Auburn finally lost, Kentucky is who we shoul’ve thought they were and damn Tennessee is good. Here’s the SEC Starting Five:
1. The bubble picture has become clearer in the last week for the SEC. Georgia has effectively played it’s way out of the at-large conversation after Wednesday night’s 81-66 loss at Vanderbilt where they Bulldogs allowed the Commodores to shoot 55 percent despite coming into the game as the SEC leader in field goal percentage defense during conference play. Combine that double-digit loss with the 72-57 loss at Mississippi State last Saturday and you have a team that has graciously played its way off of the bubble before the midway point in February.
Speaking of Mississippi State, the Bulldogs have continued to keep their names in the conversation for an at-large. Although ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi doesn’t see State fit for the at-large conversation, Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com does, having Ben Howland’s team in his First Four Out. The obvious discrepancy comes with the Bulldogs non-conference strength of schedule. 299 out of 351 in anything is never good, especially when it comes down to evaluating how a team performed out of conference. Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News poked holes into the way that the NCAA Tournament selection committee goes about evaluating teams in terms of their non-conference SOS. Decourcy used North Carolina State as an example of a team that has a poor non-conference SOS at 289, like MSU, but should be looked more favorably upon for their wins against Clemson, Duke, Arizona and at North Carolina. Even more so thanks to the new quadrant format of evaluation:
Quadrant 1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161-plus; Neutral 201-plus; Away 241-plus
In this new system, Mississippi State owns only two quadrant 1 wins with a win over RPI No. 30 Missouri at home and a victory at RPI No. 64 South Carolina. For a team that has 10 of their 18 wins falling into the quadrant 4 category, non-conference SOS coming into play or not, that’s not going to look good to the committee.
Missouri was considered a bubble team a week ago but has found their way into relative safety, after wins against Alabama, Kentucky and Ole Miss. The Tigers could also be receiving good news as five-star forward Michael Porter Jr. could be returning from back surgery this season after all.
Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. on the potential for returning this season: “To me and how I feel right now, there is a good chance. I think the doctors are going to be amazed at my progress.”
— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) February 9, 2018
2,.Texas A&M doesn’t appear to need to worry about the bubble picture after handing Auburn their first home loss of the season 81-80 Wednesday night. The win gave A&M a much-coveted quadrant 1 victory and their third consecutive win. The Aggies crawl back within a game of .500 at 5-6 in the SEC and appear to be finally getting back to the team that so many of us projected them to be back in November. Another test lies ahead this Saturday as a battered Kentucky teams visit Reed Arena in what might turn out to be a game the Wildcats need more than A&M. Kentucky fooled us all when they came back from 17 down at then-No. 7 West Virginia thanks to 34 from Kevin Knox. Since then, the Wildcats have struggled to beat last-place Vanderbilt at home in overtime, scored only six baskets in the first half in a losing effort at Missouri, and then had the rugged pulled underneath them in the final minute of Tuesday’s loss to No. 15 Tennessee. Matt Jones from Kentucky Sports Radio said doubt this team at your own peril. That’s fine with me, I’ll doubt a team that can’t shoot from three, share the basketball or run a consistent offense. Sure, Kentucky has immeasurable talent but that doesn’t mean they don’t also have a mediocre team. Which is exactly what the Wildcats are right now.
3. Tennessee continues to make this seasons turnaround into one of the best stories in college basketball. Aside from the win at Rupp on Tuesday, the Volunteers have four other quadrant 1 wins, including a win against No. 3 Purdue who lost for the first time since November and the first loss in the United States. Not to brush aside the close losses to Villanova and North Carolina. ESPN BPI has been in love with the Volunteers over the past week. Earlier in the week the BPI gave Tennessee the highest projection outside of the virtual one seed locks, Virginia, Purdue and Villanova to claim the fourth No. 1 seed. Now, BPI is offering more good news for the Vols:
19 % Tennessee wins its 7 remaining scheduled games. On average BPI sees its record at 23.6-6.4 before SEC tourney and 36 % to win SEC tourney. Current seed projections per BPI:
1 seed: 37%
2 seed: 44%
3 seed: 14 %
4 seed: 4 %
5 or higher: 1% https://t.co/jkdqpv9r1E
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 9, 2018
I’d agree that at this pace a two seed and a trip to Nashville for the first two rounds is more likely for Tennessee, especially now that Lunardi has them on the three line with Auburn and that Cincinnati and Xavier could be sent to Pittsburgh or Detroit over Nashville. Either way, a strong finish for the Vols will have them right in place for a top 2 seed.
4. I’m still weary over how good Auburn really is. KenPom has Auburn ranked No. 10 but I feel like there’s not a lot to the Tigers resume. The RPI loves Auburn having them at 9, the SOS of 37 and non-conference SOS of 83 is adequate. What the Tigers lack are the quality wins. Auburn owns four quadrant 1 wins; vs Middle Tennessee in Birmingham, at Tennessee, at Mississippi State and vs Missouri. Of those wins, Tennessee is the only team that you’re sure will even be in the NCAA Tournament. I’m not saying that I don’t think that the Tigers are capable of making a run once the tournament begins, I just want to see them notch more quality wins on the season. Opportunities against Kentucky and Florida await, but how much will that say about Auburn if they win?
5. Weekend Thoughts:
- Mississippi State has one true road win this season and that’s against a South Carolina team that is likely head to the NIT. The Bulldogs have to win at Missouri on Saturday if there’s going to be any serious discussion amongst the committee about their at-large status considering the glaring issue with their non-conference SOS.
- Alabama position on the bubble might not be as secure as some bracketologist may lead you to believe. Particulary when you weigh the fact that the Crimson Tide only has two true road wins this season. A win at home against Tennessee will qualify as a quadrant 1 victory, but the Tide have work to do on the road.
- I have a really good feeling that Kentucky, just two weeks removed from the “rebirth” in Morgantown, will get annihilated in College Station. I’m so out of John Calipari and his team
- Arkansas appeared in Lunardi’s Last Four Byes this week and has been extremely difficult to peg this season. Nothing can be gained with a win over Vanderbilt at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday but there’s certainly a lot that could be lost.
Florida (16-6, 7-4 SEC) at South Carolina (13-11, 4-7 SEC) 11:00 AM CT CBS
Mississippi State (18-6, 6-5 SEC) at Missouri (16-8, 6-5 SEC) 1:00 PM CT ESPN2
#8 Auburn (21-3, 9-2 SEC) at Georgia (13-10, 4-7 SEC) 2:30 PM CT SEC Network
Ole Miss (11-13, 4-7 SEC) at LSU (13-10, 4-7 SEC) 3:00 PM CT ESPNU
#15 Tennessee (18-5, 8-3 SEC) at Alabama (15-9, 6-5 SEC) 5:00 PM CT SEC Network
#24 Kentucky (17-7, 6-5 SEC) at Texas A&M (16-8, 5-6 SEC) 7:15 PM CT ESPN
Vanderbilt (9-15, 3-8 SEC) at Arkanas (16-8, 5-6 SEC) 7:30 PM CT SEC Network
Check back on Monday for the SEC Starting Five as I’ll take a look back on the weekend that was in SEC hoops and look ahead to the week of games on the docket. For updates throughout the weekend, follow me on Twitter, @JulianCouncil