be huge.  And neither team can afford a stumble in their midweek games, either.

Arkansas is one of the hottest teams in what’s been a wildly inconsistent SEC this season.  Winning twice versus Kentucky is a boost, but South Carolina’s takedown of the Cats took a little luster of those wins.

LSU’s hopes are dim.  Had they managed to win an overtime game at Kentucky a few days back their dossier would look a bit better.

This race for a third bid — and maybe a fourth if everything breaks the SEC’s way — will simply come down to who finishes best.  It’s unlikely that any of these teams will be able to lock up a bid prior to the SEC Tournament.  Who plays whom in Atlanta and who advances farthest will play a major role in determining who goes dancing.

 

Bet On Tennessee:  The Vols have the 16th best strength of schedule in the country.  They’ve faced three top 10 RPI teams in Florida, Wichita State and Virginia.

Bet Against Tennessee:  UT knocked off ACC champion Virginia back in December, but the Volunteers are just 2-6 against top 50 RPI teams overall.  They played a tough schedule, but they didn’t win enough of those tough games.

Bet On Missouri:  It’s hard to make a case for the Tigers aside from their RPI.  Compared to the other SEC bubble teams, there’s little that stands out.

Bet Against Missouri:  They’re 8-8 in what’s viewed as a bad SEC.  Making matters worse, they’ve only played four top 50 RPI teams overall.

Bet On Arkansas:  They’re peaking at the right time, they’re no longer a guaranteed dud on the road and they’re an impressive (for SEC standards) 4-5 against top 50 RPI foes.

Bet Against Arkansas:  Streaking at the end of the season is no longer a major selection factor.  A weak non-conference slate (average RPI just 180) could come back to bite them as well.

Bet On LSU:  Uh, the Tigers’ schedule was comparable/a bit tougher than Missouri’s?

Bet Against LSU:  The Bayou Bengals just don’t have enough positives on their team sheet to earn an at-large bid.  LSU needs to finish very hot this week and in next week’s SEC Tournament.

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The SEC Might Land 3 In The NCAA Tourney, But Only 2 Deserve To Go

gfx-by-the-numbersThe NCAA Tournament has grown in recent years to a bizarre 68-team format that includes a pair of play-in games for 11- or 12-seeds.  Aside from aiding television viewership, having play-in games for teams not on the extreme outside of the tourney bubble makes zero sense.  Logic suggests those games should be reserved for squads fighting for the 16-seeds, but the networks know that a few big conference teams will provide better ratings for the “First Four” than four games featuring the likes of North Carolina at Winston-Marlboro, Texas Amish University and Eastern Adirondacks State.

That said, no one should be happier about the fact that some big schools can play their way into the dance than the folks in the SEC office.  If not for those play-in games, the Southeastern Conference is looking like a two-bid league at best.  Heck, it should be a two-bid league.

Obviously, the SEC’s bubble teams will be compared to bubble teams from across America, not just against one another.  As of this morning, however, only two SEC squads rank in the top 49 of the all-important RPI.  Missouri’s loss to Georgia dropped the Tigers to #50.  Tennessee ranks 56th, LSU 68th and everyone else is ranked 70th (Arkansas) or worse.

Using the NCAA’s official RPI from the past three Selection Sundays (since the field expanded to 68), we’ve found the following to be true:

 

*  There were 31 automatic bids and 37 at-large bids into the 2011, 2012 and 2013 tournaments.  (This year there will be 32 automatic bids and just 36 at-large bids.)

*  Of the 111 at-large bids awarded over the last three years, 82 have gone to teams ranked between 1 and 39 in RPI.

*  Of those same 111 at-large bids, just 15 have gone to teams ranked between 40 and 49.

*  Of those 111 at-large bids, only 11 have gone to teams ranked between 50 and 59.

*  And only three bids have gone to squads ranked 60 or higher.

 

From a percentage point of view, teams ranked in the top 39 of the RPI on Selection Sunday have taken up 73.8% of the at-large bids.  Only 13.5% have gone to teams ranked between 40 and 49.  Just 9.9% have gone to teams ranked between 50 and 59.  Only 2.7% of the at-large bids the last three years have gone to teams ranked 60 or higher in the RPI.

That tells us that as of today, Missouri and Tennessee would likely stand about a 10% chance of making the field.  And since neither of those squads have league records over the .500 mark in an SEC currently ranked as just the seventh best league, 10% might be pushing it.

