That sound you just heard was every printer in America revving up to serve its sole purpose.

Printing off your March Madness bracket.

The field is set, and boy, does it feel like we could have a year for the ages.

(I feel like we say that every year. At this point, it’d be weird not to say it, no?)

Maybe that’s because Alabama is your No. 1 overall seed while Purdue has a 1-seed for the first time this century. Outside of No. 1 seed Kansas, it’s by no means some blue-blood-heavy battle at the top. The national championship favorite is Houston at +500, and the Cougars are dealing with an injury to their leading scorer. Madness, one would think, awaits.

Let’s dig into the SEC takeaways:

So … did the selection committee get it right?

Here are the 8 SEC teams in the field:

  • No. 1 Alabama
  • No. 4 Tennessee
  • No. 6 Kentucky
  • No. 7 Mizzou
  • No. 7 Texas A&M
  • No. 8 Arkansas
  • No. 9 Auburn
  • No. 11 MSU (First Four)

The SEC’s bubble teams were MSU (in) and Vandy (not in). There was angst over Vandy following the Kentucky win, wherein the Commodores won their 10th game in 11 contests to reach the SEC semifinals. But with a NET ranking of No. 81, it seemed unlikely that the Commodores were going to make the field following the loss to A&M. The team with the worst NET ranking to ever receive an at-large bid was 2019 St. John’s, which was No. 73.

From that standpoint, the selection committee got it right.

From the eyeball test, they absolutely didn’t get it right.

I was stunned to see A&M only get that No. 7 seed. I suppose “stunned” is the wrong word to use after last year’s squad was left out of the field altogether following an SEC Championship berth, but I thought this year’s conference runner-up was in position for a 5-seed. A&M is No. 19 in NET with 7 Quad 1 wins, which was as many as No. 1 seed Houston. Now the Aggies have a tricky draw against a Penn State squad that also might feel slighted after reaching its conference tournament championship (more on that in a minute). Those 2 Quad 4 losses appear to have really hurt the Aggies.

Outside of that, I don’t think it was surprising to see Tennessee get dinged a bit after struggling down the stretch in the wake of the Zakai Ziegler injury. At the same time, the Vols are No. 4 overall in NET and No. 5 in KenPom. Clearly, the selection committee factored the injury into that ranking. Perhaps it didn’t help that Rick Barnes has struggled in the NCAA Tournament in the past decade-plus.

Mizzou being at the No. 7 spot feels a bit like a “prove it” seeding. Dennis Gates has done a phenomenal job turning around the Tigers in Year 1, and one would’ve thought that perhaps a 6-seed would’ve been on the table. But a ranking outside of the top 50 in KenPom could’ve factored into that slight.

And while MSU fans probably rolled their eyes at the “First Four” bid, anybody would’ve taken that in Year 1 under Chris Jans. The lack of Quad 1 wins (4) set the stage for the 11 vs. 11 matchup with Pitt. But as a team that entered the week firmly on the bubble, that’s a win. If you don’t believe that, ask Vandy fans if they’d trade places.

Who has the easiest path to make some noise?

I mean, Alabama is the obvious answer. That comes with the territory when you’re the No. 1 overall seed. The Tide could be looking at an Elite Eight matchup against a Baylor squad that lost its opening game in the Big 12 Tournament and enters the field having gone 2-4 down the stretch. That would mean the Bears would get through an Arizona team, which like Baylor, ranks in the top 4 nationally in defensive efficiency, but unlike Baylor, was able to halt its late-season skid and win its conference tournament.

If it’s not Alabama, is it crazy to suggest that Auburn got a pretty favorable draw by getting to play in Birmingham?

In the 8-9 matchup against Iowa, Fran McCaffery is a walking technical for a team that can run extremely hot and cold within a game. That might be the right remedy for an Auburn team that has struggled to close games. A blowout win is on the table. And if Auburn can get past Iowa to face No. 1 seed Houston, let’s not forget that the Cougars lost leading scorer Marcus Sasser to a groin injury in the AAC semifinals, and then lost to Memphis without him in the title game. Maybe water is about to find its level with Auburn in these close games.

