The SEC Tournament tips off tomorrow night at Bridgestone Arena, and Ken Pomeroy’s projections lay out what we’ve all kind of known all season:
That’s right: the ostensible favorite and de facto home team in this thing has a 22 percent chance of winning the thing. The top three seeds, combined, have a 59.4 percent chance of winning.
Compare this to 2015, when Kentucky entered the tournament with a 76.4 percent chance of winning. Or even 2017, when a more pedestrian Kentucky team had a 39.2 percent chance of winning — but two-seed Florida had a 36.4 percent chance.
The issue, to be blunt, is that the best teams in the SEC this year aren’t actually that good and have shown themselves to be more than capable of shitting the bed on any given night. Just last week, Auburn randomly lost to Texas A&M at home, while Kentucky farted away a 17-point second-half lead against Tennessee at Rupp Arena. LSU started conference play 8-0 and has since gone 4-6, which included handing Vanderbilt its first conference win in 26 tries. The point is, any of these teams are capable of losing to anyone else on a given night, which is annoying for people who want to see NBA-style super teams square off against one another after a lot of buildup, but fun for people like me who root for chaos.
The other thing is: there’s a good chance there will be a bid thief here. In fact, counting Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, and Florida as safely in the tournament, there’s a 28.2 percent chance (per KenPom) that somebody else will win this thing and earn themselves a bid. There is a 4.6 percent chance that Arkansas will win five games in five days. This should be a fun week in Nashville, even if the basketball isn’t actually that good for those who care more about the quality of the basketball being played than they do about watching competitive games.
So, let’s break this down.
This is at least mildly interesting; thanks to tiebreakers, Arkansas, which started the season 12-1 and is ranked 49th in KenPom, is playing on Wednesday night. The Razorbacks are pretty squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble; meanwhile, first night opponent Vanderbilt has for all intents and purposes ended the tournament hopes of both Alabama and South Carolina within the last week. Can the Commodores do the Razorbacks’ chances in as well? We will see. But first, Georgia plays Ole Miss in the game to determine the biggest disappointment in the SEC. Both games will be televised on the SEC Network.
The best feature of conference tournaments is the ability to (a) watch college basketball at work, which is a criminally underrated thing, and (b) mainline basketball into your veins for a few days. That starts at noon CT on Thursday on the SEC Network, with the 8/9 game between Tennessee and Alabama. In most years, this would be for the right to get destroyed by Kentucky on Friday, but see above comments. At best, Alabama and Tennessee’s tournament hopes are on life support; either way, the loser of this game goes to the NIT. In the second game of the early session, Florida can probably feel safe so long as they avoid a stupid bad loss to Georgia or Ole Miss. That might not sound like much, but Florida previously lost to Ole Miss by 17, and while they swept Georgia, they trailed by as much as 22 in one matchup and 13 in the other.
The evening session is a bit less dramatic, if only because one of the two games — the 7-10 matchup between Texas A&M and Missouri — features two teams that aren’t going anywhere barring winning the automatic bid. (It also features two Big 12 teams, for some reaosn. I don’t know, either.) But the nightcap between South Carolina and the Vanderbilt-Arkansas winner does carry at least some interest, with South Carolina and Arkansas both inhabiting the fringes of the bubble. As far as Vanderbilt goes, should the Commodores win on Wednesday night, well, I can’t imagine a team with only seven scholarship players is well set up to play on back-to-back nights, but stranger things have happened.
Aaaaaaand here’s where things get really interesting. Assuming Florida beats the Georgia/Ole Miss winner and Vanderbilt doesn’t advance, three of the four games will feature a team that’s pretty safely in the field against a team that really badly needs a run at least to the finals. Tennessee or Alabama against Kentucky will kick things off at noon, and remember that one of these teams erased a 17-point deficit in Rupp Arena as recently as last week. Up next: Mississippi State against, presumably, Florida, a team that Mississippi State beat in Gainesville earlier this season. And, 3-seed LSU would be facing Arkansas or South Carolina in the late game. Meanwhile, should 2-seed Auburn lose to Missouri or Texas A&M, we’d have to really consider the possibility of one of those two absolutely ruining some random Pac-12 team’s March dreams.
Saturday and Sunday
This could be anticlimactic — should Kentucky, Florida, LSU, and Auburn all advance — or it could be nutty, should one or two teams aside from those four get here. Because everybody will be watching for a bid thief in that situation. I’m betting on the latter happening, if only because this conference has been stupid and weird all season. You have been warned.