All the signs were there that this would be an off-year for Southeastern Conference basketball.
After watching the regular season, those suspicions were solidified. Only Florida fielded a team that was dominant. Coach Billy Donovan’s Gators secured the regular season title, only to lose the final game to Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
According to Jerry Palm’s latest bracketology report he has Florida a No. 3 seed. The only other SEC team Palm has locked in the tournament is 8-seed Missouri.
Tennessee and Kentucky have to play in two of the four play-in games. Tennessee is fine with just having a chance. Kentucky fans are indignant the Big Blue would be forced to beat a play-in opponent to break into the final 64 teams.
That’s what Palm sees. He gives the SEC four teams, albeit two of them have to win play-in games.
If Tennessee fails to hear its name called Sunday, the Vols can blame a road loss to Georgia. To their credit, coach Cuonzo Martin’s team rebounded to beat Missouri at Thompson-Boling Arena in the regular season finale for both teams.
“You get in a tournament and anything can happen,” Martin said this week. “We feel like we’ve got to keep working, continue to win ball games.”
Those type of scenarios are the saving grace for this SEC Tournament and the city.
Nashville becomes Bubble-ville this week, where only the strong survive to extend their seasons.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi isn’t that high on the SEC, forecasting only three teams will get in unless one of those teams on Lunardi’s bubble gets on a roll like a tourist at Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge.
Lunardi’s first four teams out include Tennessee and Ole Miss. His next four teams out include Alabama, a team that had an easy non-conference schedule and no signature wins.
His thinking usually is in lockstep with the NCAA Tournament committee. So if I were Tennessee and Ole Miss, I would be worried. Very worried.
Palm has Alabama and Ole Miss in his first four out list.
There are five teams trailing Florida, with Ole Miss, Kentucky and Alabama deadlocked with 12-6 conference records. Usually that would be enough to get in the tournament, but not necessarily in a weak conference.
Alabama is 0-3 against Top 25 teams. Ole Miss is 1-2 and Kentucky is 2-3. Tennessee and Missouri are a notch behind at 12-7 inside the league, but the Vols are 3-2 against Top 25 teams while Missouri is 2-1.
With Florida, that would give the SEC six teams in the Tournament. The SEC doesn’t deserve six teams. Four sounds right. Three would not be surprising.
It’s what makes the unknown exciting. The addition of two more teams makes the tournament add another day. Forget those four teams that have to win five games in five days to get the automatic bid.
The four teams with double byes have the advantage of skipping the first two rounds. It also eliminates any excuses should they lose their first game.
Based on the regular season, it will be difficult for any team but Florida to put a string of wins together this week. If Kentucky had injured center Nerlens Noel, the Cats could be a team to watch. But without him, they have been inconsistent.
And inconsistent will leave you watching the NCAA Tournament on television. That would be an inglorious end to an inglorious season.
Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org