published Monday, March 4th, 2013

Wiedmer: SEC opportunities to capture NCAA invites are shrinking

What if Florida is the only Southeastern Conference team invited to the NCAA Tournament?

What if everybody else is out, including defending national champ Kentucky, which is officially on the outside of ESPN resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi's tourney bubble today after Saturday's loss at Arkansas?

What if a conference that is SECond to no one in football superiority suddenly becomes SECond to every other BCS league come March?

OK, so maybe one SEC school among the NCAA tourney's 68 invited guests is a bit of a reach. If March Madness began today, Lunardi has the Gators, Missouri and Tennessee all in the field.

And given that the Vols host Mizzou on Saturday, it would seem all but certain that one of those teams reaches the Big Dance.

But let's say the Tigers -- who've already been humbled by Louisville in a neutral site game and lost to UCLA -- were to lose at home this week to Arkansas, then beat UT.

Let's further say that UK loses out at Georgia and in its home finale against Florida on Saturday. And while all of this is going on, Alabama falls at Ole Miss, then Ole Miss loses over the weekend at LSU.

At that point, every team in the league save Florida would have at least seven league defeats in a conference that's widely perceived to be no better than eighth nationally.

What then?

How does the selection committee -- which hasn't exactly been kind to the league the last few years -- sift through all that, should it be necessary?

Beyond that, how important does the SEC Tournament become in Nashville if Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee all need at least two more victories to feel good about their NCAA tourney chances?

Do you think those last few unsold tickets in the Music City would be gone by opening night? And maybe not all of them to UK's Big Blue Nation, as is customary?

To be fair, what happened almost across the board in college basketball this past weekend -- excepting Louisville's big win at Syracuse -- was what is supposed to happen this time of year: The ... home ... team ... won.

Whether it was the Hogs over the Cats, Georgia over UT, Florida over Bama, Mississippi State (seriously?) over Ole Miss, Michigan over Michigan State or Duke over Miami, familiarity bred contentment for the host school.

The good news for UT's Big Orange Nation is that the Vols have somehow managed to lose to Georgia for the second time in a month and yet still advanced up the March Madness ladder.

Then again, perhaps that's what happens when two of the schools who barely beat you -- Georgetown and Virginia -- become a potential No. 1 seed (Georgetown) and defeat Duke (UVA) in the same week.

So what happens next? The feeling from this corner is that every SEC team in contention save Florida needs at least three more wins, with Ole Miss and Bama possibly needing four more.

UT needs to win at Auburn and at home against Missouri, then win at least one SEC tourney game, if not two, to get in. Kentucky must split between a road trip to Georgia and home game against Florida, then win one or two SEC tourney games. Missouri is still living off a hot November and December, but should the Tigers lose two of their next three, they might even be in trouble given their poor road record in league play (2-6).

But however much all these SEC schools are in limbo, none seem as uncertain of their future performances as UK.

Said Cats coach John Calipari after Saturday's 13-point loss at Arkansas: "I wake up every day and don't know how this team will play."

When you're still uncertain of that on the first weekend of March, you may never know. But you can begin to prepare for where they'll play during the last half of March, which will likely be the NIT.

Or as it may be known by then ... the SECond Chance Invitational.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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