SEC stacked with NCAA Tournament bubble teams

National Sports

Auburn’s Austin Wiley pulls down a rebound during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Missouri on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

The SEC has three teams that should be locks for the NCAA Tournament.

The rest of the conference may have some work to do.

No. 11 Auburn (22-3) climbed as high as No. 5 in The AP Top 25 and was among the top 16 seeds in the NCAA’s preliminary rankings earlier this month. The Tigers have lost just three times in their follow-up to the 2019 Final Four run.

No. 12 Kentucky (20-5) was No. 1 early in the season, among the initial NCAA top 16 and has won eight of nine.

No. 25 LSU (18-7) has slipped up lately with three losses in four games, but still should be in the field of 68, barring a late-season collapse.

Then things get interesting.

Florida (16-9) bounced back from losing four of six by beating Texas A&M and Vanderbilt last week. The Gators have a tough road ahead, though, with Arkansas, Kentucky (twice) and LSU still left on the schedule.

A fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance under Mike White will likely depend on those games.

“Their team is so good,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said after a 78-61 loss to the Gators on Wednesday. “They put stress on you in every possible way.”

South Carolina (16-9) has a strange resume with wins over Kentucky and Virginia offset by home losses to Boston University and Stetson. Six wins in seven games and a winning SEC record (8-4) should help the Gamecocks’ chances.

Arkansas (16-9) has gone from appearing to be safely in the bracket in coach Eric Musselman’s first season to being on the bubble.

The reason: Isaiah Joe’s knee injury.

The sophomore guard was the SEC’s sixth-leading scorer before undergoing knee surgery on Feb. 4. The Razorbacks have played four games since then and lost every one.

Arkansas has a couple of resume-building opportunities coming up, with games against Florida and LSU before the SEC Tournament.

Mississippi State’s last-second win over Arkansas on Saturday was a huge boost to the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament chances. The win was Mississippi State’s second against a Quad 1 opponent and gives the Bulldogs (16-9) a chance at a 20-win regular season with no games left on the schedule against the SEC’s top 3 teams.

Alabama’s waning NCAA Tournament chances got a huge boost with a win over LSU this week and a four-point loss to Auburn doesn’t look too bad. Still some work to do, but those will look good on the resume.

RISING

Virginia (17-7), 9-5 ACC). The reigning national champions survived what could have been a debilitating loss by beating North Carolina by two — yes, the Tar Heels have fallen that far — and have some resume-building potential, with No. 7 Duke and No. 5 Louisville coming up.

Creighton (20-6, 9-4 Big East). Seven wins in eight games, including over No. 10 Seton Hall, has Greg McDermott’s team in good shape.

Rutgers (18-8, 9-6 Big Ten). The Scarlet Knights’ run toward their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991 got a nice bump with a win over Illinois on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s (21-6, 8-4 WCC). The Gaels won a can’t-lose game against Pacific on Saturday and have a couple of more before facing No. 2 Gonzaga in the regular-season finale.

FALLING

Illinois (16-9, 8-6 Big Ten). The No. 22 Illini have lost four straight and saw star Ayo Dosunmu go down with a knee injury against Michigan State. The good news: Dosunmu suffered no structural damage and Illinois has a solid resume to this point.

Stanford (16-9, 5-7 Pac-12). Once the surprise of the Pac-12, the Cardinal are stuck on the bubble after seven losses in eight games.

Memphis (17-7, 6-5 AAC). Blowing a 10-point lead in an overtime loss to Cincinnati was a big blown opportunity. Two games against Houston and another against Wichita State will be huge.

Virginia Commonwealth (17-8, 7-5 Atlantic-10). Three losses in four games makes Tuesday’s showdown with Dayton massive.

____

For more AP college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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