Strange Year in the SEC: Parity or Inconsistency?

02/03/21

Another night in the SEC with strange scores, weird runs, and unexplainable upsets. To start the night we saw Florida, an 8 point favorite at home, lose to a typically uninspiring Gamecocks team. This is the same Florida who just put together a huge win on the road against West Virginia. I would pin this on a “hangover” game after a big win but this has become the norm in the SEC this year. Ole Miss lost to Georgia but beat Tennessee. Missouri beat 6th ranked Illinois but lost to Mississippi State by 15. Tennessee beat Kansas by 19 just to fall to Ole Miss three days later. And so on and so on.

That being said Alabama continued to be the sole consistent team in the conference. They did more than just handle business as they dominated the LSU Tigers 78-60. The Tide did this behind 19 points from Jaden Shackelford and a good defensive performance. Missouri finished the night with a 75-70 win over the struggling Wildcats. Neither team looked wildly impressive but Missouri continues to move up the SEC rankings notching their 12th win to move to 5-3 in conference play.

The cannibalization we are seeing in the SEC has somewhat been mirrored in the Big 12. There isn’t enough data to go ahead and just say it’s because of COVID, and I am not sure what that would even entail. SEC teams can only hope that members of the selection committee see this as parity and competition but statistically SEC teams are struggling to keep up. The overall impact of this strange season won’t be fully realized until Selection Sunday. Bubble teams like Arkansas, LSU, and potentially Florida will have to shape up or face the possibility of being left out come March.


Cinderellas to Look for Before the Big Dance

02/03/21

Predicting an entire March Madness field is a little outside of my current capabilities. For now I am doing to look at 4 teams ranked outside of the top 10 that have real potential to make the Elite8/Final 4.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

The Red Raiders are led by Chris Beard who is quickly becoming a household name in College Basketball. They were fortunate to bring in star transfer Mac McClung to round off a solid lineup that defends very well and scores at a decent rate. Texas Tech plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country and can hang with anyone as long as they are able to control the pace of the game. They have solid wins @Oklahoma, @Texas, @LSU, and again at home over Oklahoma. They don’t have any “bad” losses apart from a home loss to a respectable Oklahoma State squad. This team has high floor around the Sweet 16 and truly has the ability to knock off anyone.

Illinois Fighting Illini

The Illini are looking better and better after a slow start to a highly anticipated season. With elite play at multiple positions they don’t seem to have any big weaknesses. They shoot the 3 ball at 39.7% to earn the 9th best percentage in the country to bolster their top 10 offense and they have a top 20 defense to match. What makes them so dangerous to me is their junior small forward Ayo Dosunmu. His quickness at 6-5 200 pounds is hard to matchup with and Illini make sure he has the ball in his hands (handling it in 85% of possessions). No one wants to see this team in March and we could very well see them in early April.

Virginia Cavaliers

Another year, another solid Tony Bennett squad. The Cavaliers are another team that plays at an extremely slow tempo to break teams down over the course of the game. Not many teams want to be in a half court battle with these guys but this isn’t all the Virginia of old. Unlike years past, Virginia is incredibly efficient on the offensive side of the ball. They have evolved into a team that can knock down the 3 ball (39.5% clip) and get back to set up their half court defense. They are missing a marquee win thus far to put on their resume and have suffered two bad losses to Gonzaga and San Francisco (yes, San Francisco). Still, they are a team everyone should keep an eye on when March comes around.

Loyola Chicago Ramblers

Yes, the same Ramblers who made the Final Four in 2018. The Ramblers rank decently on the offensive end and have put together a tremendous season containing opposing offenses bringing them to 5th in the country in defensive efficiency. They stick to a slow tempo on both sides of the ball and finish 2 point field goals at nearly a 60% clip (4th in the country). If Porter Moser’s Ramblers get the right matchups and play their style of game we could be looking at another run in the Big Dance. If I was Sister Jean I would clear my schedule for mid to late March.

Bracketology: SEC Outlook

02/02/21

The Southeastern Conference has long been known as a football conference. With an influx of respected new coaches the conference is now looking to make a name for itself as a serious contender in NCAA basketball. Beyond Kentucky the SEC is not exactly full of elite basketball schools and often is forgotten by the time March Madness roles around.

This year could be different for a lot of reasons. While the Blue Bloods of college basketball struggle we have seen what may very well be the strongest conference the SEC has put forth in recent history. The conference is ranked 3rd in the NCAA for first time since 2007 according to KenPom’s conference standings and they look poised to send six different schools to the big dance in 2021.

The Prospects

*Seeding is provided from bracketmatrix.com where they have compiled rankings from over 30 leading bracketoligists based on past accuracy*

Alabama Crimson Tide: 14-4 (9-0)

Best Seed: 1

Worst Seed: 4

Consensus: 2

The Crimson Tide must have decided football dominance wasn’t enough. In Nate Oat’s second season they have surged in SEC play boasting an undefeated record. This has bracketmatrix listing them as a solid 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Three pointers make up over 40% of their points which is the 11th highest clip in the country. Behind a dangerous 3 point attack and the 8th ranked defense the Tide have all but locked up a spot in the Big Dance.

