SEC Basketball: Who's In and Who's Out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament

Allen SmithContributor IFebruary 28, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 10:  Tony Mitchell #5 of the Alabama Crimson Tide drives in for a dunk against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym on February 10, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt won 81-77. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Well as we head into the final week of regular season play, a familiar story has popped up. Alabama and Florida will compete for the SEC Championship.

First things first, let’s  differentiate that the team or teams with the best overall conference record prior to the tournament is the SEC Champion(s). The winner of the SEC Tournament is the SEC Tournament champion, two totally different things. Now, with that said, let’s take a rundown on the serious teams in the conference, that are vying for bids in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida Gators (22-6, 11-3) SEC Eastern Division Champions/Current Co-SEC Leader

Even though Florida lost to Kentucky on Saturday, they are still the favorite to win the SEC. I don’t care how bad a “power six” conference is, winning a major league title will resonate with the selection committee. Florida has two tough games remaining, home versus Alabama, and then at Vanderbilt. 

Something tells me they will split the remaining two, and end up 12-4 in conference, not a huge deal since all Florida is playing for now is seeding. Nothing should prevent Florida from getting anything lower than a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama Crimson Tide (19-9, 11-3) SEC Western Division Champions/Current Co-SEC Leader

This is an interesting case for the committee, which way will they fall. I understand that the Tide did absolutely nothing before 2011, but when the calendar turned this team woke up.

One argument that I haven’t heard a lot of is that Alabama was without JaMychal Green for some games in the non-conference, and they didn’t have Andrew Steele until the start of conference play. Big difference, from my vantage point. 

Alabama is in the middle of the bubble after letting one slip away in Oxford, but they have games against Florida and Georgia to close out the season. Maybe it is the homer in me, but something tells me this team may win both. At the very least I think they spilt the final two, share the conference, and baring losing to a low west seeded team in the SEC Tournament, I think Alabama squeezes in the field of 68.

Vanderbilt Commodores (21-7, 9-5)

Probably the best shooting team in the SEC. Vandy, much like Florida, is playing for seeding, but I think they are a hair overrated. If you look at their resume, they have nice wins, but like Kentucky, no big wins on the road, unless you count Georgia. Regardless, Vandy is a very dangerous team if they are hitting from behind the arc. 

However, I don’t see them as a top-four seed, unless they win out and win the tournament (which they are capable). This is more of a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.

Kentucky Wildcats (20-8, 8-6)

Kentucky is Kentucky, and there is no way that a 20-win Wildcat team doesn’t make the tournament. The Wildcats' best case scenario (winning the SEC Tournament) could go as high as a No. 3 seed, depending on who they beat to win the tournament. If they do nothing else, they are looking at a No. 6 or 7 seed.

Georgia Bulldogs (19-9, 8-6)

Georgia, much like Alabama, doesn’t have many “wow” wins outside of conference. I do believe they are in the tournament right now, but it is very shaky. Particularly with a big game next Saturday at Alabama, which could be deemed a win-or-go-home game for both teams. 

I think Georgia splits the final two games (win versus LSU, loss versus Alabama), and hits the 20-win mark. I think if they can get a win or two in the conference tournament, they will get in. They are looking at somewhere between a No. 6 and 11 seed in the tournament, if they make it.

Tennessee Volunteers (17-12, 7-7)

I realize that Tennessee got very impressive wins over Villanova and Pitt, but they’ve done nothing outside of that to impress me. They are the opposite of Alabama: if we are to criticize Alabama for having nothing out-of-conference, they we should criticize Tennessee for doing nothing in conference. 

I believe their situation is the more severe than people realize. They have to win the final two games—I don’t mean look good, they have to win—and probably at least win one game in the tournament to hit the magic 20 mark.

At that point Tennessee should be locked in, but if they lose at any point, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them “snubbed.” If they get in I don’t see them higher than a No. 8 seed, without winning the SEC Tournament.

As of today, I say Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are in. Tennessee and Georgia are on the bubble, but that can change quickly. Before I get complaints the only reason I say Alabama is in is because they are tied for the SEC lead, and they have a winning record against SEC teams in the NCAA tournament discussion. Again, that can change Tuesday night.

It should be a fun finish to the season, Florida and Alabama for the SEC Championship on Tuesday night—somehow it always ends up with these two doesn’t it?