March Madness
Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) soars to a dunk against Vanderbilt during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Heated Race for SEC Men’s Basketball Spots in March Continue

The college basketball regular season is coming to a close, setting the stage for one of the greatest postseasons in sports: March Madness. Throughout the season, a lot of shifting took place in the top 25. Also, the absence of usual powerhouse teams North Carolina, Kentucky and Duke from the top 10 creates a variety of schools to take their place. No. 1 Houston has dominated most of the season, as well as No. 2 Alabama and even No. 5 Purdue. Newer faces dominating the NCAA regular season makes the arrival of March that much more exciting, and the race to make the 64-team bracket is heated.

In the SEC, only three teams currently sit in the top 25: No. 2 Alabama, No. 11 Tennessee and No. 25 Texas A&M. Still, plenty of SEC teams have had successful seasons and are fighting for a spot in the tournament. With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, many teams have pivotal upcoming games that may decide their fate in March.

March Locks

At this point, ranked teams are practically guaranteed spots in the tournament. However, their ranking in the bracket is still up in the air.

  • No. 2 Alabama, led by freshman forward Brandon Miller, has been an unstoppable force all season. Not only is Alabama winning games, they are destroying teams. In their last outing, they pummeled Georgia 108-59 in Tuscaloosa. On January 31, the Crimson Tide steamrolled Vanderbilt 101-44. Bama has a plenty of depth, exhausting defense, and a passionate head coach in Nate Oats. With four games remaining in the regular season, Alabama likely won’t shift much. However, upcoming games against Arkansas and Texas A&M are an interesting precursor to the bracket, where many believe they can win it all.

  • No. 11 Tennessee has had an up-and-down season. After being ranked No. 11 in the preseason, they quickly fell to No. 22 after losing to unranked Colorado. However, victories over No. 3 Kansas and No. 13 Maryland propelled them as high as No. 6. After that, they lost to No. 9 Arizona, then ranked up a multitude of SEC victories and a win over No. 10 Texas. Then, things really got weird. In a span of six games, they had embarrassing unranked losses to Florida, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Kentucky, but then also beat No. 25 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama. Now sitting back at No. 11, the Volunteers hope to wrap up their season on some highs before heading into March. They play No. 25 Texas A&M and Auburn in two of their final four games. While Tennessee may not present as big a foe as Alabama, the Volunteers are not a team to overlook in the bracket.
  • No. 25 Texas A&M pieced together an impressive season after a sluggish start. After early losses to Murray State, Colorado, Boise State and Wofford, the Aggies went on an absolute tear. They have won 14 of their last 16 games, and currently sit in second place in the SEC rankings with a 12-2 record. While they haven’t faced the same level of competition as Tennessee or Alabama, they have proven they’re a legit team. However, their next game is against Tennessee, and they end the season with Alabama — two teams they are yet to play this year. A lot will be learned about A&M following these two games, but they are definitely looking at a bracket spot in March.

Bubble Teams

Outside of the conference leaders, the SEC is a very tight race. Currently, four different teams hold a 18-9 record: Kentucky, Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State. Also, Arkansas and Missouri are 19-8. All of these teams are right on the cusp of playing in March. Fortunately, playing an SEC schedule gives these teams an edge over others who post similar records. Still, there is no certainty that some teams may fall out of the bracket, or that some teams may come in.

Auburn and Missouri, who were both ranked earlier this season, have been spotty in SEC play. Auburn has had a tough stretch recently, with losses to Tennessee, Texas A&M, Alabama and Vanderbilt. To make matters worse, they close their season out with games against the Volunteers and the Crimson Tide. These are huge games for Bruce Pearl’s squad. Wins over these teams would guarantee a spot in the bracket, but bad losses could be the end of the Tigers season.

For Missouri, a victory over Tennessee Feb. 11 was a huge upswing until they dropped back-to-back games to Auburn and Texas A&M. Still, guards Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge are a lethal backcourt duo that can beat a lot of teams on a good night. Mizzou closes their season with four relatively easy SEC games. Solid victories to close out the season should be enough to slide the Tigers into the bracket.

Another important SEC team to note is Arkansas. At one point in the season, the Razorbacks were ranked No. 13 in the country. But, a series of losses took them out of the rankings quickly. Arkansas posts a good record and junior guard Ricky Council IV has been productive. But still, the Razorbacks have played poorly against superior competition. However, they play Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky in their final three games. They’ll either prove that they can hang with the best or continue to be just mediocre. Expect these to be intense games.

Pivotal Upcoming Games

The next few weeks in college basketball will be hectic, especially in the SEC. Teams will play at their highest level as they try to edge out a spot in the tournament.

  • No. 11 Tennessee vs No. 25 Texas A&M (2/21)
    • The Aggies need this win to cement their spot in the bracket and have a good seed. Tennessee looks to bounce back after their loss to Kentucky. The Volunteers want to escape the regular season unscathed, but Texas A&M will try to use this as a building block.
  • Mississippi State vs Missouri (2/21)
    • These teams are neck and neck in standings, but Mississippi State would really like an SEC win here. Not only is this a big game for each squad’s postseason endeavors, but it will also shape the landscape for the rest of the teams on the bubble.
  • Arkansas vs Alabama (2/25)
    • A win in one of the toughest road atmospheres in college basketball would be huge for Arkansas. If they win, they’ll likely be set to play in March. But, the Razorbacks’ poor showings against solid teams combined with Alabama’s relentless style of play could be a recipe for disaster.
  • Auburn vs Kentucky (2/25)
    • Again, two teams on the bubble looking for an SEC win to elevate their argument for a spot in March. Expect Rupp Arena to be electric Saturday afternoon. But, don’t think Auburn won’t give Kentucky a run for their money.

About Alex Winn

Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida.

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