SEC report: Bulldogs still have work to do

Mississippi State coach Chris Jans reacts to a call during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Missouri on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won 66-64 in overtime. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

The Southeastern Conference appears to have seven teams solidly in position to earn an NCAA Tournament berth no matter how they fare at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., this week.

League champion Alabama is strongly in play for earning the overall No. 1 seed when the selection committee’s brackets come out on Sunday.

The three other teams with double byes for the tournament — Texas A&M, Kentucky and Missouri, which earned its first double bye since joining the conference — are in great shape, as is Tennessee, which fell out of the top four with a 2-3 finish but is still holding the No. 3 spot in the NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings.

Additionally, Arkansas and Auburn, who square off at 6 p.m. Thursday in a second-round game at Bridgestone Arena, look solidly in the field.

The Razorbacks are No. 18 in the NET rankings and they have played the nation’s No. 3 schedule, so despite their three-game losing skid, Coach Eric Musselman’s bunch should not have to sweat Selection Sunday.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, would really like a win at the SECs. The Bulldogs open tournament play on at noon Friday against Florida. In the only previous meeting between the teams, Florida took a 61-59 win on Jan. 21 in Gainesville, Fla.

That loss came during Mississippi State’s 1-7 league start. The Bulldogs have won eight of their last 11 games to play their way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Mississippi State is listed among the last four in by’s Jerry Palm with an 11 seed.

His other projected seeds were 1 Alabama, 4 Tennessee, 5 Texas A&M, 7 Kentucky, 8 Auburn and 9 Arkansas.’s Joe Lunardi also listed Mississippi State among his last four in and Auburn among his last four byes, meaning both are 11 seeds.

He also projects Alabama as a 1 seed, along with 3 seed Tennessee, 7 seeds Kentucky and Texas A&M, 8 seed Missouri and 9 seed Arkansas.

Tourney odds

Regular-season champion Alabama enters the SEC Tournament with the best odds to win the title in Nashville on Sunday. The Crimson Tide have been given 33-20 odds to add the tournament crown as evaluated by

Tennessee was the second favorite at 11-4, followed by Kentucky (9-2), Texas A&M (5-1) the duo of Arkansas (12-1) and Auburn (12-1) and Missouri (25-1).

Every other school has been given 35-1 odds (Vanderbilt) or longer. Georgia and LSU are at the back of the pack with 500 to 1 odds.

No to Oats

While Alabama freshman Brandon Miller was the player of the year selection by conference coaches, Tide Coach Nate Oats did not get the same nod from around the league.

Conference coaches instead split up their voting, which allowed Texas A&M’s Buzz Williams and Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse to share the honor.

Texas A&M earned the No. 2 seed for the SEC Tournament, tying Alabama by finishing four spots higher than in the league media’s predicted order of finish. Missouri led the way by finishing fourth, seven spots higher than projected, followed by Vanderbilt, with was six spots higher.

Who needs what?

Outside the would-be “locks” to make the NCAA Tournament bracket of Alabama, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, the very likely candidacies of Arkansas and Auburn, and the classic bubble team Mississippi State, the rest of the league teams need a huge run in Nashville to qualify.

That grouping starts with Vanderbilt and includes Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

Threads ahead

Vanderbilt Coach Jerry Stackhouse, who shared SEC Coach of the Year honors with Texas A&M’s Buzz Williams in voting by league coaches, can claim another honor just ahead of Williams.

Stackhouse, the former long-time NBA standout, is the hands-down winner of the SEC’s best-dressed award as he and Williams are the only suit-coat wearers in a league now filled with coaches sporting polos, pullovers and team-logo wind suits. Stackhouse sports a variety of fashion colors and does not take off the coat very often as does Williams, who pairs his coat with a vest.

Stackhouse also has the league’s hottest team, as the Commodores enter league play having won eight of their last nine games since a 101-44 drubbing at Alabama.

Not even the league champion Crimson Tide is on as hot a streak as they’ve gone 7-2 in their last nine with losses at Tennessee (68-59) and at Texas A&M (67-61), with the latter coming on Saturday after they clinched sole ownership of the regular season title.

