KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference enters the final two weeks of the regular season with much at stake as it seeks to expand its NCAA Tournament presence.
With seven of the league’s 14 members anywhere from 30th to 75th in the RPI , the SEC might just lead the nation in squads sitting on the tournament bubble.
“These next four games determine a lot for all of us,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
After getting just three NCAA Tournament bids last season for the third time in the last four years, the SEC took steps to improve its men’s basketball performance. The SEC named former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese a special adviser on men’s basketball. Many SEC teams have upgraded their nonconference schedules.
There are signs of progress. The SEC went 5-5 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge last month after going 10-20 in the first three years of that event.
“I think this league’s starting to make a move in an unbelievable direction,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “I think the days of us having three teams in the tournament and all this other stuff, they’re behind us.”
That’s not necessarily the case just yet.
No. 11 Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 SEC) and No. 13 Florida (22-5, 12-2) have essentially locked up NCAA bids. South Carolina also seems likely to make the field. Then it gets much less certain.
This rundown of the SEC teams between 30th and 75th in the RPI underscores the importance of the next couple of weeks.
SOUTH CAROLINA (20-7, 10-4)
NCAA resume: South Carolina’s two-game skid brings back unpleasant memories of last season, when a late fade knocked the Gamecocks into the NIT. But the Gamecocks likely have done enough to get an NCAA invitation this time around.
Remaining schedule: Tuesday at Florida, Saturday vs. Tennessee, Feb. 28 vs. Mississippi State, March 4 at Mississippi.
ARKANSAS (20-7, 9-5)
NCAA resume: Arkansas helped its case considerably by winning at South Carolina on Wednesday. The Razorbacks have a 5-2 SEC road record, but they also have an embarrassing loss to Missouri.
Remaining schedule: Wednesday vs. Texas A&M, Saturday at Auburn, March 1 at Florida, March 4 vs. Georgia.
VANDERBILT (14-13, 7-7)
NCAA resume: Vanderbilt is just a game above .500, but its demanding schedule gives the Commodores an outside shot at getting a bid if they go on a late run. Vanderbilt won at Florida and also has home victories over Iowa State and South Carolina , though the Commodores also lost to Missouri . “Obviously we need to do a lot of work still and win a lot of games, but with some of the teams we’ve beaten and our strength of schedule, we definitely have some opportunities down the stretch,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said.
Remaining schedule: Wednesday at Tennessee, Saturday vs. Mississippi State, Feb. 28 at Kentucky, March 4 vs. Florida.
TENNESSEE (15-12, 7-7)
NCAA resume: Picked before the season to finish 13th in the league, Tennessee is instead in the middle of the pack and has the schedule strength to impress the NCAA Tournament committee if it surges down the stretch. Tennessee’s selling point is a home win over Kentucky . Wednesday’s home matchup with Vanderbilt is a potential do-or-die game for both teams. “The biggest thing for us is we’re here,” Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield said. “What we’ve worked for, we have right in our grasp. It’s just, ‘Who wants it?’ I think we want it enough.”
Remaining schedule: Wednesday vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday at South Carolina, March 1 at LSU, March 4 vs. Alabama.
GEORGIA (15-12, 6-8)
NCAA resume: Georgia has endured numerous close losses this season and may have seen any realistic hope for at-large consideration disappear Saturday when it lost to Kentucky . Georgia’s bad luck continued in the Kentucky game when leading scorer Yante Maten sprained his knee. “I don’t think our medical people or myself have any expectation of Yante returning during the regular season,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said.
Remaining schedule: Thursday at Alabama, Saturday vs. LSU, March 1 vs. Auburn, March 4 at Arkansas.
MISSISSIPPI (16-11, 7-7)
NCAA resume: Ole Miss wasted an opportunity to make a statement Saturday when it lost 98-80 at Arkansas . The Rebels likely must win their last four games to have any hope of at-large consideration.
Remaining schedule: Tuesday at Mississippi State, Saturday vs. Missouri, March 1 at Alabama, March 4 vs. South Carolina
ALABAMA (16-10, 9-5)
NCAA resume: A look at a couple of mock NCAA Tournament brackets underscores the difference of opinion regarding the Crimson Tide. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has Alabama as one of his last teams in the field . ESPN’s Joe Lunardi doesn’t even include Alabama among his top eight teams to get left out .
Remaining schedule: Thursday vs. Georgia, Saturday at Texas A&M, March 1 vs. Ole Miss, March 4 at Tennessee
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