The SEC has five teams included in ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s NCAA Tournament field as the regular season hits its homestretch. But the conference could have as many as seven teams participating in March Madness.
Three SEC teams were featured among the teams on the bubble in Lunardi’s latest projection. Alabama was listed as the last team in the field, Vanderbilt was listed as one of the first four out, and LSU was placed in the next four out. There were five SEC teams safely included in Lunardi’s projection.
Alabama remained inside the field despite a disappointing home loss to Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide would compete in a play-in game as a No. 12 seed against Butler in Dayton, Ohio. Alabama would play in the East Region against Purdue if it could get past the Bulldogs.
Coach Avery Johnson’s club will get an opportunity to add to its impressive tournament resume when it travels to Kentucky on Tuesday night. The Crimson Tide are currently ranked 48th in RPI and have beaten five teams currently ranked inside the RPI top 45.
Vanderbilt still has some work left to do to qualify for the tournament. The Commodores rank 65th in RPI and have only three wins against the RPI top 50. The Dores have lost to seven teams ranked inside the RPI top 31. Unfortunately, a tough schedule may not be enough. Vanderbilt will get an opportunity to play its way into the field with games against Florida and Kentucky this week.
LSU was seen as a pretty safe lock to make the tournament in the preseason. But the Tigers may be in the worst situation of the SEC bubble teams with two weeks to go in the regular season. They are reeling after consecutive losses last week and must score at least a couple of victories during the homestretch. That feat will be tougher to accomplish without guard Keith Hornsby, who could miss the rest of the season with a hernia injury.
Kentucky led the way as a No. 4 seed in the South Region after its four-game winning streak came to an end against Texas A&M on Saturday in overtime. The Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season and are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament. Kentucky would face Stony Brook in the first round in Oklahoma City.
The Aggies were next as a No. 5 seed in the West Region. Texas A&M snapped its four-game losing skid with two home victories against Ole Miss and Kentucky. The Aggies would face Arkansas Little-Rock in Denver in the first round with a possible matchup against defending champion Duke in the Round of 32.
South Carolina ascended to a No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region after splitting a pair of games last week. The Gamecocks rebounded from bad losses against Kentucky and Missouri with a resilient home victory over Florida last weekend. South Carolina would play Colorado in the first round in Raleigh with a battle of the Carolinas matchup looming in the next round.
Rounding out the field for the SEC was Florida. The Gators were listed by Lunardi as a No. 8 seed in the East Region. Florida appears safe for now, but games against desperate teams in Vanderbilt and LSU this week will test the Gators.