March is almost here … which means it’s about time for college hoops to kick into overdrive. That said, it’s still too early from bracketology to be anything particularly meaningful … but not too early to start pondering the SEC’s big picture. Here’s the skinny on each team’s ceiling and floor come March … and what might make the difference.
From the top …
Ceiling: Loss to Kentucky aside, there’s no reason the Vols couldn’t take home the NCAA title. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield would match up about as well with Duke’s Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett as anybody.
Floor: UT has some issues with defending the 3-point line. The Vols have allowed opponents to shoot over 33 percent from trey, which is middle of the pack in the NCAA rankings. It’s also the kind of thing that could get them in trouble in, say, the Elite 8 against a Virginia or a Michigan.
Ceiling: After Saturday, Kentucky has to stand as a legitimate title threat. Ashton Hagans has to provide enough offense to keep defenses honest, and UK has to cobble together some outside shooting. But stranger things have happened.
Floor: UK can lose defensive focus (35% from 3s for opponents), and doesn’t always value the ball (assist to turnover ratio is barely 1.1). If P.J. Washington gets into foul trouble, UK could fall in the Sweet 16 or so.
Ceiling: While it might be a stretch to envision this LSU team winning 6 games in the NCAA Tournament, it’s entirely feasible that they could win four and reach the Final Four. Tremont Waters is the kind of high-intensity point guard who can really shine in the NCAA Tournament, and if he can get on a roll, look out.
Floor: LSU is also the kind of team that could lose in the round of 32. LSU is turnover prone and lacks a lights-out shooter. They also have a tendency to fall behind and play their way back, which can be dangerous.
Ceiling: State is projected into the Tournament despite a mediocre conference worksheet. They have some work to do, but could sneak into a Sweet 16 spot, particularly is Quinndary Weatherspoon is on his game. He might be the most underrated player in the SEC.
Floor: The Bulldogs have been mediocre in the league and still have to play at Tennessee and Auburn. A couple unexpected losses — like Wednesday’s game at Georgia — could leave them in the NIT with a poor SEC Tournament performance.
Ceiling: Kermit Davis’ Rebels value the ball, make free throws (over 77% as a team), and have road wins of Auburn and Mississippi State. The Rebels will probably play their way into a 7-10 seed, and thus probably max out at one NCAA win as a ceiling, mostly because they don’t have a contributing player over 6-8.
Floor: The Rebels still have yet to play UT or UK. They just lost at South Carolina on Tuesday and and if they botch road games at Arkansas and Missouri, they could end up in the NIT.
Ceiling: If you’re looking for a South Carolina 2017-like team that could get hot in March and shock people, it’s Auburn. When Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are hot and the Tigers are forcing turnovers, they’re a team that could realistically win two or three NCAA games.
Floor: They’re 6-6 in the conference, and have games left with UT and UK, so it’s far from certain that they’re even in the Tournament. Seven of their 8 losses have been by single digits. Big boom or bust potential, but so far this season has fallen short of expectations.
Ceiling: Remember when the Crimson Tide beat Kentucky? What happened to that Alabama team? At this point, Alabama might manage to find an NCAA win — if it don’t continue getting drummed by teams hanging around the outside of the bubble. Losing by 19 and 18 to Mississippi State and Florida, or even 9 at Texas A&M, doesn’t exactly make us bullish on the Tide.
Floor: Look at the previous paragraph. Alabama just lost again Tuesday night, to the lowly Aggies, and finishes the regular season with LSU, Auburn and Arkansas. Fair chance they’re in the NIT.
Ceiling: Let’s be honest. These teams are just trying to reach the NCAA Tournament. Florida is 14-11 and still has to play LSU twice and go to Kentucky. A team with 14 or 15 losses isn’t coming from the SEC into the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas is 5-7 in the SEC and has lost at South Carolina and Missouri in their past three games. At 14-11, they almost have to run the tables going forward (which includes at Auburn and at Kentucky). South Carolina is 9-4 in the SEC after beating Ole Miss on Tuesday, but had such an ugly nonconference season that they really can’t afford to lose again at 13-12 on the year. Their schedule is fairly favorable, though.
Floor: It’s hard to imagine 8 SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. Probably the only way any of these three get in is running the table into an impressive SEC Tournament performance, and replacing Alabama, Auburn or Ole Miss. Reeling Alabama is the most likely candidate.
Ceiling: Having a positive SEC Tournament experience is about the best that can be expected.
Floor: They probably won’t have positive SEC Tournament experiences.