The SEC has been for a long time known as a football conference with a few good basketball teams every year and for the past two decades that has pretty much been the case. There’s been Kentucky and Florida who for the most part are in the top 25 every year and are good for a top 5 seed in the tournament most of the time. Besides that there is usually one other team every year that competes with those two and then maybe one or two other teams who will get into the tournament as an 8-12 seed. South Carolina, Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt have all had years where they will make the tournament and win a game or two but as I mentioned there’s rarely more than one or two of those teams in a single season.
This year is different. The SEC has a legitimate chance of getting 8-9 teams in the tournament this year and at this point there are probably 10 teams that have a shot at it. Inevitably one or two of those teams will fall off but if things go well for the SEC they could get 8 teams in the tournament which is rare for even the best conferences.
Florida and Kentucky look to be strong as they always are, while they aren’t as good as they have been they each have a shot at a 2 or 3 seed if they can have a strong finish to the season. Most likely they will get a 4 or 5 seed unless they can nearly win out but a top 3 seed is still in the picture. The surprise team however has been Auburn who is sitting atop the standings at 7-1 leading the Gators by 1 game and the Wildcats by 2. Tennessee and Alabama also look to be building a strong resume for the tournament with about 6 other teams near the bubble. Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Missouri, and Mississippi State all have a shot at this point but may need some work to do.
If the SEC does end up getting 8 or 9 teams in the tournament this past Saturday may be the reason. The Big 12 has been the most talked about conference this year and for good reason. The Big 12 may be the most top heavy conference in college basketball with Kansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas Tech leading the way.
Many people predicted the SEC and Big 12 will split 5-5 yesterday or the Big 12 would win with 6 or 7 wins. The SEC really made a big statement pulling off 10 wins including a few upsets. Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas were all favorites for the SEC going into the weekend and pulled off impressive wins with Florida and Tennessee winning by 20+ and Arkansas beating a hot Oklahoma State in a close game.
On the losing side of things South Carolina lost a tough one against 14th ranked Texas A&M, Texas A&M played #5 Kansas tough on the road, Georgia travelled to Kansas State and nearly knocked them off and Ole Miss lost on the road against Texas. While losing is never good I would definitely say these were good losses against 4 teams that will most likely make the tournament or at least should if they continue at this pace.
Now on to the other three games. Vanderbilt had a bit of an upset over a TCU team that started off strong but has struggled of late. While Vandy probably won’t make the tournament this was a big win for them and could turn the momentum of their season around.
One of the other big surprises of the day was Alabama knocking off 12th ranked Oklahoma and Trey Young. It was a close game all along but Alabama was in control the whole time and was able to hold off the Sooners for one of if not their biggest win of the year. Collin Sexton had 18 points compared to Trey Young’s 17 in a match-up between who most consider the two best point guard prospects in the NBA draft next year. Alabama has had ups and downs this year but a big win like this could propel the Tide forward to finishing strong and competing for an SEC title.
The biggest story of the day was the West Virginia vs Kentucky game. The first half West Virginia had Kentucky looking like a high school team who didn’t know what was happening. West Virginia jumped out to a 48-33 halftime lead and the game looked to be over by that point. The Wildcats clearly had a motivating halftime speech and were able to make the right halftime adjustments because when they came out of the locker room they looked like an entirely different team. Kevin Knox had a coming out party in the second half finishing with 34 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 5/8 from three. The Wildcats are always one of those teams that can be unstoppable if they can figure it out and this game may be a piece of that.
Overall the SEC did everything it needed to do and then more. With over a month to go in the regular season the race to the conference tournament should be very entertaining. Auburn is leading the way thus far at 7-1 with Florida at 6-2 right behind. After that there are 10 teams that are either tied for 3rd or within 2 games of 3rd. The first 8 games of conference play have been important but the remaining games will be crucial to getting a high seed in the conference tournament and getting a spot in the NCAA Tournament this March.