Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Let’s start with the good news. When I close my eyes, I picture a major, major flex for the SEC through the first 2 days of the NCAA Tournament.

Maybe we’ll get an “S-E-C! S-E-C!” chant in Birmingham, where Alabama and Auburn will be.

(Just kidding. More likely is that Alabama fans will buy all the Iowa merchandise possible and root against the Tigers.)

I see some SEC flexing because there are plenty of teams that could be set up will to win Round of 64 matchups. A lot.

After that, though? Well, there’s your bad news.

Here’s how far I believe each of the 8 SEC teams go in the NCAA Tournament:

MSU — First Four

I applaud Chris Jans’ effort in Year 1 in Starkville. I’d love to see Tolu Smith lead MSU to a surprise run to the second weekend. But against a Pitt squad that can score in bunches, I worry that MSU could struggle to keep pace. We know that MSU is as bad of a 3-point shooting team as there is in the country. The NCAA Tournament stage isn’t usually when that gets figured out. I’d still argue just reaching the field was a major victory for a team that started 1-7 in SEC play.

Auburn — Round of 32

When I saw Auburn’s draw, my mind immediately went to 2017 South Carolina. Remember when the Gamecocks got to play their first 2 games in Greenville (SC) and it felt like a South Carolina home game in a 2 vs. 7 matchup vs. Duke? It could very well feel like that for Auburn playing as a 9-seed in Birmingham. That’s saying a lot about a team that lost 9 of its last 13 games entering this tournament, but we know that Iowa runs extremely hot and cold, and the lack of March success from Fran McCaffery shouldn’t scare anyone. Is it possible that Houston struggles if leading scorer Marcus Sasser is at anything less than 100%? Sure, but I’m banking on him benefiting from a week of rest and the Cougars shake off a pesky Auburn team in the Round of 32 to deny the Tigers a spot in the Sweet 16.

Mizzou — Round of 32

Mizzou players are gonna have to hark back to their AAU days to play a game that starts at 10:40 a.m. local time on the West Coast. Weird. Dennis Gates’ team is still getting a bit of disrespect as the slight underdog against Utah State. I think Gates pushes the right buttons and D’Moi Hodge leads that high-scoring Mizzou offense to a shootout victory in Sacramento to fuel Mizzou to the Round of 32 for the first time in 13 years. But Arizona is a daunting matchup for a team who looked dominant pre-Christmas and then got right with a Pac-12 Tournament title. The Wildcats have size, offensive depth and they defend at a high level. Mizzou is overwhelmed and falls short of its first Sweet 16 since 2009.

Texas A&M — Round of 32

Are you sensing a theme yet? Two things can be true at the same time. One is that A&M got an extremely raw deal as a team that went 17-4 against an 8-bid league, including a regular-season finale win against No. 1 overall seed Alabama. There’s no way the Aggies should’ve only gotten a 7-seed after reaching the SEC Tournament title game. The other thing that’s true is that by virtue of that tough draw, the Aggies are staring down the barrel from the jump. Penn State is as dangerous of a double-digit seed as there is. I think Buzz Williams will have his team fired up from the jump and the Lions will be forced into difficult shots from deep — though that is what they love to do — en route to a “don’t sleep on us” statement win. I wouldn’t be stunned to see a similar theme play out against Texas, but I think the Longhorns defend too well and A&M becomes too reliant on Wade Taylor IV for scoring. A battle-tested Texas squad survives the Aggies.

Tennessee — Round of 32

I’ll be honest. I almost pulled the trigger on Louisiana upsetting Tennessee in the Round of 64. The Rick Barnes March issues were scary enough, but the loss of Zakai Zeigler has me extremely skeptical of the Vols making it to the second weekend. It doesn’t help that they got put in the same region as red-hot Duke, which hasn’t lost in over a month. We know that Tennessee can defend and frustrate teams, which should be enough to avoid a Round 1 scare. It’s possible that the Vols do that to a Duke team that hasn’t faced a ton of elite defenses in the ACC. But we just saw Duke beat a Virginia team that shares a ton of similarities to Tennessee, and it was a 59-49 rock fight to decide the ACC Tournament. I know the metrics love the Vols, but anything beyond 1 victory would be considered an upset at this point.

Arkansas — Round of 32

The comp that I’ve made to Eric Musselman in the past is Tom Izzo. That is, veteran coaches who watch their teams struggle early against the elite nonconference foes, but then by March, they have their teams playing their absolute best. That hasn’t been the case for Arkansas. At least not yet. Losing 4 of 5 entering the tournament doesn’t suggest the Hogs are suddenly dangerous with Nick Smith Jr. back. Are they talented enough to put together 40 minutes against a wildly inconsistent Illinois team? Sure. But beyond that, I don’t think this Arkansas squad can repeat what last year’s group did by sending a 1-seed home. The Hogs spend too much time playing catch-up against Kansas and instead of Musselman’s preseason top-10 team making a third consecutive deep run, it fails to reach the second weekend for the first time under Musselman (remember, there was no tournament in 2020).

Kentucky — Sweet 16

I don’t know how the Cats got a more favorable draw than A&M and Mizzou, but here we are. Yes, the Bryce Hopkins revenge game is certainly on the table in the opening game against Providence. I just can’t imagine John Calipari will suffer another devastating loss. I mean, Calipari got his own private scouting report on Hopkins every day last year. I’ve got to think he knows at least some sort of plan to contain Providence’s leading scorer. The Friars have been a bit 1-dimensional, and they struggled down the stretch. Not only does Kentucky avoid the Round 1 upset, it also gets a little revenge on Kansas State after the 2018 Sweet 16 game. As awesome of a story as Keyontae Johnson’s return has been with KSU, I think UK gets a lift from a healthy Cason Wallace, as well as an All-American showing from Oscar Tshiebwe, who dominates an undersized squad.

So then what’s Kentucky’s undoing this time? Shaka Smart. Marquette avenged both of its post-Christmas losses and is capable of winning any style of game. My guess? A less-talented Golden Eagles team remind us why coaching matters this time of year, and his team gets too many high-percentage looks for Kentucky to keep pace. All things considered, UK fans would probably be pleased just to reach the second weekend at this point.

Alabama — National Championship … loss

I’ve said/written it several times in the past 3 days. Alabama has the highest floor and the highest ceiling of anyone in America. They defend incredibly well, especially for a team that likes to play as fast as Nate Oats’ squad does. We know they have the game-changing, best player on the floor guy in Brandon Miller. We know they have the rim-protecting, dirty work big in Charles Bediako. We also know they have the guards who can take over a game in a moments notice in Jahvon Quinerly and Mark Sears. We also now know that this team is still capable of looking pretty darn good on a quick turnaround.

A key to Alabama avoiding early embarrassment could be avoiding that potential Virginia matchup in the Sweet 16. Running into a team with a similar style to Tennessee wouldn’t be ideal, and we could see Alabama start forcing shots. But I believe the Cavaliers get upset in Round 1 by Furman, and instead, Alabama’s first scare comes in the Elite Eight against Baylor. But a Baylor squad that has had defensive issues all year can’t contain the Tide and the program earns its first Final Four berth. Marquette finally runs into a team that can match its unselfishness and efficiency in the half-court, and the Tide roll to a matchup with UCLA in the title game. But even without Jaylen Clark, Mick Cronin pushes the right defensive buttons and manages to get Alabama out of sorts offensively for one of the first times all tournament. UCLA’s ageless, experienced guard duo makes smart plays to close out the Tide.

Alabama comes a few plays short of cutting down the nets in Houston.