My Projection: 3 Teams are slowly figuring out their offense and living and dying by the 3 ball makes you vulnerable at all times. I imagine we see them drop a couple unexpected games down the stretch (that is relatively easy) to finish 21-6 and enter March Madness as a strong 3 seed and the SEC’s highest ranked team. Don’t be surprised if this team ends up in the Final 4 or if they get bounced by a mid major in the round of 64.

Tennessee Volunteers: 12-3 (5-3)

Best Seed: 2

Worst Seed: 5

Consensus: 3

After an incredibly hot start, Rick Barne’s Volunteers have sputtered in SEC play. It is difficult to pin point what is holding them back right now but they have the benefit of a potential hall of fame coach in Rick Barnes. This squad has found success by shutting down opponents earning them the 2nd highest defensive adjusted efficiency in the country.

My Projection: 4 After a 12-0 start we have seen this team struggle in recent games (other than a blowout win against Kansas). I like the experience and size and they have a top 3 (and he is not 3) coach in the conference. I have this squad finishing at 18-6 and being a high end 4 seed come march. This team will be poised for a sweet 16 run with a high floor (round of 32) but probably a ceiling around the Elite 8.

Missouri Tigers: 11-3 (4-3)

Best Seed: 2

Worst Seed: 7

Consensus: 4

Quick disclaimer: I hate the University of Missouri. I am trying my best to see good in this team but I am not exactly crazy about Cuonzo Martin’s best team in his tenure at Missouri. They have a balanced attack with an offense that ranks slightly higher in efficiency than their defense, and a team that spreads the scoring around. After a good start to the season and a huge win over a solid Illinois squad the Tigers are looking ready to play in the NCAA tournament in 2021.

My Projection: 9 Again, I hate the school so take this with a grain of salt I suppose. This team can be boring to watch but has a nice blend of experience and talent. With good depth and a balanced attack they can break opponents down and stick with some of the best in the country. Between a lackluster start to conference play and an a difficult back slate on their conference schedule I have the Tigers finishing at 15-8 and a high 9 seed in the tournament. Low upside but could potentially sneak their way into the Sweet 16.

Florida Gators: 10-4 (6-3)

Best Seed: 4

Worst Seed: 8

Consensus: 6

Mike White might be putting together his best coaching performance yet as the Gators are heating up coming into the back half of the SEC schedule. They’ve relied on offensive play with a respectable defense to win 7 of their last 10 games including a huge win over West Virginia this past weekend. With a solid offensive attack they can score the ball well and look to continue their recent success into the back half of SEC play.

My Projection: 4 The Gators have a relatively easy back half of the schedule and look poised to get better as the season moves on. I expect them to work their way to a 17-6 record and with a big wins over the likes of @West Virginia, Tennessee, and LSU already I expect them to climb to the 6 seed in March Madness. A team that can hang with the majority of the field but lacks true giant killer capabilities beyond the Sweet 16.

LSU Tigers 11-5 (6-3)

Best Seed: 7

Worst Seed: OUT

Consensus: 10

Will Wade (aka the American Gangster), has his Tiger’s in good form halfway through conference play. This team relies almost solely on offensive efficiency where they rank 6th in the country compared to their underwhelming defense (143rd). They are yet to put together a marquee win this season but will have ample opportunity over the next few weeks after dropping a heart breaker against a solid Texas Tech team.

My Projection: 8 Despite missing that one “big win” the Tigers are formidable opponent for anyone they cross. In college basketball having a high powered offense with a struggling defense is not ideal but it could position you to compete with some of the best teams in the country. I expect LSU to pick up a win against at least one (probably 2) of the following upcoming matchups: @Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, @Arkansas. Winning two of these games would have LSU primed for 16-8 finish and a big upgrade in their resume.

Arkansas Razorbacks: 13-5 (5-4)

Best Seed: 6

Worst Seed: OUT

Consensus: 11

My Razorbacks are one of the more interesting bubble teams in the country and a lot of people cannot get a read on them. Similar to LSU, they are missing any win that would excite the selection committee but are still considered a tournament team at the moment. They struggled through two blowout losses consecutively at the hands of Alabama and LSU (both on the road) but have since bounced back. A heartbreaker in Stillwater robbed the Hogs of their second Quad 1 victory this past weekend.

My Projection: 10

I think the experts have it right on this one and the hogs have been about as predictable as a team could be in the win/loss column this season. Apart from a potential road victory @Missouri I have a have to imagine that the hogs win the games they should win and lose the games they should lose moving forward. Of course the Hogs are returning nearly nothing this season in terms of scoring (apart from Desi Sills) so in theory they should improve as time goes on under the obsessive Eric Musselman. This would have the hogs right around 18-9 to finish the year with the worst strength of schedule in the SEC. I don’t see this team being any sort of Cinderella come March but could work their way past the first round.

Finally, and I hate to say this, but I would be shocked if Kentucky didn’t at least make the semifinals in the conference tournament (assuming there is one but that is another conversation). The Wildcats are loaded with talent and if they somehow get it together down the stretch they have the talent to win the conference tournament and earn an automatic bid. Not likely. But I am not counting them out just yet.