Doc Harper: SEC Basketball Season Headed Toward Wild Finish


SEC Basketball Season Headed Toward Wild Finish

Doc Harper Bio PageDepending on your point of view, SEC basketball this year has been either a frenzy of unexpected upsets and thrilling nail-biters, or an excercise in what has become an annual display of disappointing and somewhat inexplicable mediocrity.

Of course, Florida and Kentucky have played well, and barring complete collapse, have all but assured themselves the #1 and #2 SEC finishes.

Georgia has somehow overcome being the league’s worst 2-point shooting team, next to last turnover rate, and a .500 non-conference record whose best win was against Wofford and holds a 2-game lead for 3rd place with a 9-5 SEC record. (Their secret, in case you’re wondering: they get to the free throw line substantially more than anybody else in SEC basketball, they rebound really well – especially on offense, and they play solid defense – leading the league in opponent field goal percentage.)

But after that, we have quite the logjam. Seven different teams are tied for fourth place with a 7-7 record. Six of them are top 100 RPI teams (A&M is 118), and there is a lot at stake in these last four games. Four of the teams (Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and LSU) all have legitimate hopes of playing there way in to the NCAA Tournament or at least getting on the bubble. Tennessee and Missouri were both among the last teams into the Tournament on Joe Lunardi’s most recent projection, but both the Vols and Tigers lost to inferior teams on the road over the weekend.

These last four games, as well as what happens at the SEC Tournament, will determine which teams, if any, are able to go Dancing in March.

And since all these teams have identical conference records, the all-important seeding for the SEC Tournament is wide open.

This is the second year in which the SEC will go with the new tournament bracket, so here’s a refresher: the four teams who finish 11-14 play Wednesday. Those two winners play the #5 and #6 seed on Thursday, along with #7 vs #10 and #8 vs #9. The top four seeds play the winners of those four games on Friday. So whichever of these teams ends up with the #4 seed (or #3 and #4 if Georgia falters) will get byes until Friday.

Historically, it’s very rare to win the tournament if a team has to win four games (cue up the 2000 memories) so that line of thought would obviously lead to a goal of finishing no worse than fourth.

However, if the goal is win as many games as possible to get on the bubble, finishing #5 or #6 is also a pretty good setup. Those two teams get to face one of the bottom four teams in the conference, and would likely play Georgia or the #4 team on Friday instead of Florida or Kentucky. For a program like Arkansas, who did not play a single true road game in non-conference, picking up an extra neutral court victory may prove to be important, and the opportunity to add a quality win over Georgia, Tennessee, or Missouri on Friday followed by a nothing-to-lose strength-of-schedule booster against Florida or Kentucky on Saturday may be the easiest path to the NCAA Tournament.

So who’s most likely to end up where? Here’s the remaining schedule for the seven 7-7 teams. All have four games left and all have two at home and two on the road.

  • Arkansas: @Kentucky, Georgia, Ole Miss, @Alabama
  • Tennessee: @Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, @Auburn, Missouri
  • Missouri: @Georgia, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, @Tennessee
  • LSU: Texas A&M, @Florida, @Vanderbilt, Georgia
  • Ole Miss: Alabama, @Texas A&M, @Arkansas, Vanderbilt
  • Vanderbilt: Florida, @Tennessee, LSU, @Ole Miss
  • Texas A&M: @LSU, Ole Miss, @Missouri, Auburn

Tennessee has the easiest schedule of the group, with both road games against the bottom of the conference in Mississippi State and Auburn, and they don’t face Kentucky or Florida. They do end the season at home against Missouri, in what could be a huge game for both teams’ NCAA Tournament hopes. The hardest schedule probably belongs to Vanderbilt, followed by LSU and Texas A&M.

Arkansas’ schedule is somewhere in the middle. They’re obviously the underdogs in Lexington this week, but the two home games against Georgia and Ole Miss are really big games for the Hogs. Really, as long as Arkansas continues winning, every game after the Kentucky game is a huge game.

One thing the Razorbacks have going for them more than the other teams is momentum. Arkansas has won five of their last six, but most of the other teams are coming off losses. Ole Miss has lost four in a row. Vanderbilt won this weekend but has lost three of their last five. LSU lost three of their last four. Texas A&M is has won most of their games recently, but not at the rate Arkansas has been winning.

It’s absolutely certain that Arkansas must end it’s SEC Tournament losing streak. The Hogs haven’t won a game in the Tournament since 2008. They’ve lost six in a row. Most of those most recent seasons have ended so badly that it seemed like the team had checked out by the time the Tournament started, and it would be a tremendous disappointment if that continues. Hopefully, the team understands what’s still on the table and goes into the tournament with the kind of motivation necessary to win there.

Of course, we could just be overthinking all of this. The only constant in the SEC this season has been Florida (and also Mississippi State’s 9-game losing streak). What should have been easy wins this season for several teams turned into struggles or dumbfounding losses. Several of these teams seem to have the same problems. Nothing has made sense. And that’s what makes all of this so much fun. Frustrating, but fun. It should be an interesting last few weeks, and that’s more than what could be said for this same period of the season the last few years.


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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