However you slice it — by the numbers or via “the eye test” — only Florida and Kentucky appear NCAA-worthy as of today.  Can Missouri or Tennessee do enough over the final two weeks and the SEC Tournament to improve their chances?  Sure.  But from what we’ve seen of them, what gives anyone the confidence that they will take advantage of those opportunities?

It’s certainly fitting that Mizzou’s damaging loss last night came to Georgia.  The Bulldogs, as we’ve noted on several occasions, expose all that’s wrong with SEC hoops this season.  UGA went just 6-6 in non-conference play and they’ve lost four games to teams outside the RPI top 100.  Yet they now stand firmly in the third place in the SEC with a gaudy 10-5 mark (which should cool the seat from underneath Mark Fox’s rear).

The Southeastern Conference is a bad basketball conference yet again this season.  It appears to get worse with each game played.  And looking at the numbers, there’s just a 10% or so chance — as of today — that the league will receive a third at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

So thank goodness for those play-in games.  Without them, the SEC’s odds for grabbing a third invitation would be even longer.

 

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SEC A 3-Bid League At Best After This Weekend

gfx-by-the-numbersAs far as the NCAA Tournament bubble goes, this past weekend was one big ol’ needle for the SEC.  The league’s two top candidates to join locks Florida and Kentucky in the big dance both fell and fell hard on the road.

From an RPI perspective, Missouri’s loss at Alabama (RPI 94) was its worst defeat of the season.  The Tigers’ own RPI dropped to 43rd.  Meanwhile, Tennessee continued its yo-yo act losing at Texas A&M (RPI 133).  Making matters worse — A&M upset the Vols in Knoxville earlier in the season to pull the season sweep.

It’s unlikely, but this could be the year that the 14-team SEC bottoms out with just two NCAA invites.  Yes, it’s that bad.

Below we’ve run the numbers for the nine SEC squads that could still wind up with at least an 11-7 record inside the league.  Now, we don’t believe anyone outside of Florida and Kentucky — who are already there — will actually get to 11 league wins, but for the sake of argument and comparison, that’s who we’ve included in this exercise.

Using much of the same information the selection committee will use, see how many of these SEC dossiers look tourney-worthy to you…

 

  School   UF   UK   MU   UT   ARK   LSU   UM   VU   UGA
  Overall Rec.   25-2   21-6   19-8   15-11   18-9   16-10   16-11   15-11   15-11
  SEC Rec.   14-0   11-3   7-7   7-7   7-7   7-7   7-7   7-7   9-5
  RPI   3   14   43   57   66   67   78   83   85
  SOS   19   12   60   15   75   64   73   71   74
  Avg RPI W   117   115   137   145   173   155   175   166   164
  Avg RPI L   18   36   46   54   54   72   64   70   80
  Non-Con Rec.   11-2   10-3   12-1   8-4   11-2   9-3   9-4   8-4   6-6
  Non-Con RPI Avg.   117   101   152   138   182   162   162   160   167
  Road Rec.   8-2   5-3   3-5   2-7   2-5   2-7   4-6   3-6   3-6
  Neutral Rec.   2-0   1-2   3-1   2-1   1-2   2-1   2-0   2-1   0-3
  Vs RPI 1-50   5-2   3-4   1-2   1-5   2-5   3-3   1-5   1-4   1-5
  Vs RPI 100+   11-0   8-0   10-0   8-2   11-1   11-2   12-1   11-2   10-4
  Remain. Gms RPI 1-50   1   1   0   1   1   1   0   1   1
  Best W   1   26   12   15   14   14   43   43   43
  Worst L   30   67   94   113   113   167   207   171   176

 

Yeesh.

Missouri is better than Tennessee in just about every category so the Tigers currently have the inside track on a third SEC bid.  But an RPI of 43 — matched with an #60 strength of schedule — is no guarantee of a spot on the dance floor.  Plus, UT and MU will square off in Knoxville in both squads’ regular-season finale.  If the Vols win that one it might not push Cuonzo Martin’s team into the tourney, but it could nudge Frank Haith’s team out.

We’ve pointed to Georgia several times this season as being a bad news team for the SEC.  The Dawgs still are.  Mark Fox’s team went 6-6 in their non-conference portion of the season.  That against an non-conference slate with an average RPI of just 167.  Yet the Bulldogs have gone 9-5 inside the league and have won five of their last six games.

For the record, the SEC’s current RPI rank as a league #7.

Florida and Kentucky are locks.  Missouri is ahead of everyone else.  And the SEC is a three-bid league at best as we it.

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Georgia Is The SEC’s Worst Hoops Nightmare

Mark-Fox-one-fingerWith a weak performance in the non-conference portion of the schedule, the last thing the SEC needed was for one of its worst teams to turn things around and excel inside league play.  Such a situation would further damage the league’s already shaky reputation.

So thanks, Georgia.

In all seriousness, Mark Fox has done a remarkable job of turning around the Bulldogs’ fortunes.  After a 1-4 start to the season, UGA has gone 13-6 overall and — wait for it — the Dogs are currently 8-4 in conference play.  They sit just one game behind second-place Kentucky in the league standings.

While that’s good for Fox’s job status, it’s not good for the Southeastern Conference’s push for NCAA at-large bids.  The Bulldogs have lost four games to teams outside the RPI top 100 (#147 Georgia Tech, #144 Davidson, #162 Temple and #183 Auburn).  UGA’s RPI is a feeble 89th, yet they’ve managed to beat SEC bubble squads Missouri (in Columbia), Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss.

And they can still do more damage.

Georgia plays at Tennessee this week.  Next week they’ll host Missouri, looking for the season sweep.  They’ll still travel to Arkansas and LSU as well.

Clearly, it’s all too little, too late for UGA and its hopes of earning an NCAA Tournament at-large bid of its own.  But the role of spoiler is still theirs for the taking.  In fact, they’re already taking it.

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SEC In The NCAA Tourney: 2 Locks, 5 Alive (Some Barely)

gfx-by-the-numbersAnother week down and the SEC’s hopes of landing three teams in the NCAA Tournament still look about the same from MrSEC.com’s World Headquarters.  Florida is a lock at this point.  The Gators’ only concern is whether or not they can nail down a #1 seed.  Kentucky remains in the field as well, though the Wildcats have been nowhere near as good as most folks (and UK fans) expected prior to the season’s tip-off.

After Florida and Kentucky, things still look sketchy.  Missouri took Round One of their two all-important head-to-head battles with Tennessee over the weekend, but they’ll still have to play in Knoxville on UT’s Senior Day.  For now, the Tigers look to be the SEC’s best hope of snatching a third NCAA bid.

Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas — by our calculations — are all outside the tourney bubble in need of either strong finishes or full-on miracles.  And Missouri, in for now, can certainly play their way out, as well.

Below are the tourney breakdowns for UF, UK and those five other league teams with RPI rankings inside the top 80.  Typically, teams outside the RPI top 40 are on the bubble (with those outside the top 60 dead).  We’ve included LSU and Arkansas (RPI rankings in the 70s because theoretically they could still improve their chances).

 

  School   Florida   Kentucky   Missouri   Tennessee   Ole Miss   LSU   Arkansas
  Record   23-2   19-6   18-7   14-10   16-9   15-9   16-9
  SEC Record   12-0   9-3   6-6   6-6   7-5   6-6   5-7
  RPI Rank   4   14   38   53   68   71   73
  SOS Rank   22   6   56   11   86   78   68
  Vs RPI Top 50   5-2   2-4   1-2   2-6   1-3   3-2   3-5
  True Road Record   7-2   4-3   3-4   2-6   4-6   2-6   1-5
  Ls Vs RPI 100+   0   0   0   1   1   2   1
  Best RPI Win Rank   1   36   12   18   38   14   14
  Best RPI Win Foe   Kansas   Louisville   UCLA   Virginia   Missouri   Kentucky   Kentucky

 

As you can see, Florida’s resume is fantastic.  After losing their first two games against top 50 RPI foes the Gators have beaten five such teams in a row.  That includes a win over current #1 RPI squad Kansas.  Billy Donovan’s team boasts a rare mix of talent and experience that you just don’t see in college basketball these days.  And the defense this team plays makes it a legitimate national title contender.

Kentucky is fine.  In fact, for a team once again rebuilt with freshman the Cats are more than fine.  But after winning a national crown two years ago, “fine” and “more than fine” has to be considered a disappointment.  The young Wildcats are just 2-4 against top 50 RPI competition and they’ve lost at both Arkansas and LSU, giving those squads their signature wins on the season.  Perhaps John Calipari’s young bunch can write a great final chapter come March.

