Vanderbilt and Alabama weren’t expected to be fighting for a bid to the big dance with a month remaining until Selection Sunday. However, both teams were listed squarely on the bubble in ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.
Vanderbilt was supposed to be one of the few locks in the conference for a tournament bid. But a lackluster performance during the first couple months of the season, combined with injuries amidst an overall inconsistent campaign, have the Commodores scrambling for their postseason lives.
Vanderbilt (15-10, 7-5 SEC) just barely made Lunardi’s latest projection as one of the last four teams into the field. The Commodores received an 11-seed in the South Region and would be forced to compete in a play-in-game in Dayton, Ohio against Cincinnati.
The second SEC team on the bubble is arguably the biggest surprise in the conference. Alabama wasn’t projected to finish in the top half of the conference during the preseason, but first-year coach Avery Johnson has coached the Crimson Tide into a competitor quickly.
Alabama (15-9, 6-6) is one of the hottest teams in the SEC and has won four consecutive games. Lunardi has Alabama squarely on the bubble as the first team out of the field. That projection can change rapidly, however, and a road win against LSU on Wednesday would certainly fuel Alabama’s surprisingly impressive tournament resume.
In total, there were six SEC teams included in Lunardi’s field, which was tied for the third-highest total among conferences. The ACC led the way with eight projected representatives.
Kentucky (19-6, 9-3) remained a No. 4 seed in the East Region after two blowout victories over UGA and South Carolina last week. Lunardi projects the Wildcats to play No. 13-seeded Stony Brook in the first round in Oklahoma City.
Texas A&M (18-7, 7-5) somehow kept its No. 4 seed despite losing four straight games and five straight conference contests. The reeling Aggies were placed in the West Region with a matchup against No. 13 Akron in Spokane, Wash.
One team that rose in Lunardi’s field was LSU. The Tigers (16-9, 9-3) earned a No. 7 seed in the South Region after knocking off Texas A&M last weekend, 76-71. LSU would play No. 10 Syracuse in St. Louis. LSU is tied on top of the conference standings with Kentucky and could continue to surge with wins against Alabama and Tennessee this week.
South Carolina (21-4, 8-4) is closing in on its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004, barring a late collapse. The Gamecocks were listed as a No. 7 seed in the West Region in Lunardi’s latest projection. South Carolina was projected to play an notorious giant killer, No. 10 VCU, in Raleigh, N.C.
The final SEC team featured in Lunardi’s field was Florida. The Gators (16-9, 7-5) dropped to a No. 9 seed after splitting a pair of home contests last week. Florida may be staying at the same hotel as South Carolina, as the Gators were also placed in Raleigh, N.C. with a matchup against No. 8 Wichita State.