NCAA bubble madness at the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

NCAA bubble madness at the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament

Posted: Updated:
For struggling Kentucky, the SEC basketball tourney is a chance to, as coach John Calipari puts it, regain a little "mojo."(AP Photo/Phil Sandlin) For struggling Kentucky, the SEC basketball tourney is a chance to, as coach John Calipari puts it, regain a little "mojo."(AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

ATLANTA (AP) — For top-ranked Florida, it's nothing more than a warm-up for bigger games to come.

For struggling Kentucky, it's a chance to, as coach John Calipari puts it, regain a little "mojo."

For everyone else, the Southeastern Conference tournament looks like the last chance to earn a spot in the NCAAs.

The Gators (29-2) roll into the Georgia Dome, where the tournament will be held for the final time beginning Wednesday night, as a huge favorite after becoming the first team in SEC history to go 18-0 in league play.

"Florida," said Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy, "has shown no chinks in the armor just yet."

No matter what happens in Atlanta, the Gators have surely done enough to ensure they will be one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Perhaps the only thing they're playing for is the top overall spot on the bracket.

Coach Billy Donovan insisted his team won't be looking ahead to the tournament that really matters.

"We're getting a chance to play for a championship," he said. "It's always exciting to have an opportunity to do that."

Kentucky (22-9) is certainly eager to turn the page after the way it finished the regular season.

The Wildcats started out ranked No. 1 in the country with their usual hyped group of freshmen, leading some to speculate they might have a chance to go unbeaten.

Not even close.

With three losses in their last four games — an overtime setback at home to Arkansas, a road defeat to lowly South Carolina, and an 84-65 blowout by Florida — the Wildcats dropped out of the Top 25 altogether.

"We've got to get our mojo back," Calipari said. "We've got to come together as a group. Now is the time to do it."

While Kentucky is mired in a tailspin, several SEC teams have surged into contention for NCAA berths.

Tennessee (20-11), Arkansas (21-10) and Georgia (18-12) are all feeling better about their chances, though none is considered a lock for the 68-team field — especially if they stumble in Atlanta.

Among the bubble teams, the fourth-seeded Volunteers have the best RPI rating, the toughest schedule and a bye to the SEC's quarterfinal round Friday night, where they could find themselves with what amounts to an NCAA play-in game against Arkansas. That's assuming the fifth-seeded Razorbacks get past their second-round contest Thursday against either Auburn (14-15) or South Carolina (12-19).

Arkansas had won six in a row until an inexplicable 25-point loss at Alabama last weekend. The Razorbacks trailed 39-16 at the break in what coach Mike Anderson called "probably the worst half of basketball I've ever been associated with."

Georgia appears to be the most intriguing team in the tournament. The Bulldogs struggled through the non-conference portion of their schedule, standing just 6-6 in early January, but they rebounded to tie Kentucky for second place in the SEC standings with a 12-6 mark (the Wildcats earned the tiebreaker for the tournament).

"These guys have been a real joy," coach Mark Fox said. "Throughout the season, whether it's been success or failures, we've tried to use that experience to grow as people and as a team. It's been a process we've all enjoyed."

But Fox knows the Bulldogs still have some work to do. With an RPI rating in the 70s and no really impressive wins on the resume — Georgia lost by 22 at Florida and by 25 at Kentucky — this team probably needs to win at least two games in Atlanta to have any chance of being considered for the NCAAs. It might take actually winning the whole thing to earn the automatic bid.

"That would sure take the stress out of it," Fox said. "To have a legitimate at-large chance, we have to advance in the tournament. If we advance, we might as well win it."

Missouri (21-10) is also in the mix for an NCAA bid, but the Tigers slumped to a 9-9 mark in league play after beginning the season 12-1. The remaining teams — LSU (18-12), Mississippi (18-13), Texas A&M (17-14), Vanderbilt (15-15), Alabama (13-18), Mississippi State (13-18), Auburn and South Carolina — know that for most of them, the only route to the NCAAs is an improbable SEC tournament title.

