For nearly six months, teams across the Southeastern Conference have embarked on the journey that is the college basketball regular season. Amazingly, these final two weeks before Selection Sunday determine so much.
For some teams, this time of year is a tense, emotional tug-of-war. Yes, those are the bubble teams, whose fates hang daily on their performances and the results of their peers.
Then there are the teams who’ve already proven they’re worthy of the Big Dance. For them, this is no time to rest. Conference championships and NCAA Tournament seeding are on the line.
Finally, there are the schools whose postseason hopes are all but squashed. But fascinating storylines still exist here. How about a senior desperate to extend his career just one more day?
Here’s what’s at stake in the SEC with a pair of regular-season games remaining for each team and nearly two weeks to go until Selection Sunday:
Tickets to the Dance
Before seeing if a glass slipper fits, a would-be Cinderella team must first punch its ticket to the tournament. Plenty of SEC teams find themselves on the bubble right now, or at least with work left to do to solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama’s bubble is the biggest in the SEC, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi in his bracket released Sunday. Lunardi has the Crimson Tide in his “last four byes” category. This means they are among the last five to eight teams in.
A pair of Group 1 games looms for Alabama this week as the Tide host Auburn on Tuesday, then travel to Arkansas on Saturday. Between those contests, as well as next week’s SEC Tournament, it would behoove Alabama to pick up at least one more win.
If the Tide lose out, Avery Johnson’s group will be sweating during Selection Sunday.
Fans of Ole Miss may be surprised to find their team on the bubble, but that’s what losing can do this time of year. The Rebels have dropped two in a row, and three of four, including a 15-point loss at South Carolina.
Lunardi has Ole Miss as a No. 10 seed now, so just like Alabama, the Rebels could use one more win to avoid a nail-biting selection watch party. A date with Missouri on Saturday at Mizzou Arena, a Group 2 game, should be the Rebels’ best chance.
The SEC regular-season title
Three SEC teams have separated themselves from the onset of the 18-game league slate, but they have found little separation from each other.
LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky form the top tier in the SEC standings. Right now, the Tigers and Volunteers are tied atop the group, while the Wildcats sit a game behind. LSU owns the tiebreaker with Tennessee and controls its own destiny for the top seed in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers travel to Florida on Wednesday and host Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Tennessee needs help from LSU to get the top seed in the SEC Tournament, but the Vols control their own destiny for at least a share of the league’s regular-season title. Tennessee can clinch it with wins this week versus Mississippi State and at Auburn.
Finally, Kentucky has the steepest climb to the top. The Wildcats’ best chance to rise in the standings came this past Saturday, when they took on the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee. But Kentucky dropped that contest.
LSU holds the tiebreaker over Kentucky, so the Tigers essentially hold a two-game lead over the Wildcats. Kentucky looks poised to be the No. 3 seed, but No. 2 is not out of the question.
While many teams have broad implications on the line this fortnight, some teams, it appears, have nothing to play for. That isn’t the case, though.
For the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-20, 0-16 SEC), two chances remain to avoid a historically bad season. The last time an SEC team went winless in league play was the 1953-54 season, when Georgia Tech went 0-15. No SEC school has ever gone through an 18-game league slate without a win.
Yes, Vanderbilt took a major hit when consensus five-star recruit and potential lottery pick Darius Garland suffered a season-ending knee injury in November. But that doesn’t mean his teammates want to make negative history.
Vanderbilt hosts Arkansas on Wednesday. This game seems winnable for the Commodores, who lost by only three points in Bud Walton Arena earlier this season. Vandy then closes out the season Saturday at LSU.
Supervising editor is Reed Koutelas.