NASHVILLE — In the midst of the SEC Tournament, it feels a little sacrilegious to say it, but it’s still all about the Big Dance. Mississippi State is in, and Vandy is still alive. Auburn lost but is ok. Tennessee and Arkansas are thinking about seeding. Here’s a rundown on what Thursday’s SEC Tournament action meant for the NCAA Tournament field.

Mississippi State

Let’s start with the Bulldogs, because they almost had to beat Florida in their first SEC Tournament game. The Bulldogs needed a win in the worst way and they got it … in the worst way, when a Florida trey trickled harmlessly off the rim in overtime. State shot 2-for-14 from 3, and 61% from the foul line. They had to scratch and claw to outlast a Florida team with literally and metaphorically one healthy arm (star big man Colin Castleton is finished for the season due to a broken hand). So State won, and is ­– probably — safe for the NCAA Tournament field. Joe Lunardi has the Bulldogs barely above the cut line. Not getting blown away by Alabama wouldn’t hurt. But a team that began the day at the bottom of the last four byes or the top of the last four teams in probably all but sealed its spot in the Big Dance.


Considering that there was a time at the end of January when UT looked like a possible No. 1 seed, the Vols needed to not fall on their face Thursday. They didn’t, winning 70-55 against a significantly outmanned Ole Miss squad. A win on Friday against Missouri probably all but guarantees the Vols a No. 3 seed. Lose to the Tigers and a No. 4 might be more likely. The biggest advantage of grabbing the No. 3 is that you’d avoid one of the top 4 teams in the nation until at least the Elite Eight. Take care of business and that’s UT’s situation. Lose and the Vols would see a tough second round NCAA matchup and a top seed in the Sweet 16.


Conventional wisdom is that the Tigers are in. Yes, they lost their second-round game Thursday, but they were certainly competitive and hung around all night against an Arkansas team that was always a haymaker from knocking them out early. But where a game like this hurts Auburn is in seeding. The Tigers were probably an 8 or a 9 seed, and now they’re probably a 10 or maybe even an 11 (which does raise the possibility of a play-in game, although that seems unlikely). That said, from Auburn’s standpoint, a 10 or 11 will see a No. 2 or No. 3 seed as the biggest stumbling block to a deep run, so it’s not like falling from an 8 or 9 is a big deal really.


Meanwhile, Arkansas is certainly not harmed by Thursday. They also were in the 8/9 type situation. But Thursday’s win gives them ammunition to possibly jump to a 7 seed. Realistically, that probably takes a win Friday over Texas A&M, but just as Auburn might fall off the 8/9 lines, Arkansas might climb off of it. And realistically, that seems plausible. The Hogs are exactly the sort of team that could put the fear of God and Nick Smith into a No. 2 seed in the round of 32.


For Vanderbilt, Thursday didn’t bring any resolution. They were the 8th team out in Lunardi’s brackets early in the day. Their expected win over LSU doesn’t help a ton. Beating Kentucky in Friday’s quarterfinals, however, could and should significantly move the needle. Vandy’s path is not a sure one. They need that second win and they also need the teams ahead of them to struggle. North Carolina and Michigan both lost, so that’s a pretty good start. The Commodores are still on the outside looking in, but a Friday win moves them significantly closer to the inside of the selection bubble.