ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
University of Tennessee photo / Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi, who joined the Volunteers in late December.

The Southeastern Conference men's basketball race has been separated into three tiers heading into the final four weekends of the regular season.

Auburn, Kentucky and LSU are each 9-2 in league games with seven contests remaining, and all three are undefeated at home against SEC foes. In fact, had it not been for Evansville stunning Kentucky and East Tennessee State pulling its surprise whipping of LSU during nonconference play, this trio would be a combined 42-0 overall within their respective campus confines.

At the bottom of the league are four teams — Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt — that do not have winning overall records or the rosters to win four or five consecutive games at next month's SEC tournament in Nashville.

In between the upper and lower echelons are half of the league's participants, who have been on roller-coaster rides to this point and look like NCAA tournament teams on their best days and marginal NIT material on their worst.

Here is a look at the SEC's seven teams that have yet to punch their NCAA tickets but have yet to remove themselves from consideration:

 

FLORIDA

some text
AP photo by Wade Payne / Florida guard Andrew Nembhard, right, keeps the ball away from Vanderbilt's Scotty Pippen Jr. during an SEC matchup Feb. 1 in Nashville.

Records: 15-9, 7-4 SEC

NET ranking: 38th

Snapshot: The preseason No. 6 team in the Associated Press poll has hardly looked the part, dropping five games by double digits, including a 16-point setback at Missouri and last Saturday's 68-51 loss at Ole Miss. The Gators regrouped to whip Texas A&M 78-61 in College Station on Wednesday night and should get to 8-4 in league play Saturday by hosting Vanderbilt. Florida will have plenty of chances to state its NCAA tournament case during its final five regular-season games, when the Gators will face Kentucky twice and LSU once.

 

ALABAMA

some text
AP photo by Vasha Hunt / Alabama forward Alex Reese (3) and some of his Crimson Tide teammates join the student section to celebrate after beating Auburn 83-64 on Jan. 15 in Tuscaloosa. The Tide lost at Auburn on Wednesday, 95-91.

Records: 13-11, 5-6 SEC

NET ranking: 39th

Snapshot: The Crimson Tide had a quality nonconference schedule and routed Auburn by 19 points last month in Tuscaloosa, but they missed a chance to sweep the Tigers with Wednesday's 95-91 loss in overtime, when Alabama set SEC records for both 3-point attempts (59) and makes (22). "That's probably a few too many, to be honest with you," Alabama first-year coach Nate Oats told reporters when asked about the 3-point barrage. "We need a few more paint touches." The return of junior forward Herb Jones from a wrist injury certainly should help in this stretch run, as would a win Saturday against visiting LSU.

 

ARKANSAS

some text
AP file photo by Michael Woods / Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt Jr. scored 19 points on 11-of-16 shooting as one of the only bright spots for the Razorbacks in Tuesday's 82-61 loss at Tennessee.

Records: 16-8, 4-7 SEC

NET ranking: 44th

Snapshot: No team on this list is trending more in the wrong direction than Eric Musselman's Razorbacks, who picked up a notable nonconference triumph by winning at Indiana but have lost three straight SEC games — falling in overtime to Auburn and Missouri before getting routed 82-61 Tuesday night at Tennessee. With sophomore guard Isaiah Joe recovering from a knee procedure, Arkansas obviously isn't at full strength, and junior guard Mason Jones didn't start against Tennessee, reportedly as the result of a heated exchange with Musselman during the loss at Mizzou. The Hogs have two monster games coming up against Mississippi State and Florida.

 

MISSISSIPPI STATE

some text
AP file photo by James Crisp / Mississippi State's Reggie Perry and the Bulldogs have gone from 5-3 in the SEC to 6-5, putting their NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy.

Records: 15-9, 6-5 SEC

NET ranking: 49th

Snapshot: Ben Howland's Bulldogs lost their first three SEC games and then won five straight to get to 5-3, when sophomore forward Reggie Perry became the favorite to be voted league player of the year. They took a 10-2 lead at Ole Miss on Tuesday night before getting shredded 81-48 the rest of the way in an 83-58 loss. Mississippi State visits Arkansas on Saturday in a matchup of two teams that could be bordering on desperation.

 

TENNESSEE

some text
AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee coach Rick Barnes instructs freshman guard Davonte Gaines during the Vols' 77-64 home loss to Kentucky this past Saturday.

Records: 14-10, 6-5 SEC

NET ranking: 63rd

Snapshot: When the Volunteers closed 2019 with a 20-point home loss to Wisconsin and opened 2020 with a 14-point home loss to LSU, whether this team could produce a winning season was a legitimate question. Of course, Rick Barnes is Rick Barnes, and this is a team that has been mostly solid since that two-game slide, with the exception of the 80-63 loss at Georgia and the 63-58 setback against visiting Texas A&M. Santiago Vescovi, Jordan Bowden and John Fulkerson provided nice balance during Tuesday's drubbing of Arkansas, but the Vols need a 5-2 close at minimum against a schedule that includes two games against Auburn, a trip to Rupp Arena and Saturday's must-win matchup at surging South Carolina.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA

some text
AP photo by Julie Bennett / South Carolina guard AJ Lawson, left, is fouled by Auburn's J'Von McCormick on Jan. 22 in Auburn, Ala.

Records: 15-9, 7-4 SEC

NET ranking: 65th

Snapshot: Frank Martin's Gamecocks somehow are on track for their fourth winning conference record in five seasons, with sophomore guard AJ Lawson leading the way this time around after connecting on 12 of 21 shots during the past two victories, against Texas A&M and Georgia. Nonconference losses to Boston University and Stetson left South Carolina with a steep climb to the NCAA bubble, but the 75-59 rout of Georgia in Athens on Wednesday vaulted the Gamecocks from 75th to 65th in the NET rankings.

 

OLE MISS

some text
AP file photo by Thomas Graning / Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree scored 40 points Tuesday night as his team routed Mississippi State 83-58 in Oxford, but the Rebels are just 4-7 in SEC play this season.

Records: 13-11, 4-7 SEC

NET ranking: 81st

Snapshot: The Rebels made the NCAA tournament last year but lost their first five SEC games this season and six of their first seven. They have since won three straight by 56 points, with Breein Tyree scoring 40 during Tuesday night's 25-point bludgeoning of rival Mississippi State, but all three blowouts transpired in Oxford. Ole Miss has SEC home losses to Arkansas, LSU and Auburn, so the Rebels will have to make those up on the road and then some to remain in even the most remote of NCAA tournament conversations.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

 

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT