Eyes on the prize - Hoover, AL, home of the SEC baseball Tournament.
Just three weeks remain in the college baseball season, and once against the Southeastern Conference has risen to the top of the nation's elite. With nine teams cracking the RPI Top 30, and six in USAToday's Top 25, the SEC has earned a slight edge over other top leagues like the ACC and Pac-10. It seems like a solid bet that the conference will be sending at least eight teams into the NCAA Tournament again - an important number when you consider that the league runs 10 deep with solid teams.
With that in mind, let's look at how the SEC is shaping up as teams churn towards the SEC Tournament. Only eight teams will make it to the conference's postseason, and that group may well be the lineup that gets the chance to battle for a spot in Omaha. Last year, Vanderbilt qualified by just half a game to sneak in as the eighth seed, and then used a string of upsets to play their way into the title game and into a better NCAA Tournament seed. This year, they are in good shape for the third seed in the East, but still have work to do to clinch a spot. Without further adieu, let's look at the state of the SEC.
|The League's Elite|
|1)||South Carolina||34-9 (16-5)||The most consistent team in the SEC hasn't lost a series in league play. All starter Blake Cooper does is win games (8-0), and with Top 50 draft prospect Sam Dyson, the Gamecocks have won most of their games behind solid pitching.|
||31-11 (15-6)||Is Alex Panteliodis starting to wear down? The Gators' Game One starter gave up five earned runs against Arkansas and only lasted five innings last week against LSU.|
|3)||Ole Miss||33-14 (14-7)||The Rebels have a balanced lineup at the plate and one of the best Game One pitchers in the country in Drew Pomeranz. Questions linger about if the team is deep enough for a long tournament run.|
|4)||Arkansas||35-10 (14-7)||The Hogs' heady record is a bit deceiving - Arkansas has torn through the bottom half of the SEC while struggling against the league's better teams. This week's showdown with Ole Miss will be revealing.|
|Solid Resumes, NCAA Tourney-Bound|
|5)||LSU||32-13 (11-10)||The less said about their last two weeks (an 0-7 stretch at one point), the better. They've fallen to the second tier, and need a big showing against the 'Dores to regain their status - and maybe even their confidence.|
|6)||Vanderbilt||33-12 (10-9)||Canceled games against Georgia stripped them of an opportunity to build up their conference record. This team is talented, but might lack the firepower or consistency to hang with the league's elite over extended tournament play.|
|7)||Auburn||30-15 (12-9)||Auburn is just good enough to hang with the best teams and scare the league's elite. After them, there is a solid dropoff in team quality.|
|NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams|
|8)||Tennessee||24-21 (8-13)||Tennessee started off poorly, but has turned it around after an 0-6 conference start. They've beaten Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Ole Miss to play their way into position for SEC Tournament play.|
|9)||Alabama||28-17 (9-12)||After a hot start in out-of-conference play, 'Bama has only won one of their last four series - against lowly Mississippi State. At least it was a sweep.|
|10)||Kentucky||24-20 (7-14)||Only one series win on the season, and that was against Alabama. Kentucky plummeted out of the Top 25 and have sunk to the bottom of the SEC through weak performances, but could still make a case for a NCAA Tournament bid.|
|There's Always Next Year…|
|11)||Mississippi State||20-23 (5-16)||The Bulldogs can't pitch, and their only way to win games is to out-slug their opponents. That's a tough sell in the Southeastern Conference.|
|12)||Georgia||13-30 (3-16)||Georgia is having a pretty rough year, ending up on the wrong side of 20-3, 19-3, 15-5, 17-5, and 10-2 beatings.|
This weekend's series will have major implications in the SEC's hierarchy, as the 3/4 and 5/6 teams will square off. Alabama and Kentucky will also have stiff tests ahead of them while Tennessee will have a chance to solidify their grip on a SEC Tournament bid with three games against Georgia. Come Monday, we'll have a better idea of how the middle of the conference will turn out with just two weeks left to play.