Kentucky keeps staving off upsets, South Carolina keeps proving itself worthy and Georgia almost has elbowed its way into NCAA Tournament projections. This week in SEC Bracketology, we’re impressed by the Gamecocks’ win against Florida and excited for the Saturday showdown between USC and the fifth-ranked Wildcats at Rupp Arena.
When ESPN’s Joe Lunardi updated his best-guess bracket Thursday morning, the SEC had four teams in the field: 1 seed Kentucky, 5 seed Florida, 6 seed South Carolina and 9 seed Arkansas – with Georgia among the first four teams out. Sounds about right. To that, we’d add: watch out for Avery Johnson and Alabama.
That’s six teams which can at least dream of dancing in March, and here’s how they stack up heading into the weekend:
IN THE FIELD
KENTUCKY (16-2, 6-0 SEC)
Strength of schedule: 10
Tucker says: The Wildcats are 3-0 in SEC road games after surviving a scare at Mississippi State, but the next five games will go a long way toward establishing (or demolishing) their status as a No. 1 seed. They host South Carolina (on Saturday), visit Tennessee, host Kansas and Georgia and travel to Florida. That’s three AP Top 25 teams and potentially four NCAA Tournament teams in two weeks. John Calipari says his young Wildcats might be two months from a polished product, but they might want to fast-track that.
FLORIDA (14-4, 5-1 SEC)
Strength of schedule: 2
Tucker says: The Gators’ first SEC loss came on the road against a Top 25 team (South Carolina), and they had a chance to win until the final seconds on Wednesday. That snapped a seven-game winning streak, but Florida still has four wins against the RPI top 50 and nine against the top 100 – with all four losses coming against the top 25. The next big date for Mike White’s team: Feb. 4 at home against Kentucky.
SOUTH CAROLINA (15-3, 5-0 SEC)
Strength of schedule: 47
Tucker says: The Gamecocks rank No. 1 nationally in defensive efficiency and will play Saturday at Kentucky, which ranks No. 2 in offensive efficiency. That battle between the only two teams with perfect SEC records should be fun, and it’s a huge opportunity for South Carolina. The victory on Wednesday night against Florida was the Gamecocks’ best of the season and 10th against a top-100 team in KenPom’s rankings. Should USC find a way to beat the Gators and Wildcats in the same week, bracket projections likely would boost them into 4- or 5-seed territory.
ON THE BUBBLE
GEORGIA (12-6, 4-2 SEC)
Strength of schedule: 29
Tucker says: Mark Fox’s team lost by 6 points to South Carolina and in overtime at Florida, then won each of the four SEC games it should’ve. At Texas A&M and home against Alabama this week also fall into that latter category, but neither of those is a gimme. The Bulldogs need to take care of business, though, because a nasty four-game stretch is coming: Texas, at Kentucky, at South Carolina, Florida. That’s the top three teams in the league, plus the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. We’ll know by early February whether Fox & Co. are legit.
ARKANSAS (14-4, 3-3 SEC)
Strength of schedule: 58
Tucker says: The Hogs have stabilized after losing 3 of 4 games to open SEC play. Clobbering Missouri at home is nothing to brag about, but a win at Texas A&M (even though the Aggies are inexplicably a mess) was good for the confidence. With LSU and Vanderbilt next, Arkansas should take a four-game winning streak to Oklahoma State for the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 28. That one will be big come Selection Sunday.
ALABAMA (11-6, 4-1 SEC)
Strength of schedule: 80
Tucker says: The Tide have feasted on the bottom of the SEC – Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, LSU and Missouri – and lost to the one good league team they’ve played (Florida). But piling up wins doesn’t hurt. Consecutive road games against Auburn and Georgia would be decent feathers in the cap and get Alabama more firmly in the NCAA conversation. But the big week to watch: Feb. 7-11 at South Carolina and home against Kentucky.