Dancing with the Conferences: SEC Edition

by LIAM BEATUS

Spoiler Alert: Kentucky will make the tournament.

As shocked as you might be, it is not shocking that Callipari’s undefeated Wildcats will not only make the big dance, but they will be a number one seed. But will the SEC’s number one team be the only SEC team in the tournament?

No, that is a ridiculous notion. Despite the lack of depth in the conference, the SEC will definitely put four teams in, with the possibility of getting up to six. In year’s past, the SEC was only strong enough to put three teams into the tournament. The reemergence of Arkansas as a top-25 school, as well as LSU and Texas A&M loading for the future, the SEC is quickly shaping into a stronger basketball conference. One thing is for certain in the SEC conference: Kentucky will have some competition for the top spot in the conference very soon. Until that day, these teams will have to settle teaching the rest of college basketball that the SEC is more than a football conference.

#1 Kentucky:

  • Record:31-0
  • RPI:1
  • BPI:1
  • Strength of Schedule: 40
  • Last Tournament Appearance: 2014, 8-seed, Lost to UConn in the Championship Game
  • Projection: Final Four
Courtesy Elliott Hess/UK Athletics
Courtesy Elliott Hess/UK Athletics

All aboard the most popular bandwagon pick to win this year’s NCAA tournament. Everyone loves to pick the team that has the number one overall seed in the tournament, but rarely does that team actually live up to the hype. Rarely does a team have this much talent.

As the number one team in the division and the country, Kentucky knows how to play its entire lineup. The Wildcats are stacked with height, talent and John Calipari. Since taking over in 2010, Coach Calipari has churned out 19 draft picks. Calipari has a history of getting talent into the NBA, coaching players like Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose.

Even more impressive about Kentucky is their size. No team is bigger than Kentucky, not even in the NBA. The Wildcats average height per player is 6’6”. The length on the inside with Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns makes driving the lane nearly impossible. Add in the Harrison twins and Devin Booker, all 6’6” guards, and the amount of ground Kentucky can cover is astronomical. This team is built to play in the Final Four. With the size Kentucky possesses, it will be hard to keep them out of the NBA Finals. However good Kentucky may appear to be, there is always a weak spot that can be exploited.

In order for a team to beat Kentucky, the other team needs to turn over the Wildcats. A simple game of keep away will limit touches on offense for the Wildcats. When struggling on offense, Kentucky will look to push in order to stop the bleeding. This is where a team like VCU or Louisville can exploit the youth for easy transition buckets. It is one thing to game plan on how to beat Kentucky. It is a whole other monster in trying to execute that game plan against a team that hasn’t lost since the 2014 National Championship game against UConn.

#21 Arkansas:

  • Record: 24-7
  • RPI: 22
  • BPI: 22
  • SOS: 65
  • Last Tournament Appearance: 2008, 9-seed, Second Round loss to 1-seed UNC
  • Projection: Sweet Sixteen
Courtesy of Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Courtesy of Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The 2014-2015 Razorbacks don’t run the court like the 1994 title team, but they certainly try. Arkansas is in the Top-10 in the country in points per game (79.1) and offensive possessions per game (73.1). The Razorbacks rely mainly on power forward Bobby Portis and guard Michael Qualls for offensive production, defense and leadership on the court. Combined, Portis and Qualls average nearly 33 points and 14 rebounds per game. Arkansas has a 1-2 punch that could contend with any team in the nation. The problem is after Portis and Qualls, there is very little consistent production.

With Portis and Qualls being relied on so heavily to produce offense for the Razorbacks, teams are able to consistently target two players. Both Qualls and Portis still produce despite the special attention, but it does leave for a smaller margin of error. Also a problem for the Razorbacks is the lack of recent NCAA tournament success. This will be the Razorbacks first appearance since 2008. They are playing for their first Sweet Sixteen since 1996, when the Razorbacks lost to a John Calipari-led Massachusetts squad to the Final Four.

LSU:

  • Record: 22-9
  • RPI: 48
  • BPI: 41
  • SOS: 87
  • Last Tournament Appearance: 2009, 8-seed, Second Round loss to eventual champion UNC
  • Projection: First Round
Courtesy of Brett Duke, NOLA.com|Times-Picayune
Courtesy of Brett Duke, NOLA.com|Times-Picayune

Any question about LSU’s resume have been answered after a road win in Fayetteville on Saturday. The victory over the Razorbacks all but cements LSU’s first appearance in the tournament since 2009. Even though Saturday’s win was a three pointer at the buzzer, LSU lives around the basket.

