The last week of the SEC basketball season is upon us. What a long strange trip it’s been. And it ain’t over yet.
While Billy Donovan and his perfect Gators (16-0) are the cool guys walking away from the explosion that is the rest of the league, everyone else has work to do.
Right now Kentucky (11-5), despite its wobbly legs, is in second place. Georgia (10-6) sits alone in third. Tennessee and Arkansas (9-7) are tied for fourth. A four-team huddle of 8-8 teams — Missouri, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss — are holding down fifth while Vanderbilt (7-9) sits just outside. Behind limps in Alabama (6-10), Auburn (5-11), South Carolina (4-12) and Mississippi State (4-13).
For a moment, let’s pretend things end in this order. The Vols would be in decent shape for the SEC tournament in Atlanta. They beat Arkansas, so they would win the tie-breaker and get the fourth seed, which comes with the sacred double bye. UT wouldn’t play until the quarterfinals on Friday, March 14.
But things could get even better.
Or much worse.
Here is a scenario where Tennessee could end up with the two(!) seed: Kentucky, which fell on its face against South Carolina its last time out, loses its final two, one of which is against Florida. Meanwhile Georgia splits. Arkansas and the Vols win out. All of a sudden there is a four-way tie for second place, one that would favor the Vols since they have the best winning percentage against the three teams they would be tied against. Hello, two seed.
And here is a scenario from the other end of the spectrum: Tennessee tanks, loses both and gets run down from behind by Arkansas and whichever teams emerge from the group of four currently tied for fifth. While the Vols will be safe from a first-round game on Wednesday no matter what, they could find themselves playing a higher-seeded team in their first tournament game, which would be played Thursday. That’s not good.
Chances are UT’s path lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. As it becomes finalized this week, here’s a reminder of how the Vols would fare in a tie-breaker with any of the teams they could potentially find themselves next to when all is said and done.
Kentucky (11-5): Advantage UK … Wildcats won their only game against the Vols.
Georgia (10-6): Advantage UT .. Vols won their only game against the Bulldogs.
Arkansas (9-7): Advantage UT … Vols won their only game against the Razorbacks.
Missouri (8-8): TBD … Vols lost their first game against the Tigers but play them at home on Saturday
LSU (8-8): Advantage UT … Vols won their only game against the Tigers.
Texas A&M (8-8): Advantage A&M … Aggies won two games against the Vols.
Ole Miss (8-8): Advantage UT … Vols won their only game against the Rebels.
Vanderbilt (7-9): Advantage TBD … This one gets tricky because the Commodores and Vols split games. The SEC’s next piece of criteria compares the win-loss record the two tied teams have against the No. 1 seed and so on, all the way to the 14th seed if necessary. Both lost to Florida. Both lost to Kentucky. And both beat Georgia. If UT is tied with Vanderbilt, maybe Arkansas is the fourth seed. The Vols would win this tiebreaker then since they beat the Razorbacks, a team Vanderbilt lost to.
Now my head hurts.
I’m walking away from this mess.
And no, I’m not looking back.