March Madness 2021: What every SEC team needs to do to make NCAA Tournament field
Welcome to March!
Selection Sunday is 2 weeks away (March 14) and there are still several SEC squads in the hunt for berths in the field of 68 NCAA Tournament teams. Now, some teams obviously have better chances than others, but this time of year isn’t called “March Madness” for nothing.
Of the 14 SEC men’s basketball teams, 13 still have at least a slim chance of making the NCAA Tournament. So, what can each of the still-eligible teams do to earn a tourney berth? Let’s take a look at where things stand now that we’ve officially entered the month of March:
Can’t make the tourney
The Tigers self-imposed a 1-year postseason ban this year. That means they won’t be playing in the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament. Sadly, that also means that, if Sharife Cooper doesn’t return from an ankle injury to play against Alabama or Mississippi State, we’ve probably seen the last of him in an Auburn uniform. He’ll probably be playing in the NBA next year, but the Tigers will have plenty of talent returning in 2021-22.
Must win the SEC Tournament
The Aggies haven’t played a game since Jan. 30. That’s right. An entire month has passed since we’ve last seen Buzz Williams’ squad take the floor. The Aggies are scheduled to play on Wednesday and Saturday of this week, but we’ll see if that actually happens. Barring a miracle run in Nashville, this team’s season should come to an end soon.
Texas A&M was hit the hardest by COVID-19 this year, but South Carolina is a close second. Outside of upsets of Florida and Georgia, there hasn’t been much to write home about for Frank Martin’s squad. However, if this team gets hot, the talent is there to make a deep tourney run in Nashville. Can they win it all? I doubt it, but don’t count out a Frank Martin team.
Hey, the tournament is in Nashville at least, right? The Commodores just upset Ole Miss on Saturday without stars Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu. If Pippen and Disu return in time for the SEC Tournament, why couldn’t this team make a run?
I’ve been a big fan of the way the Wildcats have been playing lately, but with 14 losses, they aren’t making the NCAA Tournament with anything short of an SEC Tournament title. Fortunately for John Calipari’s crew, it has the talent to do just that if things go right. Is it likely? Absolutely not, but crazy things can happen in conference tournament season.
The Bulldogs have a chance to enter the SEC Tournament on a hot streak. They face Texas A&M and Auburn this week — 2 of the teams at the bottom of the SEC standings. If DJ Stewart Jr., Iverson Molinar and Tolu Smith can get hot, that’s a talented trio of players heading into the SEC tourney. It’ll require Herculean efforts from those 3 guys because the Bulldogs don’t have much depth, but they’ll be dangerous in Nashville.
Georgia had a chance to be in a better position than this entering March, but a devastating 21-point home loss to South Carolina on Saturday ended those hopes. Now, anything short of a tournament title will keep the Dawgs out of March Madness. Whatever happens in Nashville, though, this team will be one to watch next year, as guys like Toumani Camara, Sahvir Wheeler and KD Johnson could come back.
Must make SEC Tournament title game
After a disappointing loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Rebels’ NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support. They probably need to win it all in Nashville to get in, but if they get some help from other bubble teams losing, I do think there’s an alternative path to March Madness. With 2 wins over Mizzou and a win over Tennessee, the Rebels do have a few signature wins to hang their hats on. Make a run to the SEC Tournament final and I think it might be just enough to squeak into the field of 68.
Win 2 more games
LSU picked a brutal time to lose 2 games in a row. The Tigers fell to Georgia and Arkansas last week, bringing their record to 14-8 overall. They are scheduled to play Vanderbilt and Mizzou this week in the buildup to the SEC Tournament. Win both of those games and a first-round tourney loss wouldn’t affect their standing for March Madness. Lose both of those games? Well, then the Tigers would probably need a pair of wins in Nashville. I don’t care how they get them, but I want the Tigers to hit that 16-win mark before Selection Sunday before I’ll truly feel secure about them making the NCAA Tournament field.
Win 1 more game
The Gators have a pair of interesting games to finish the regular season. They host Mizzou on Wednesday and head to Tennessee on Sunday. Beat either team, and the Gators will have an extra feather in their NCAA Tournament résumé cap. Lose both and they’ll need a win in Nashville to get into March Madness.
The Tigers have fallen on hard times lately. Since beating Alabama the day before the Super Bowl, Mizzou has lost 4 of its last 5 games. That’s awful. But the Tigers challenged themselves in nonconference play and fared really well, so they still are reaping the benefits of that. They travel to Florida on Wednesday before hosting LSU on Saturday. If they lose both games, which isn’t improbable based on their recent track record, they’ll need at least 1 win in the SEC Tournament to secure a spot in the NCAA tourney.
The Vols are one of the best teams in the country when they’re at the top of their game. The problem is that they haven’t been consistently at the top of their game for a month or so now. John Fulkerson has been an enigma this year, to say the least. Yves Pons’ offensive game has taken a major step back. The Vols can beat any team on any given night, but they can lose to any team on any given night. I’d like to see them pick up 1 more win in some form or fashion before the NCAA Tournament starts.
Solidly in the field
The Crimson Tide are the SEC regular-season champions and have been the class of the SEC since league play started. Yes, Arkansas is nipping at their heels, but if Herb Jones can get his back injury sorted out, this is a Final Four team. The Tide could lose out (not likely) and still easily make the field of 68 teams. Of course, Nate Oats’ squad would love to win another game or 2 to feel more comfortable with its seeding, but this team will be playing long into March.
Arkansas is the hottest team in the SEC. The Hogs have won 9 straight SEC games and 6 total games in a row. This week, they get to play at South Carolina on Tuesday night and host Texas A&M on Saturday. Both are SEC bottom feeders. Eric Musselman’s squad is poised for a deep SEC Tournament run, and that should bode well for March Madness, too.