The Tigers might have the best big man combination in the SEC with Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey. The two inside players average a combined 33 points and 19 rebounds per game. LSU only averages 67.5 points per game as a team. Mickey leads the nation with nearly four blocks per game. Mickey and Martin average almost half of LSU’s 39 rebounds per game. With this kind of an inside presence, LSU has the talent to make a highly seeded, guard oriented team very uncomfortable. That is if LSU shows up to the first round.

LSU has as many good wins as they do questionable loses. You can’t beat Arkansas, Florida and West Virginia on the road unless you have talent. But this LSU team also has losses on their resume to Clemson, Missouri and Mississippi State. The formula for LSU’s success is pretty straightforward: Get Mickey and Martin going early so the floor opens up for guards like Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman. Regardless of how far LSU goes this year, they have two top-15 recruits coming to Baton Rouge next season.

Georgia:

  • Record: 20-10
  • RPI: 38
  • BPI: 31
  • SOS: 41
  • Last Tournament Appearance: 2011, 10-seed, First Round loss to 7-seed Washington
  • Projection: First round
Courtesy of John Kelley
Courtesy of John Kelley

When you look at Georgia, everything screams average. This is a team that sits in a four-way tie for third place in the SEC. They are currently an 8-seed in the tournament according to Joe Lunardi. Yet despite everything looking average, they played Kentucky down to the wire on March 3 and are getting healthy again.

Georgia has lost consecutive games four separate times this season. After the each of the first two losing streaks, they rattled off winning streaks of six and five games respectively. Their shortest winning streak of the season is two, meaning unless they win the SEC tournament, the numbers say Georgia could be in for a Sweet Sixteen berth. If Georgia, pulls an 8-seed, they will be evenly matched with Davidson, Oregon or possibly a skidding VCU team. The road ahead for the Bulldogs is very difficult to say the least.

Ole Miss:

  • Record: 20-11
  • RPI: 49
  • BPI: 36
  • SOS: 39
  • Last Tournament Appearance: 2013, 12-seed, Second Round loss to 13-seed La Salle
  • Projection: Second Round
Courtesy of Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Courtesy of Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Stefan Moody show. Moody, the 5’10” transfer from Florida Atlantic, leads the Rebels in minutes, points per game, free throw percentage, field goals made and attempted and three pointers made and attempted. When Ole Miss opened conference play against Kentucky, the Rebels shot 49 percent from the floor in a three point overtime loss. The Rebels have been close in almost every game this season, being able to pull out 20 wins. There is no question that the backcourt, anchored by Moody and Jarvis Summers, will carry Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament.

Like any team that heavily relies on one or two players, a poor shooting night could quickly spell the end for Ole Miss. If Ole Miss gets hot in the SEC tournament, they might be able to ride that to the second round. If the Rebels run up against a top seed, someone like Virginia, Duke, Arizona or Villanova, their NCAA run could be stopped very abruptly.

Texas A&M:

  • Record: 20-10
  • RPI: 55
  • BPI: 35
  • SOS: 86
  • Last Tournament Appearance: 2011, 7-seed, First Round loss to 10-seed Florida State
  • Projection: Second Round
Courtesy of Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Courtesy of Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Aggies probably wish they could get a do-over for the month of March. Coming into the month, Texas A&M was 20-8 with two winnable games remaining, leaving fans optimistic for the first at-large berth since 2011 as a member of the Big-12 Conference. Now with two consecutive losses to Florida and Alabama, Texas A&M sits squarely on the bubble, with the possibility that the Aggies could be on the outside looking in.

The Aggies offense is commanded by junior guard Alex Caruso, who is the third leading scorer with 9.4 points per game. The Aggies do not produce a prolific scoring lineup, but a collection of guys who know how to play fundamental basketball, averaging about 12 turnovers per game. The Aggies, like the Rebels of Ole Miss, nearly knocked off Kentucky at the beginning of the conference season. In that game, three Kentucky starters fouled out, but Texas A&M was unable to capitalize on the opportunities Kentucky presented. If the Aggies get into the tournament, they do not have the capability of getting past the second round.

*Note: All Numbers and statistics as of 3/9/2015