It’s the eve of the SEC tournament, and every team at least has a little bit of stake. I’m trying to help ya’ll out with a viewer’s guide on what every team is playing for and what this tournament means to them, starting from the teams with the least at stake to the teams with the most at stake. I am making a judgment call in that teams trying to simply make the field have more at stake than those teams playing for their NCAA seed, who are the teams most likely to win. So I’ve created an order in which winning this tournament is not the most important thing, which I admit, is pretty silly. But let’s assume everybody wants to win and has that at stake.
AUBURN (#106 RPI, 16-14)
The Tigers have absolutely no shot at an at-large. And, even with a loss, they will probably qualify for the NIT. So, it’s hard to go into the tourney with less at stake than Auburn. I guess they could make a run, but no one really thinks that is likely. Maybe they can ruin Georgia’s slim tourney hopes as a small solace.
LSU (#92, 16-14)
The same exact situation as Auburn only with a worse draw, getting Tennessee to kick things off. This is LSU’s last chance to salvage the season from hell, coming off last year’s magical Final Four run. Say hello to the NIT unless they win four.
SOUTH CAROLINA (#101, 14-15)
USC needs a run to the semifinals just to get to .500 overall and be eligible for postseason play. That’s a pretty tall order, though in the last two weeks they have beaten Tennessee, taken Vandy to overtime, beaten Ole Miss, and, er, lost to LSU. USC has to beat Arkansas and then Vanderbilt. Good luck.
MISSISSIPPI ST (#65, 17-12)
State’s actually unfortunate to get the West-1 seed. They need wins, and by missing out on Thursday, they missed a chance to add them. On top of that, their first opponent will be either Alabama or Kentucky. Not exactly the teams you want to face when you have slim tourney hopes. To even get on the bubble, State probably needs two wins, and that means making the finals. Which really means that to realistically make the tourney, State has to win out.
OLE MISS (#62, 19-11)
Another bubble longshot who probably could have used the extra win. They will now sit around and wait for the UT-LSU winner. A win over the Vols would be huge, a team the Rebels already beat by 14 this year. A win gets them to the magic 20, which is actually sort of meaningless, and get them another quality win. Ole Miss has a real chance to radically help their profile. But only if they beat the Vols. Beating LSU means nothing to their bubble chances.
GEORGIA (#64, 16-12)
Georgia has the longest odds of making the tourney of any of the bubble teams, but they have a draw which give them an opportunity to make an impression (READ: it is a brutal draw). They have to beat Auburn to play Florida. Beating Florida, you don’t need me to tell you, makes the Dawgs a viable tourney team. Win two, and suddenly Georgia looks like a tourney team. Yes, things can change that quickly for a team during Championship Week.
-- Okay. Quick breather. We’ve worked our way through the bottom half of the SEC. These team, realistically, aren’t looking at winning the whole thing as their goal. I tried to point out these teams can define success simply by winning a game or making the semifinals. That changes from this point forward. These are the teams who are here to win this thing. Though they do have other goals, though. Particularly, seeding or even making the tournament.
VANDERBILT (#37, 19-10)
There’s no way Vandy is getting as high as the 4-seed line unless they win the whole tournament. They are staring at a 5-8 seed, and there’s not a whole lot they can do about it. The thing is, Vandy might have the proper “no one respects us” motivation to come out a win this thing.
KENTUCKY (#11, 20-10)
In the same boat as Vandy, but they have the extra motivation that this is their tournament, hard times or not. Of the 46 previous SEC tournaments, the Cats have won 25 of them. Winning the SEC is Kentucky’s birthright, so don’t think they don’t feel the extra pressure, even with the need to play four days. And drawing an Alabama team that must win.
TENNESSEE (#8, 22-9)
The Vols are looking at about a 4-seed right now, but seeds are volatile right now. And, it goes without saying, a team wants a top 4 seed and therefore be seeded to make the Sweet 16. They also have a beautiful draw: LSU and then Ole Miss. That’s about as close as you can get to a welcome mat to the semifinals. Failure to make it to Saturday will not look good on the resume.
FLORIDA (#9, 26-5)
The one-seeds are up in the air right now. Florida needs to keep up with the Joneses, which means winning the SEC. If they don’t win the tourney, the other teams (Kansas/Texas A&M, UNC, Ohio St/Wisconsin, UCLA) will. Which means they won’t get that all-important one-seed. It’s all or nothing. Runner up doesn’t help, and puts them in the position of scoreboard watching. They can win a one-seed without winning the SEC tournament, but they would need lots of help.
ALABAMA (#43, 20-10)
Do-or-die time for Bama. The bubble is constantly shrinking and it gets harder to make the field every day as other teams in the power conferences improve their profiles. Look! There’s Clemson and FSU creating separation from each other! There’s Syracuse getting a big win! Alabama has to beat Kentucky. Period. Or it’s game over time. And even then, they are not a lock. Bama needs to go further than Arkansas. And even then, they can’t beat Kentucky and then lose to Mississippi State. It really looks like Bama needs to make the semifinals to have a realistic tourney shot.
ARKANASAS (#49, 18-12)
The SEC’s leading bubble contender, it can all go away very quickly. Beating USC won’t help, so Arkansas needs another quality win, and that means beating Vanderbilt. Just like Bama, it’s semifinals or NIT. And its not like a semifinals run makes them a lock to make the Big Dance.
It’s game time. But I’ll be honest, I’m going to play closer attention to the greatest conference tournament of them all, the ACC. That’s because every team absolutely hates the others. The SEC just can’t quite work up the same hatred for basketball. A shame.
Editor’s Note: I wrote all this before the news of Pokey Chatman quitting out of the friggin’ blue. That is now obviously the big LSU story, but one I don’t feel commenting on a whole lot because we don’t know the details yet. I can tell you the obvious: she was very successful, and this announcement came out of nowhere. Everything else is rumor, and we try not to deal too much in rumor. As soon as we actually know something, we’ll have some commentary.
My initial reaction, though? Something bad happened to cause this announcement. And I’m really pissed we’re losing a great coach.