The Commodores’ only loss since Jan. 31 was an 84-77 setback at LSU, which finished in last place. The stretch includes huge wins versus Tennessee (66-65) and at Kentucky (68-66), but Vanderbilt is still outside the NCAA Tournament bubble, listed as a “next four out” team by’s Joe Lunardi.

Still, Stackhouse’s club has put together a huge season with an 11-7 SEC record and sixth-place finish, six spots higher than projected in preseason voting.

“I think our long view of what we envisioned for our program, what we envisioned for this season is starting to pay off and come to fruition for us,” Stackhouse said after Saturday’s 77-72 win over Mississippi State, which left the Commodores 12-5 at home. “And it’s coming at the right time.”

Mizzou blast

Missouri led the SEC by finishing seven spots higher than their preseason projected finish of 11th in voting by league media.

The Tigers, under first-year Coach Dennis Gates, were one of the top feel-good stories in the conference as their 9-3 finish helped snag the program’s first double bye for the SEC Tournament with a No. 4 seed.

The most pivotal outcome during that stretch was an 86-85 road win at No. 5 Tennessee on Feb. 11 that served as the tie-breaker between the teams with 11-7 league records.

The Tigers beat Ole Miss 82-77 on senior day Saturday to cap a 16-3 season at Mizzou Arena.

“Our guys, they gave our very best man, and that’s all I can continue to ask for: Consistency, effort, enthusiasm, different things like that, and all the cliches coaches may have,” Gates said.

“But the one thing I can guarantee that we can look at and examine is the fact that from day one nine months ago, they gave us their heart and I’m appreciative of this group for being able to give that. It’s not easy to trust and give your heart to a stranger, and they gave me theirs.”

Triple time

The only definite SEC Tournament games that will pit league teams against each other for a third time are the first-round game between Ole Miss and South Carolina and the quarterfinal on Friday between Texas A&M and the winner of the Arkansas-Auburn game.

Alabama could also be playing Mississippi State for a third time if the Bulldogs beat Florida on Thursday, and Tennessee would do the same against South Carolina if the Gamecocks win their opening round game against Ole Miss.

No. 2 seed Texas A&M would get Arknsas in a rubber match if the Razorbacks get past Auburn on Thursday.

Other three-game scenarios could also exist as the tournament bracket plays out. However, among the top four seeds, only the Aggies and No. 4 seed Missouri played twice, with Texas A&M capturing both games.

Sweeps and splits

Alabama is the lone SEC team to sweep all of its double opponents this season, going 10-0 against Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, with six victories against that group by double figures and two of them by 40-plus points.

Texas A&M was next with four sweeps (Auburn, Florida, LSU and Missouri) and one split against Arkansas.

Florida was the only league team that had all sweeps in its twice-played games, as the Gators took two from Georgia and LSU but lost a pair to Kentucky, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.

Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt all had two sweeps, while Auburn had one (Ole Miss).

Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina did not have any sweeps.

LSU was swept by four teams (Alabama, Florida, Missouri and Texas A&M) and split with the Razorbacks.

Ole Miss and South Carolina, which won on the other’s home court, suffered three sweeps each.

Alabama, Kentucky and Texas A&M were the only SEC teams who avoided being swept.

Top players

Vanderbilt’s Jordan Wright and Florida’s Riley Kugel pulled down the SEC’s weekly honors for the final week of the regular season.

Wright, a 6-6 senior from Baton Rouge was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 21 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State. He came off the bench to score 23 points against the Wildcats and hit the game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Kugel, a 6-5 guard from Orlando, Fla., averaged 20 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2 assists in wins over Georgia and LSU.


• Texas A&M guard Wade Taylor, the SEC’s top free throw shooter at 86.9%, is 24 of 24 in the last two minutes of games.

• Texas A&M finished 4-0 vs. ranked opponents.

• Vanderbilt forward Liam Robbins, the SEC’s top shot blocker with 3.15 per game who also averaged 15 points and 6.9 rebounds, is out for the rest of the season with a leg injury.