Monday, February 21, 2011

SEC Power Poll Roundtable

Every season, the voters of the SEC Power Poll posit a series of thought-provoking questions that they answer and invite their readership to weigh in on. Below are their questions and our answers, let us know what you think:

1. What teams are locks, probables and bubble teams for the NCAA tournament? Why?
Locks: Florida, Vanderbilt, Kentucky
Probable: Georgia
Bubble: Tennessee, Alabama

The locks, frankly, speak for themselves. All are ranked in the Top #25, all have top 20 RPI's and strength of schedule profiles. Florida, at 10-2, appears to have a firm grip on the SEC East (and perhaps the conference) Title, but with games left at Rupp, at Memorial, and at home against Alabama, Florida is not out of the woods yet.

Kentucky. It's been a tale of two teams. At home, the Wildcats look dominant; on the road, however, John Calipari's squad looks pedestrian and imminently beatable. They have a tremendous amount of talent, but frankly looked better in November and December than they have in January and February. Young teams handle pressure situations differently. Last year's squad seemed to thrive; this year's not so much. However, any team with as much talent as they have is dangerous.

Vanderbilt. They haven't lost since February 1st in Gainesville. With games left against Tennessee and Florida at home, as well as in Baton Rogue and at Rupp Arena, the Commodores should certainly add several more wins before the post-season begins. As we discuss below (perhaps unsurprisingly given this is a Vanderbilt blog), we think the Commodores are the best, most balanced, and potentially dangerous SEC team in the field of 68.

Probable: None. We can't put anyone in his category. The SEC is at least a 4-bid league, but they're probably not a 6-bid league. Between Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama, there are good cases to be made for an against them getting a spot in the tournament, but at least 1 of these teams is probably NIT-bound.

Bubble. Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee. We're not entirely sure the proper order of these teams. Among these 3 however, at least today, Georgia seems to have the best chance. With an RPI of 38, a strength of schedule of 30, and a win on Rocky Top, Mark Fox's team is a good team. With games at Florida, and perhaps most importantly at Alabama to end the regular season, Georgia still has a chance to get a few more quality wins. They'll also get LSU and South Carolina at home. If the Bulldogs can end the year 3-1 in conference play, they should go from "bubble" to "in," but Mark Fox's team can't afford any slip-ups.

Alabama. The Crimson Tide are 10-2 in conference. Admittedly, the SEC West is awful. Alabama has a very low RPI (77) and a bad strength of schedule (130). Anthony Grant's team still has games in Gainesville and against Georgia to improve their profile. They've also got games against Auburn and Ole Miss. Alabama has a #1 seed and bye in the SEC Tournament wrapped up. Realistically, the Tide probably can't finish conference play worse than 3-1, and need a win in the SEC Tournament (preferably against either a Georgia, Kentucky, or Vanderbilt) to feel good about their chances. If Alabama doesn't make the tournament, they'll a have a weak non-conference schedule replete with some bad losses to blame.

Tennessee. We're not just putting Tennessee on the bubble because we enjoy thinking of the Volunteers squirm (although that's an added bonus). Tennessee has an RPI of 33 and a strength of schedule of 2. Tennessee has some great wins (Pittsburgh, Villanova), and even worse losses (Oakland, Charlotte, USC, and College of Charleston). Bruce Pearl's team is just 1-3 after returning from his 8 game suspension, and have lost 4 of their last 5. Tennessee's final 4 games (Vanderbilt, vs. Mississippi State, at South Carolina, and vs. Kentucky) are critical. With their home loss against Georgia, Tennessee is probably going to finish no better than 5th in the East. If the Volunteers don't finish at 2-2, they are in serious trouble. Even a .500 finish means the Volunteers would be heading into the post-season losers of 8 of their final 11. I think UT finds a way in, but I won't be surprised at all if they don't end up a 9 seed.