The tournament begins with a doubleheader Wednesday night: Auburn-South Carolina, followed by Alabama vs. Mississippi State.

Next season, it moves to Nashville, Tenn., where it will be held nine of the next 11 seasons. The earliest the tournament could return to Atlanta would be 2026, when the Dome will be long gone. It is scheduled for implosion after a new retractable roof stadium opens next door in 2017.

The 70,000-seat facility, which will be hosting the SEC for the 11th time, is best remembered for being struck by a tornado during the 2008 tournament. The remaining games had to be moved to Georgia Tech's campus arena, where last-place Georgia shockingly won the title.

"I hope this last one," Fox said, "is a memorable one, too."

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter @pnewberry1963

  • Auburn University SportsMore>>

  • 2014 USA Today preseason coaches poll: FSU No. 1, Alabama No. 2, Auburn No. 5

    2014 USA Today preseason coaches poll: FSU No. 1, Alabama No. 2, Auburn No. 5

    Thursday, July 31 2014 1:40 PM EDT2014-07-31 17:40:23 GMT
    The 2014 USA Today preseason college football coaches poll was released Thursday and reigning national champion Florida State sits atop the rankings.More >>
    The 2014 USA Today preseason college football coaches poll was released Thursday and reigning national champion Florida State sits atop the rankings.More >>
  • Auburn football announces two-game series with Clemson

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 4:38 PM EDT2014-07-30 20:38:41 GMT
    Auburn and Clemson have agreed to a two-game series beginning in 2016. Auburn will host Clemson on Sept. 3, 2016 and play at Clemson's Memorial Stadium on Sept. 9, 2017.The programs have played 49 times in the past, including three times in the last five years. Auburn leads the all-time series 34-13-2 despite losing the last two times it's played Clemson, in 2011 and 2012.The agreement with Clemson will fulfill Auburn's obligation to play at least one non-conference opponent from a Power 5 co...More >>
    Auburn and Clemson have agreed to a two-game series beginning in 2016. Auburn will host Clemson on Sept. 3, 2016 and play at Clemson's Memorial Stadium on Sept. 9, 2017.The programs have played 49 times in the past, including three times in the last five years. Auburn leads the all-time series 34-13-2 despite losing the last two times it's played Clemson, in 2011 and 2012.The agreement with Clemson will fulfill Auburn's obligation to play at least one non-conference opponent from a Power 5 co...More >>
  • Auburn QB Nick Marshall pays $1,100 in fines for marijuana possession, window tint violations in Georgia

    Auburn QB Nick Marshall pays $1,100 in fines for marijuana possession, window tint violations in Georgia

    Thursday, July 24 2014 3:33 PM EDT2014-07-24 19:33:03 GMT
    Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has paid the fines for possession of a small amount of marijuana and a window tint violation.More >>
    Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has paid the fines for possession of a small amount of marijuana and a window tint violation.
    More >>
  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Repairing burst Los Angeles main could take days

    Repairing burst Los Angeles main could take days

    Friday, August 1 2014 12:43 AM EDT2014-08-01 04:43:44 GMT
    Hundreds of cars submerged below murky water. A landmark basketball court, newly refurbished, showing signs of buckling. Soaked and stained carpets. An athletic track coated in mud.More >>
    Repair crews on Thursday were shoring up a giant hole in the middle of Sunset Boulevard caused by a ruptured pipe, as officials at the water-logged University of California, Los Angeles, continued to assess damage from the...More >>
  • Neighbors who rescued plane crash victims: "It's a miracle they survived"

    Neighbors who rescued plane crash victims: "It's a miracle they survived"

    Thursday, July 31 2014 9:50 PM EDT2014-08-01 01:50:59 GMT
    A family of four traveling to Tennessee from Florida crash landed their plane in central Alabama. More >>
    A family of four traveling to Tennessee from Florida crash landed their plane in central Alabama. More >>
  • Embattled Homewood hotel forced to close, guests left looking for new accommodations

