Now less than four weeks away from the SEC tournament tip-off, we’ve gotten a better idea of what the 2017 NCAA Tournament picture really looks like — at least at the top.
That’s because the NCAA selection committee offered its own thoughts on the field of 68 thanks to the debut of a top-16 “preview bracket” last Saturday. SEC co-leaders Kentucky and Florida came out as No. 3 seeds, and both teams are 2-0 since in games that don’t really move their dial either way. So it feels safe saying their postseason standing hasn’t changed entering the weekend.
South Carolina remains squarely in the field, as well. Beyond those top three squads, however, there’s a lot of gray area still hovering over the tourney bubble.
SEC Country compiled expert predictions made by multiple media outlets, including ESPN, CBS, NBC, USA Today and our own college hoops guru Kyle Tucker. Here’s how each of the SEC’s top teams stack up according to the media experts:
Kentucky (21-5, 11-2 SEC)
- NCAA: No. 3, East
- Everyone else: No. 3, East
RPI: 10, KenPom: 7, Strength of schedule: 12
The Wildcats rocked bubble-dweller Tennessee, 83-58, and have won three straight. So perhaps the Florida embarrassment will prove to be what they needed to spur a midseason turnaround. Kentucky is distributing the ball better on offense and playing better defense; the team outrebounded the Vols, 43-35, on Tuesday. Malik Monk said he felt like UK was one of the country’s elite squads earlier this week. If this continues, maybe he’s right. But it’s doubtful the ‘Cats climb any higher in the seeding.
Florida (21-5, 11-2)
- NCAA: No. 3, South
- Everyone else: No. 3, South
RPI: 9, KenPom: 6, Strength of schedule: 18
UF’s seventh consecutive victory, a 114-95 beatdown of Auburn, looked as easy as you’d expect. The bad news? Center John Egbunu, who was averaging 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds a game, is done for the year with a torn ACL. The Gators might be able to overcome that loss with sophomore Kevarrius Hayes waiting in the wings, but Arkansas, South Carolina and Kentucky are all left on the schedule — not an easy final stretch by any means.
South Carolina (20-6, 10-3)
- ESPN: No. 7, West
- CBS: No. 8, East
- NBC: No. 7, Midwest
- USA Today: No. 6, West
- SEC Country: In the field
RPI: 20, KenPom: 27, Strength of schedule: 46
Tough losses to Alabama (four overtimes) and Arkansas stunt the Gamecocks’ momentum a bit, and three of their last five games are at Vanderbilt, at Florida and at Ole Miss. Coach Frank Martin walking out of a practice and saying South Carolina’s spirit “is broken” won’t make fans feel any better. The perimeter defense certainly needs to get better. Barring an absolute collapse down the stretch, however, you still can safely peg USC to go dancing in March.
Arkansas (19-7, 8-5)
- ESPN: No. 11, Midwest (last four byes)
- CBS: No. 11, East (last four in)
- NBC: No. 10, East (last four byes)
- USA Today: No. 10, South
- SEC Country: On the bubble
RPI: 45, KenPom: 53, Strength of schedule: 87
A win at South Carolina was exactly what the Hogs needed to revive their tourney chances, and right now, they’re hovering just on the right side of the cut-off line. Arkansas is now 8-5 against top-100 RPI teams, and can further bolster its resume when it travels to The Swamp on March 1. There are treacherous waters ahead, but for Mike Anderson’s team, this was a great first step.
Tennessee (14-12, 6-7)
- ESPN: First four out
- CBS: Not included
- NBC: Not included
- USA Today: No. 11, Midwest (last four in)
- SEC Country: Not included
RPI: 47, KenPom: 42, Strength of schedule: 2
The Vols went from being the SEC’s hottest team to losing three of its last four games — two in narrow fashion and the other a blowout. Besides the conference tournament, Tennessee’s only real chance to really improve its standing in the committee’s eyes would be at South Carolina on Feb. 25. Otherwise, Selection Sunday could be a nail-biter for UT fans; the overall record and lack of eye-popping wins (Kentucky notwithstanding) may not be enough to change minds.
Others teams clinging to the bubble
- Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6 SEC) — First four out (CBS), Also considered (USA Today), On the bubble (SEC Country)
- Georgia (15-11, 6-7 SEC) — Next four out (NBC), Also considered (USA Today), On the bubble (SEC Country)
- Alabama (15-10, 8-5 SEC) — Also considered (USA Today), On the bubble (SEC Country)
All three of these squads are basically on life support and would have to win out to really earn deep consideration. But hey, weird things happen in late February/early March. Georgia gets Kentucky at home on Saturday, while the Rebels travel to Arkansas. A weekend win keeps both alive, but a loss likely sinks them.