2. What is your story of the year for the conference?
This is a tough one, but the story of the year for us was Tennessee's schizophrenic season. The Bruce Pearl saga has been a constant refrain, and it seems hard to argue that his team hasn't been effected by his off-the-court issues. As discussed, the Volunteers have a completely polarized tournament resume: they've got 12 losses, but have a ridiculous record against RPI Top 50, and in many respects, their results are a microcosm of college basketball this year.

3. Who is your player of the year? Why?
John Jenkins, Vanderbilt. The conference's leading scorer, the sophomore guard has anchored the Commodores success and provided the every night pop the Commodores had been lacking. Jenkins is not just a "shooter," but rather as developed over the season as a scorer. He's gotten better at scoring in the lane, taking the ball to the rim, and getting to the free throw line. His long-range prowess is well know, and if given any space, he'll knock down shots. Worse news for the SEC, the kid is only getting better.

4. Who is the coach of the year? Why?
Anthony Grany, Alabama. In his second year at Bama, Grant created a hard-playing and tough group that is clearly the best team in the SEC West. He doesn't have the most talent in the conference, despite being firmly in control of their division. Still, Grant's team plays great defense and has found ways to win in conference play. They're not a lock for the NCAA's yet, but the job Coach Grant has done cannot be stressed enough.

5. What SEC team will go furthest in the NCAA tournament? In one of the other post season tourneys?
Vanderbilt. The fact that this is a Vanderbilt blog should make this answer unsurprising. It also happens to be true and based on supportable facts (at least as far as we're concerned). Here's what Kevin Stallings' team has going for it: very good guard play (and play that's getting even better with the emergence of Kyle Fuller), size, depth, and the ability to score in diverse ways. Vanderbilt has the best 3-point shooting team in SEC, they've made more free throws than any other team has attempted, and they can score in the paint. If Lance Goulbourne and Andre Walker can get health(ier), the Commodores can realistically go 9 deep. They can hurt you in a lot of different ways. They played a tough non conference schedule, and learned how to win close games against quality opponents (mostly by losing them in December and January). This squad has enough veteran presence to hang tough on off nights and is hitting stride at right time (getting healthy too).

Bonus Question:Does any team not currently in your NCAA tournament discussion have a team that could win the SEC tournament?
Mississippi State. It seems that over the past few seasons, there's a team that comes out of nowhere to win, or at least play for, the SEC Tournament crown (Mississippi State last year, Georgia in 2008), This year, we think Rick Stansbury's team will be that team once again. The Bulldogs of Mississippi State are loaded with talent, but they have demonstrated poor focus, discipline, and mental toughness all season. Still, a hot streak and swagger could get these guys to a conference championship and the dance.

We want to hear what you all think, weigh in below in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

Stallings is coach of the year considering injury issues etc.

Grant made hay vs. the weak side of the SEC.

HeimThyme said...

You know you read this blog to much when you find yourself agreeing with everything in such a long post.

Nice work.

Chuck Heston said...

The SEC will get 6 Tourney bids: VU, KY, FL, GA, AL, TN (based mostly on SOS).

I predict that 2 SEC teams will face one another for a chance to make it to the Sweet 16.

2 SEC teams will make it to the Elite 8. 1 of them will be VU.

Vandy-Montana said...

that can't happen as teams can't meet each other until regional final...until this year when the big east gets more than 8 teams in.

Lex Dominica said...

I think Alabama is a lock, too. They have steadily improved during the course of the year. If the committee puts more emphasis on the last half of the season, there shouldn't be a question. They are a tough, well-coached team. The only thing they are lacking is an outside threat.

They are obviously the best team in the West and it would be very difficult to keep the team with the best conference record out of the Dance. I hope we don't have to face them again in the SEC tourney.

Drew said...

Anonymous 4:46 said "Grant made hay vs. the weak side of the SEC."

Um, really? Did you even bother to look at his record against the East? Alabama is 3-1 so far against the strong side.

But yeah, I vote for Stallings anyway.