Mizzou slides into tourney at No. 8 seed, SEC earns conference-record eight spot
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southeastern Conference’s push to improve in men’s basketball finally has paid off in record fashion.
The conference best known for cranking out national champions in football landed a league-record eight teams in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. That easily topped the six teams the SEC has put into the tournament nine times, most recently in 2008.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey quickly took to Twitter to remind everyone of the league’s record haul.
“We are proud to have an @SEC record 8 teams in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament,” Sankey wrote. “This achievement is a reflection of the commitment our universities have made to support men’s basketball. Good luck student-athletes, coaches & fans during #March Madness. #ItJustMeansMore.”
Tennessee, which split the regular-season title with Auburn, is the SEC’s top-seeded team at No. 3 in the South. Kentucky, which beat Tennessee 77-72 on Sunday for the SEC Tournament title, wound up seeded fifth in the same region. Auburn wound up seeded No. 4 in the Midwest Region.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Sunday that he loved the SEC getting eight teams into the tournament, proof the league finally is past the point of a loss costing programs dearly. Calipari said the SEC helped itself by recruiting good players and with improved strength of schedules, something coaches and officials worked on across the league.
Calipari also cautioned against taking the SEC lightly a year after South Carolina was one of the biggest surprises of the tournament. The Gamecocks reached the Final Four for the first time in school history last year.
“This league will do damage,” Calipari said. “It’s been doing damage. They just haven’t let more teams in. We have teams borderline that should have advanced that didn’t get in. Now we have eight teams in.”
The SEC’s other teams include ninth-seeded Alabama, No. 7 seed Arkansas, sixth-seeded Florida, No. 8 seed Missouri and No. 7 seed Texas A&M.
The Atlantic Coast Conference led all conferences by tying its own record with nine teams in the tournament, and the ACC needed Syracuse squeezing in as the last team to match that mark.
The Big East landed two of the four No. 1 seeds with Villanova and Xavier among the conference’s six teams.
The Big 12 thought the league would get nine teams in as well but wound up with seven with Baylor among the first four teams out. Oklahoma State also missed out — despite two wins over No. 1 seed Kansas — after losing to the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament.
The Pac-12 tied the American Athletic Conference and the Atlantic 10 with only three teams in the tournament but could wind up with only one team left standing among the final 64. UCLA is playing St. Bonaventure in the First Four in Dayton for a No. 11 seed a year after reaching the Sweet 16, while Arizona State plays Syracuse in Dayton after squeezing into the tourney.
Southern California was among the first four teams out of the bracket.
The Mountain West put two teams in with tournament champ San Diego State and regular-season champ Nevada earning an at-large bid.