    Embattled Homewood hotel forced to close, guests left looking for new accommodations

    Thursday, July 31 2014 9:50 PM EDT2014-08-01 01:50:02 GMT
    Guests at America's Best Inn Suites packed up and left Thursday. The Homewood hotel lost its business license and an extension to keep it running was denied.More >>
    Guests at America's Best Inn Suites packed up and left Thursday. The Homewood hotel lost its business license and an extension to keep it running was denied.
    More >>
  • Small plane crash in Helena sends 4 to hospital with serious injuries

    Small plane crash in Helena sends 4 to hospital with serious injuries

    Thursday, July 31 2014 9:29 PM EDT2014-08-01 01:29:14 GMT
    Authorities are investigating a small plane crash in Helena Thursday afternoon, a fire spokesman said.More >>
    Authorities are investigating a small plane crash in Helena Thursday afternoon, a fire spokesman said.More >>
  • Lackey goes from Red Sox to Cards for Kelly, Craig

    Lackey goes from Red Sox to Cards for Kelly, Craig

    Thursday, July 31 2014 9:26 PM EDT2014-08-01 01:26:42 GMT
    The Boston Red Sox have traded right-hander John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals for right-hander Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig before Thursday's deadline, a person with knowledge of the deal said.More >>
    The Boston Red Sox traded right-hander John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals for right-hander Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig before Thursday's deadline.More >>
  • Lethal injections on hold in Alabama

    Lethal injections on hold in Alabama

    Thursday, July 31 2014 9:19 PM EDT2014-08-01 01:19:47 GMT
    16 Alabama death row inmates have exhausted their appeals and are waiting to be executed. But, lethal injections will not be performed in the state at least until next spring. Republican state Senator Cam Ward says that will be the earliest lawmakers will be able to pass new legislation that will allow Alabama to get the drugs used for executions.Ward says that pharmaceutical companies are refusing to sell Alabama more drugs until they can get some type of protection or immunity. It's because...More >>
    16 Alabama death row inmates have exhausted their appeals and are waiting to be executed. But, lethal injections will not be performed in the state at least until next spring. Republican state Senator Cam Ward says that will be the earliest lawmakers will be able to pass new legislation that will allow Alabama to get the drugs used for executions.Ward says that pharmaceutical companies are refusing to sell Alabama more drugs until they can get some type of protection or immunity. It's because...More >>
  • Another decent start for Woods at Firestone

    Another decent start for Woods at Firestone

    Thursday, July 31 2014 7:50 PM EDT2014-07-31 23:50:46 GMT
    Tiger Woods took another step on one of his favorite courses toward showing his game might be turning around.More >>
    Tiger Woods showed signs of a positive recovery Thursday at the Bridgestone Invitational.More >>
  • Alabama gets commitment from 4-star cornerback Rico McGraw

    Alabama gets commitment from 4-star cornerback Rico McGraw

    Thursday, July 31 2014 7:47 PM EDT2014-07-31 23:47:50 GMT
    Alabama picked off another school's cornerback recruit. Four-star cornerback Rico McGraw flipped, verbally committing to Alabama after he had been committed to Georgia since January.The 6-foot, 190-pound McGraw is the No. 142 rated recruit according to 247Sports composite. He attends Ensworth High School in Nashville.McGraw is Alabama's 21st commitment for the 2015 class, and the Tide's second verbal of the week. Safety Ronnie Harrison committed to sign with Alabama on Monday.More >>
    Alabama picked off another school's cornerback recruit. Four-star cornerback Rico McGraw flipped, verbally committing to Alabama after he had been committed to Georgia since January.The 6-foot, 190-pound McGraw is the No. 142 rated recruit according to 247Sports composite. He attends Ensworth High School in Nashville.McGraw is Alabama's 21st commitment for the 2015 class, and the Tide's second verbal of the week. Safety Ronnie Harrison committed to sign with Alabama on Monday.More >>