The final SEC Power Poll results have been released. There were 12 blogs participating in the final poll. By this point, those who have been following basketball know what each team has done during the season, so in my comments for each team I'll focus on two things: the team's position in the SEC tournament, and their prospects for postseason play.
1) Kentucky (144, unanimous #1) - The Wildcats, by winning their 43rd SEC championship, earned a first-round bye in the SEC tournament. They will open on Friday at noon against the winner of Thursday afternoon's Alabama-South Carolina game. They are an NCAA tournament lock and are currently projected as a #1 seed. They would likely hold on to that #1 seed even if they lose their opening game in Nashville. Even though they don't have much to play for this week, they won't want to disappoint the thousands and thousands of Cats fans who are sure to make the short drive from Lexington to Nashville. Expect about 80% of the fans on Friday afternoon to be decked out in Kentucky blue.
2) Vanderbilt (131) - The Commodores had their best conference record in over a decade in route to earning a bye in the SEC tournament as the #2 seed from the East. They will open on Friday in the night-cap against the winner of Thursday night's Arkansas-Georgia game. They are an NCAA tournament lock and are currently projected as a #4 seed. The Dores will be looking to improve to a #3 seed with some wins this week in their home city of Nashville. They also want to avoid losing their second game in a row heading into the Dance and dropping anywhere below a #4 seed.
3) Tennessee (121) - The Vols had a very good season, especially considering they lost their leading scorer midway through the season and had to deal will lengthy suspensions on top of that. Unfortunately for them, though, they play in the same division as both Kentucky and Vandy, so their #3 seed in the East means they will have to play on the opening day, when they face lowly LSU in Thursday afternoon's second game. Should they advance, which is likely, they will meet Ole Miss on Friday afternoon. Tennessee is an NCAA tournament lock, and are currently projected as a #4 seed. Like Vanderbilt, they are jockeying for seeding in the Dance and should have something of a home court advantage playing in the state of Tennessee. They are perhaps the hottest team in the league right now as well so they'll be looking to carry that momentum into the Dance.
4) Florida (104) - The Gators are desperate to get back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence following their back-to-back national championships. They've had a pretty good season, but like Tennessee, they've been hurt by competing in the tougher East division. They must play on the opening day against a dangerous Auburn team in Thursday night's opening game. If they can take care of Auburn, they will face off against Mississippi State on Friday night. Florida is a bubble team right now, although they are currently projected as a #11 seed. Losing to Auburn could very well be a death-blow to their chances, but as long as they get through that first game, they have a good shot. If they were to also get through MSU, they would seal their trip to the Dance.
5) Ole Miss (93) - The Rebels started the season off strong but then failed to win their big games in conference play. They were still good enough against West teams to earn the division's #2 seed, though, so they will get a bye into Friday afternoon's second game, where they will face the winner of the Tennessee-LSU game. They are considered a bubble team, and are currently one of the "first four out" according to ESPN. This means that their opening matchup on Friday, most likely against Tennessee, will be do-or-die. This is their chance to finally get a win against one of the league's elite teams. If they can get that win against Tennessee, they should have a very good shot, and anything past that could lock it up. Lose that opener, though, and they are NIT-bound.
6) Mississippi State (91) - The Bulldogs, as expected, were good enough to win the West. Unfortunately for them, though, they did very little besides that. As the #1 seed in the West, they earned a bye into Friday night's opening game, where they will face the winner of the Florida-Auburn game. They are still clinging to the NCAA bubble, but just barely. They are currently projected as one of the "next four out" on ESPN, which means they are still in the running for an at-large bid, but they have some serious work left to do. First of all, they need to hope that Florida is their opponent on Friday. Playing Auburn and their pitiful RPI is a lose-lose proposition. Winning on Friday is a must, regardless of opponent, and then they probably also need to win their second game, preferably against Vanderbilt. Even if they win their second, it might not be enough if they do it against Arkansas or Georgia. Bottom line, the only way they're totally safe is to win the whole thing, but they could sneak in with a couple of quality wins, which is what they're lacking right now. If they fail to do that, they'll be NIT-bound.
