The SEC placed a record eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, but based on some of the seedings and matchups, it’s unlikely that the conference will have many teams in the Sweet 16.
That said, there are a couple that have easier roads to the second weekend of March Madness than others, and a couple of squads that have legitimate beefs with the NCAA Selection Committee.
Much like this year’s SEC Tournament, the NCAA tourney is wide open, with a number of teams that could cut down the nets in San Antonio. Here’s a look at the two SEC teams that have the best chance to make a deep run and the two squads that might be heading home early:
Easiest paths to the Final Four
If seeds hold: vs. No. 14 Wright State, vs. No. 6 Miami, vs. No. 2 Cincinnati, vs. No. 1 Virginia.
Skinny: The Vols are relatively healthy entering March Madness, and that can’t be overstated. They also have a manageable first-round game against a Wright State team that is coming out of the Horizon League.
A second-round matchup against Miami or Loyola-Chicago doesn’t look like too much trouble, which means the Vols could face No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the Sweet 16.
That would be an interesting test, as the Bearcats and Vols are very similar. According to KenPom.com, the Bearcats have the No. 2 adjusted defense in the country and the No. 54 offense. The Vols, meanwhile, have the No. 4 defense and the No. 40 offense.
Obviously, nothing is easy this time of year, but this does appear to be the most manageable road to the Elite Eight that any SEC team has.
If seeds hold: vs. No. 13 Charleston, vs. No. 5 Clemson, vs. No. 1 Kansas, vs. No. 2 Duke.
The Tigers didn’t have the best end to the season, even though they won a share of the SEC regular-season title. They were banged up, with several players not at 100 percent and key F Anfernee McLemore going down for the year.
However, they actually have a manageable draw, with a game against No. 13 seed College of Charleston in the first round and a potential date with No. 5 Clemson in the second round.
By losing in blowout fashion to rival Alabama in their first game in the SEC Tournament, the Tigers got some much-needed rest and could enter the NCAA Tournament refreshed and ready to make a run.
Toughest paths to the Final Four
If seeds hold: vs. No. 12 Davidson, vs. No. 4 Arizona, vs. No. 1 Virginia, vs. No. 2 Cincinnati.
Skinny: John Calipari joked that the Wildcats were going to get sent to Anchorage, Alaska, for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but he wasn’t that far off.
Kentucky will head to Boise for its opener against a red-hot Davidson team that won the Atlantic 10 title Sunday. If the Wildcats win that dangerous 5-12 matchup, they’ll likely have to face an Arizona squad that many think can make it to the Final Four, if not further.
This isn’t to say that the Wildcats can’t advance to the Sweet 16, as they looked incredible en route to the SEC Tournament title, but they’ll certainly have their work cut out for them if they want to advance beyond the first weekend.
If seeds hold: vs. No. 10 Providence, vs. No. 2 North Carolina, vs. No. 3 Michigan, vs. No. 1 Xavier.
Skinny: The Aggies made their own bed by struggling down the stretch, and now they’ll have to turn things around if they want to make it out of the first weekend.
Texas A&M, a No. 7 seed, faces a No. 10 Providence that has a win over Villanova on its resume. Should the Aggies win that game, their reward is a likely date with North Carolina — you know, the team that won the title last year.
It’s tough to envision the Aggies advancing to the Sweet 16 this year, based on the way they struggled down the stretch and their tough draw.