A group of SEC teams will be fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid when the SEC Tournament tips off this week in Nashville. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projection has four SEC teams in the tournament field.
Three teams — Kentucky, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt — look to be safe entering the conference tournament. The Wildcats (23-8, 13-5 SEC) lead the way as a projected No. 4 seed in the West Region. Kentucky earned a share of the regular season crown, but is the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament after losing the tiebreaker to Texas A&M.
Kentucky, which doesn’t open play until Friday thanks to a double-bye, could elevate its seeding by winning the SEC Tournament.
Following the Wildcats is Texas A&M (24-7, 13-5 SEC). Despite earning the top seed in the SEC tournament, Lunardi projected the Aggies as a No. 5 seed in the South Region.
A&M finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak after losing four straight in the middle of the season. The Aggies could also command a higher seed by winning the SEC tournament.
Vanderbilt (19-12, 11-7) appears to be safely in the field after spending most of the season on the bubble. The Commodores received a No. 9 seed in the South Region from Lunardi.
Vandy, however, may not be a lock for the tournament just yet, but a win or two in the SEC Tournament should be enough to earn a bid. The Commodores finished the season strong by winning four of their final five games after a slow start. Vanderbilt’s path to the conference tournament final is a tough one as it tips off Thursday as the No. 5 seed.
South Carolina appeared to be safe a month ago, but the Gamecocks (24-7, 11-7 SEC) have struggled down the stretch and are currently a No. 10 seed, and listed as one of Lunardi’s final four bye teams. That means a first-round hiccup in the SEC Tournament could drop South Carolina into a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, or out of the field entirely.
The Gamecocks went 5-5 in their final 10 games of the regular season and could be without their best player, Michael Carrera, who missed the regular season finale at Arkansas with a hip injury. A win on Friday in the quarterfinals against either UGA or Mississippi State will likely solidify South Carolina’s tournament status.
The bubble bunch begins with one of the most disappointing teams in the conference this season, LSU. The Tigers were listed in Lunardi’s first four out.
Led by Ben Simmons, LSU (18-13, 11-7 SEC) is vastly talented, but has struggled with consistency throughout the season. The Tigers lost four of their final six games to wrap up the regular season and might have to win the SEC Tournament to sneak into the field. The good news is LSU will have a favorable path courtesy of a double-bye into the quarterfinals.
Directly behind LSU in Lunardi’s next four out is SEC West rival Alabama. The Crimson Tide (17-13, 8-10 SEC) have greatly surpassed expectations, but are probably a longshot to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Alabama’s quest for a tournament bid will begin against Ole Miss on Thursday.
The final SEC team on the bubble is Florida. The Gators (18-13, 9-9 SEC) are right behind Alabama in the next four out after being inside the field for much of the season. Florida’s demise has come at the worst time. The Gators lost four of their last five games, all of which were against tournament-caliber teams. They will likely need to win the conference tournament to earn a bid as well. Their road begins on Thursday against Arkansas.