7) South Carolina (60) - The Gamecocks looked promising early on, but faltered down the stretch. As the #5 seed in the East, they will open up at noon on Thursday against Alabama. If they can get past the Tide, they would then face Kentucky on Friday afternoon. The Gamecocks have a solid RPI and winning record overall, so they are in contention for an NIT bid, but they still have work left to do. Winning the opener against Alabama would give them a chance for an invite, and beating Kentucky for a second time would probably lock them in for the NIT. If they go down in the opener though they'll probably be staying home this post-season.
8) Alabama (55) - The Tide has had a very frustrating year with promising signs for the future. Thanks to a strong final week, they rose to grab the #4 seed in the West division, which means they will open up with South Carolina at noon on Thursday. If they can beat the Gamecocks for the second time in 8 days, they would then face Kentucky at noon on Friday. Like South Carolina, Alabama is in fact in contention for an NIT bid, although if they were to lose the opener it would probably knock them out of contention. Even if the Tide gets past the Gamecocks, losing the second round game to Kentucky would leave things doubtful as far as an NIT invite is concerned. Somehow getting past Kentucky though would be a huge boost that would likely push them into the postseason.
9) Arkansas (52) - The Hogs played without their best player for most of the non-conference schedule, and the results were brutal. So brutal, in fact, that despite finishing with a solid SEC mark, their RPI is hovering in the 140s. They were still good enough in the SEC to earn the #3 seed in the West, so they will open up in Thursday's late game against Georgia. If they advance, they would face Vanderbilt on Friday night. Due to their low RPI, the Hogs need to win the SEC tournament to go to the postseason. They have proven to be a much better team in SEC play, so don't count them out completely, but losing their last five games in a row isn't too promising.
10) Georgia (43) - The Dawgs have looked promising at times this year and probably exceeded expectations in the win/loss columns. Still, their bad loss to LSU to close the season knocked them down to the #6 seed in the East. They will open up in Thursday's late game against Arkansas. If they win, they would advance to face Vanderbilt on Friday night. Georgia's sub-.500 overall record will probably preclude them from postseason play unless they run the table this week. They have played extremely well this year against the league's elite teams, so it's possible. Plus, they accomplished that very feat just two years ago with what was probably an even weaker team.
11) Auburn (30) - The Tigers had a decent SEC record, but their lackluster results against a poor non-conference schedule leaves their RPI in the doldrums. They will go into the tournament as the #5 seed in the West, facing Florida in the opening game of Thursday night's session. If they knock out the Gators, they would advance to face Mississippi State on Friday night. They are a dangerous team and, as usual under Jeff Lebo, they are playing much better at the end of the season, but they must win four in a row to get a postseason invite of any kind.
12) LSU (12, unanimous #12) - LSU finished as one of the weakest teams the SEC has ever seen. They are the #6 seed in the West and will face Tennessee in the second game on Thursday afternoon. They did win two of their last four games, so it's not completely out of the question they could win a game or two, but anything more than that would constitute the greatest SEC tournament miracle run of all time.
NOTE: the website NIT-ology has us currently projected as a #7 seed in the NIT. The site seems reasonably reliable, but here's the thing: their projections are assuming no more automatic qualifiers in the NIT. To be fair, if you read just above the projections, they explain this pretty well. Basically, there are 11 conference tournaments left to be played where, if the #1 seed doesn't win, that will take away a spot for at-large teams in the NIT. They are predicting that at least four more spots will go to automatic qualifiers, and if that is the case, we would miss their cut. That is why it is so important for us to get at least one more win in order to even have a chance once those other teams begin to chip away at the available spots. Even if we beat South Carolina, I think it will be very close at best, probably coming down to how many conference champions fail to win their tournament and thereby steal an NIT bid away from the at-large pool.