Who has the toughest path to reach the Sweet 16?

Let’s exclude MSU for the sake of this argument. I don’t care if you think Iowa State is ripe for an upset. Three NCAA Tournament games compared to 2 is a different discussion.

I hated, hated, hated A&M’s draw because I believe Penn State is a brutal first-round matchup. Micah Shrewsberry’s team likes to chuck it from deep. And when they get going, they look like they can beat anyone. They rank No. 5 in America in 3-pointers made per game, and they have 7 Quad 1 wins. That’s not the type of team you’re usually seeing with a matchup against a double-digit seed.

Even if A&M, which has been a considerably different in SEC play, can get past Penn State, Texas awaits. If there was concern that the Longhorns would struggle to weather the storm amidst the Chris Beard fallout, I’d say they passed that test with flying colors. They rank No. 2 in America with 14 Quad 1 wins, the most recent of which came in a blowout win against No. 1 seed Kansas in the Big 12 Championship. They rank in the top 20 in KenPom in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Aggies got a raw deal for a team that went 17-4 against an 8-bid SEC.

Who should make it to the Sweet 16?

I’ll pencil in Alabama as the most dangerous team in America. Barring injury, I can’t see Maryland or (14-loss) West Virginia standing in the Tide’s way of reaching the Sweet 16.

But after that, it’s brutal. I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that the SEC will only have 1 team in the Sweet 16. Again. That happened last year when Arkansas was the conference’s lone participant.

Tennessee terrifies me because while you can picture the ageless Santiago Vescovi celebrating a couple of big victories to close out the opening weekend, how can we put that much faith in the Zeigler-less Vols? I don’t think getting matched up with Louisiana is a particularly tough draw, but Duke in the next round is a different story. The ACC Tournament champions suddenly look mighty dangerous having won 9 in a row in Year 1 under Jon Scheyer.

But maybe, just maybe, limited expectations is exactly what the doctor ordered for Kentucky.

It sets up for a juicy Round of 64 storyline to have Kentucky face off with UK transfer and Providence leading scorer Bryce Hopkins. The Friars have 6 losses since the start of February. Can John Calipari space the floor properly and make the right in-game adjustments? It’s a fair question that even UK fans don’t know the answer to. How fitting it would be if UK faced off with Kansas State, which knocked off the Cats in the Sweet 16 in 2018 when the path seemed clear to a Final Four. A healthy Cason Wallace might be the difference in UK reaching the second weekend for the first time in 4 years.

Will the SEC have a Final Four team? And can anyone besides Alabama get there?

Yes, and probably not.

The SEC hasn’t had a Final Four team since 2019 Auburn, which was a missed double-dribble call away from a national championship berth. Even crazier? The SEC hasn’t had a team in the national championship in 9 years. If anyone outside of Alabama ended that drought, I’d be shocked.

I believe Alabama’s floor and ceiling are the highest in the country. To defend as well as Nate Oats’ squad does while playing at that speed is unparalleled. The Tide have so many ways to beat you, and they really haven’t had any bad losses all year outside of the late-January head-scratcher at Oklahoma. Not to get too far down the road, but even if we hypothetically got an Alabama-Purdue matchup in the Final Four, I like the Tide’s chances of containing Zach Edey with Charles Bediako.

A&M would’ve been intriguing if not for the draw, and while Auburn can absolutely play with anyone, it’s tough to think the Tigers can put 4 games together in which they’ll have to close against top-level competition. Maybe all the pressure is off Tennessee to make that happen, but besides Barnes’ March woes, only 15% of the 21st century Final Four teams failed to reach their conference tournament semifinals.

You could apply that same logic to a Kentucky team that’s been 1 step forward, 2 steps back all year. Whenever they’ve seemingly found the right rotation, they’ve suffered a key injury. Perhaps Oscar Tshiebwe’s final act will be throwing on his cape and leading Kentucky on a surprise run deep into March.

But if I’m betting today, Alabama is the (boring) pick to represent the SEC in Houston.