As of 10:30 Wednesday, we are underway in Hoover, AL for the best conference play that college baseball has to offer. The SEC Tournament pits three of the country's top five teams against each other in double-elimination play alongside four NCAA locks and a Georgia squad whose playoffs began a week ago in Athens. The winner will earn one of baseball's crown jewels - an SEC title - and significantly improve their stock heading into the NCAA Tournament. If Vanderbilt, South Carolina, or Florida can steam their way to a championship on Sunday, any of the three will be the frontrunner for the #1 National Seed in the bracket of 64.
Last week's play was a fitting end to the conference's regular season, with that trio of elite teams jumbled knotted at the top. Vandy, SC, and UF played musical chairs at the top of the SEC for 10 weeks, and 2-1 weekends from all three created a tie for first at 22-8 in league play. South Carolina, by virtue of series wins over both Vanderbilt and Florida, earned the top seed in the league tournament, while the Gators and 'Dores settled for #3 and #4 thanks to Arkansas's presence as the SEC West champs (at 15-15).
The most interesting subplot of the tournament will be Georgia's battle to keep their season alive. The Bulldogs finished with the fourth best record in the SEC and an RPI of 22, but are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament thanks to a spotty out of conference record. The team sits at 28-28 on the season and will have to win three tournament games to ensure a record over .500 and preserve eligibility for an at-large bid to a NCAA Regional. A matchup with Vanderbilt looms, and unless the 'Dawgs can pull off another upset this week, they'll have their backs squarely against the wall for the rest of the week.
Their elimination could be great news for LSU and Ole Miss, two teams that lie on the NCAA Tournament's bubble after failing to qualify for league play this week. The Tigers have the better resume of the two, but Ole Miss's more consistent play may have left a stronger impression on the NCAA's selection committee. LSU began the season as a top five team, but spun into a death spiral in March and April, posting an 8-16 record over a six week span. The SEC is likely a lock to put eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, and nine is a possibility; as a result, the balance of these two teams' seasons rests on whether or not Georgia can secure a bid.
The excitement is already underway in Alabama, but before going to ESPN3 to watch it, check out our conference power rankings after the jump.
|1)||1)||South Carolina||44-12 (22-8)||The defending champions are the consensus #1 in the polls and winning games through determination and leadership. The Gamecocks look dangerous, and their ability to win close games should carry them to Omaha. Michael Roth, who was arguably robbed of SEC Pitcher of the Year honors, will have a chance to prove the league's coaches wrong with some monster outings over the next few weeks.|
|2)||2)||Florida||41-15 (22-8)||Will blowout losses to Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Jacksonville mean anything for this team in the postseason? Florida suffered three losses by nine runs or more in their final six games.|
|3)||3)||Vanderbilt||44-9 (22-8)||Rallied to come back and beat Georgia and secure a share of the conference title. Unfortunately, they're still the fourth seed in the SEC Tournament, which means a difficult path for the co-champs. A rematch with Georgia looms, then potential games against South Carolina and Florida make up the team's first three games if the power ranking predictions all hold true.|
|Teams With the Most to Gain in Hoover, AL|
|4)||4)||Arkansas||36-18 (15-15)||The 'Hogs win the SEC West at .500 and jump from fifth to second in the conference tournament's seeding. It seems like every game these guys are in is a dogfight - they'll definitely be one of the most suspenseful teams to watch in Hoover.|
|5)||5)||Georgia||28-28 (16-14)||Three SEC Tournament wins separate the Bulldogs from the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, they'll have to start with a Vanderbilt team that grinded Georgia down over the course of three games to outscore them 30-15. Still, the confidence is there|
|Two Teams Squarely on Upset Watch|
|6)||8)||Alabama||32-24 (14-16)||They couldn't keep up the impressive pace that they set early in the season, but the Tide still put together a solid campaign that should have this team playing into June. They don't have the penchant for upsets that Mississippi State does, but Alabama is a solid team that should be able to handle the lesser teams the NCAA throws at them and put up a good fight as an underdog as the bracket wears on.|
|7)||6)||Mississippi State||34-21 (14-16)||Mississippi State was only swept once this year (by Georgia) and stole wins from the league's three elite teams. They'll have a chance to prove their mettle as a spoiler Wednesday afternoon against Florida.|
|Missed the SEC Tournament and Now Anxiously Awaiting the Selection Committee's Call|
|8)||10)||LSU||36-20 (13-17)||A one-run game on Friday kept the Tigers from an impressive sweep of Mississippi State, but two wins weren't enough to get them into the SEC Tournament. Our friends in Baton Rouge will have to hope that a late surge (12-3 over their last 15 games) and a top 25 RPI are enough to make the selection committee forget about their April swoon.|
|9)||9)||Ole Miss||30-25 (13-17)||The Rebels likely dropped out of the NCAA Tournament with with a tough, weather-shortened series loss to Arkansas this week. Their drop, combined with LSU's slight revival and the unlikliness of the conference getting 10 bids put Ole Miss in a tough position - they'll have to root for Georgia a superior team in a bad circumstance - to finish under .500 for the season, disqualifying them from an at-large bid and opening the door for the Rebs to pick up the SEC's ninth invite.|
|Tennessee-Loss Induced Purgatory|
|10)||7)||Auburn||29-27 (14-16)||A sweep of Tennessee would have given the Tigers the SEC West title and the #2 seed in the conference tournament. Two wins would have tied them for first and given them the #2 seed by virtue of a series win over Arkansas back in March. Instead, the Tigers only beat the lowly Vols once, sending them to the eighth seed and to a date with South Carolina in their tourney opener.|
|Pretty Bad…Pretty, Pretty, Pretty, Pretty…Pretty Bad.|
|11)||11)||Kentucky||25-30 (8-22)||Alex Meyer ended his season with some brilliance, striking out nine Florida batters over seven innings and giving the Wildcats another rmarquee win this season in a 14-1 rout. Vanderbilt and South Carolina fans will be sending him a gift basket soon after his brilliance created a three-way tie for the SEC's regular season title.|
|12)||12)||Tennessee||25-29 (7-23)||Started 15-2 after beating up the likes of Canisius, Manhattan, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee…and then SEC play hit. The Vols are a dismal 10-27 since then, with losses to Presbyterian, Appalachian State, and Belmont dotting their resume.|