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The SEC Still Looks Shaky When It Comes To NCAA Tournament Bids

gfx-by-the-numbersOver the years we at MrSEC.com have become pretty darn good at predicting just which SEC basketball teams will land bids in the NCAA Tournament each March.  That’s because a good 95% of the selection process comes down to simple math.  A grasp of past history tells us that RPIs between 40 and 50 are bubble teams and that those outside the top 50 are more likely to be left out than let in.

In picking the very last three or four at-large teams, the committee seems to use a different criteria each season.  Last year, road wins were the deciding factor.  In past years it’s been strength of schedule and top 50 wins.  Once a team’s last 12 games were key, but that’s no longer as important as the committee tries to reward teams for scheduling bravely in the early part of the season.

Taking all the usual figures into account — and including the fact that the SEC currently ranks just seventh among conferences in overall RPI — we see the SEC as a three- or four-bid league at best.  To be honest, only Florida and Kentucky appear to be locks.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, however, has placed five SEC teams into the field in his latest Bracketology report:

 

Florida — #1 seed, South, vs #16 seed Davidson in Orlando

Kentucky — #4 seed, Midwest, vs #13 seed Delaware in Orlando

Tennessee — #11 seed, Midwest, vs #6 seed Texas in Milwaukee

LSU — #11 seed, South, vs #11 seed BYU in play-in game

Missouri — #12 seed, East, vs #12 seed Providence in play-in game

 

But while five are currently in according to ESPN’s bracket guru, Tennessee, LSU and Missouri are all listed as being among the final eight teams into the tourney.  Ole Miss is among the first four out.

So while Lunardi lists five in, his views really aren’t that much different from our own: The SEC has just two locks at the moment.

Below is a look at the tourney resumes for Tennessee, Missouri, Ole Miss and LSU.  With RPI scores of 80 and higher there’s no point even focusing on Arkansas or Vanderbilt at the moment.  While the Vols, Tigers, Rebels and other Tigers have work to do, the Razorbacks and Commodores need miracles.

 

  School   Tennessee   Missouri   Ole Miss   LSU
  RPI Rank   47   49   56   61
  SOS Rank   17   71   79   76
  Overall Record   14-8   16-7   16-7   15-7
  SEC Record   6-4   4-6   7-3   6-4
  Record vs Top 50   2-4   1-2   1-4   3-3
  Record in True Road Games   2-5   3-4   4-4   2-4
  Losses Outside Top 100   1   1   1   2
  Top 50 Games Remaining   3   2   2   2
  Best Win   20 Virginia   19 UCLA   49 Missouri   12 Kentucky
  Worst Loss   145 Texas A&M   115 Georgia   168 Miss. State   140 Rhode Island

 

Folks, those aren’t very impressive resumes.  And while Tennessee’s SOS stands out at the moment, the Vols will face four teams with RPI scores higher than 115 over the final stretch of the season.  That will take some of the luster off of its SOS.

Moving from left to right, Tennessee will face Florida at home this week before traveling to Missouri.  The Volunteers’ best win to date came over #20 Virginia back in December.  A win over the Gators would help matters considerably.

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The Rich Get Richer: Walker Cleared To Join Gator Hoops Squad

Screen-Shot-2013-12-14-at-11.48.25-AMNext Tuesday, the Florida Gators will add Chris Walker — a top 10 signee last season — to Billy Donovan’s arsenal.  Academics cost him his first semester at Florida.  He’s been sitting out the second semester due while the NCAA dug into his eligibility status.

Finally, the NCAA has stated that Walker received improper benefits from two agents and three other people.  If the kid can get around like that on the hardwood, Florida just got a whole lot tougher.

The NCAA cleared Walker to play yesterday.  He will have to donate $270 to charity — that’s what he made from the agents — and he’ll also have to serve 80 hours of community service.

He has been practicing with UF while waiting for the NCAA’s verdict.

The Gators are currently tops in the SEC, unbeaten in league play, riding an 11-game win streak this season and a 26-game win streak at home dating back to last year.  At 17-2 they’re a consensus top 10 team and are trying to overcome a poor conference RPI in order to nab a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

And now they’re adding a 6-10, blue-chip power forward in Walker.  The rich get richer.

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