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February 8, 2009

Which SEC teams should make the tourney?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a current topic in the sport.

This week's question: The SEC clearly is down this season. Which SEC teams do you think will make the NCAA field?

Greg Anthony's answer:
Outside of Tennessee, which team gets in? The team that wins the tournament gets in and there is a case to be made that no one else deserves it. Let's look at the top six teams in the conference. LSU (RPI of 52nd headed into the weekend) doesn't have a solid non-conference win. Florida (28th) has a neutral-court win over Washington, which will help make the Gators' case. Mississippi State (86th) has done nothing out of conference. South Carolina (47th) won at Baylor, which looked great early but not so much now. Kentucky (75th) beat West Virginia. Tennessee (16th) probably is in with wins over Siena, Georgetown and Marquette. There is really no way to sugarcoat this: The conference has seen better days. It will again, just not as of today.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think the league gets at least four and maybe five teams into the NCAA tournament. I think four teams from the SEC East have a shot: Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee. And if LSU wins the West, it has a good chance of getting into the field. But the Tigers are the only West team that looks as if it will have a shot to get in as an at-large team. Of those five teams, only Tennessee played a legitimate non-conference schedule; the others played a lot of flotsam and jetsam. The league is sixth in the RPI, which seems to be on the mark. The biggest question: How many SEC teams will be alive past the first weekend? As of right now, I think the answer to that is zero.

Jason King's answer:
Even though the SEC is down, it wouldn't shock me if five teams received NCAA Tournament berths. Tennessee, despite Saturday's surprising loss at Auburn, shouldn't have a problem considering it ranks No. 1 in the country in strength of schedule. LSU has separated itself in the SEC West, and it's hard to imagine a divisional champion not receiving a bid. Florida still has some work to do. Even though the Gators have an impressive win-loss total, Billy Donovan's squad played a super-soft non-conference schedule. Fourteen of its victories came against teams ranked outside the RPI Top 100. Still, the Gators should be fine. The two biggest question marks are Kentucky and South Carolina. The SEC East leader just two weeks ago, Kentucky has now dropped three in a row including two at Rupp Arena and faces a must-win game at home against Florida on Tuesday. South Carolina, meanwhile, has made huge strides under first-year coach Darrin Horn and touts impressive road wins against Kentucky and Baylor. The next few weeks will decide the Gamecocks' fate.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Perhaps I'm being a tad optimistic about a league that hasn't performed well this season, but I believe the SEC's balance will allow it to send five teams to the NCAA tournament. Florida and Tennessee are relatively safe bets, though losing to Auburn on Saturday didn't help the Volunteers' cause. Tennessee's record doesn't look particularly impressive, but keep in mind that the Volunteers' non-conference schedule is rated as the toughest in the country by some services. Florida didn't play a strong non-conference schedule, but the Gators' 19-4 record is too strong to ignore. I also think Kentucky will rebound from its three-game losing streak to earn a bid, though the Wildcats could help their cause by winning home games Tuesday against Florida and Feb. 21 against Tennessee. And I believe South Carolina could give the SEC East a fourth tournament team. The Gamecocks already have wins over Florida and Kentucky this season and have one of the nation's most underrated guards in Devan Downey. While the SEC West isn't nearly as strong, the team that wins that division (probably LSU) should stockpile enough wins to earn a bid. I wouldn't be surprised if no SEC teams earn one of the top 16 seeds in the NCAA field, but I still think the conference will have a handful of representatives in the tournament.

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