SEC teams jostle for postseason position
It’s that time of year. For the next couple of weeks, college basketball
will be abuzz with speculation about which teams will fill out the
field of 64 in the NCAA tournament, and who will be relegated to NIT or
“stay home” status.
For the SEC, the full-court press will not
take place on the hardwood, but in the media, as a full-scale lobbying
blitz will ensue to get as many teams as possible selected.
Kentucky should be the runaway No.1 seed, but down-ticket the choices aren’t so obvious.
should still be a shoo-in, despite an early-season blunder to Cleveland
State, and some sporadic play throughout the season, and Florida is
looking pretty good, especially after demolishing Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Beyond that, the waters get murky, as subjective criteria (like how
well your fan-base travels) get weighed against other schools with
similar records and rankings.
Mississippi State, once thought
to be a contender to go deep in the tournament, is now on the bubble,
despite being a top-25 team as recently as last weekend. The Bulldogs
lost ugly at home to a 12-13 Georgia team that is going nowhere, and
then blew a 17-point lead to fall to LSU 69-67. Their record of 19-7
suggests tournament worthiness, but being 6-5 in the SEC will give the
selection committee a reason to pause. They have Auburn, Kentucky,
Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas left. Anything less than a 4-1 run
in that stretch could present some problems.
The game to watch
will be Mississippi State and Alabama, since that might become a rubber
match for both teams. The Tide is 16-9 (5-6 in conference) but Anthony
Grant suspended two of his best players in mid-February. Without Tony
Mitchell and JayMychal Green, Alabama looked anemic in losing to LSU on
the road and to Florida at home. Committee members will take the
suspensions into account, but the Tide needs to beat Tennessee, Arkansas
and Mississippi State to prove themselves tournament worthy.
and Ole Miss are, most likely, done. The Razorbacks are 0-8 on the
road, losing a not-close contest to Tennessee in what was a must-win
situation. It was always a long-shot for the Hogs, as Coach Mike
Anderson put a freshman-heavy team on the floor almost every night and
hoped for the best.
Ole Miss’s chances were always more hope
than realism. But even those dreams went up in flames last week when the
Rebels were pummeled at home by Vandy 102-76. That loss heightened
rumors that the coaching carousel in Oxford might continue. Houston Nutt
was shown the door after football season ended, and many experts have
speculated that Andy Kennedy needed a tournament appearance to remain
with the Rebels.
Whether it was the embarrassment of the score
or season-long frustrations, the loss to Vandy led to more troubles as
Rebel teammates Jelan Kendrick and Reginald Buckner got into a girlie
shoving match outside the locker room and had to be separated by
coaches. Kendrick reportedly went on a profanity-laced rant about
Buckner’s lack of defensive effort.
“I’ve been doing this for
16 years and when you’re in practice there’s competition and guys are
going to get emotional at times,” Kennedy said. “Obviously there’s a
line that can’t be crossed.”
Discipline will be meted out accordingly. But for the Rebels (and, perhaps, Kennedy) it will likely be too little too late.