Four Bubble Teams Need Multiple Wins in SEC Tournament
Thanks to Saturday's 61-57 home upset of No. 11 Florida and end to a two-game losing streak, the University of Kentucky has increased their chance of being able to defend their national championship. The Wildcats don't want to push the issue, however, with a quick exit in this week's SEC Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Nashville.
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The victory earned Kentucky the No. 2 seed in the tournament, and right now the school is among the "last four in" for the NCAA Tournament on ESPN's Bracketology. The main drag on Kentucky's resume is a 4-7 road mark, and the Cats won't be playing in Lexington again unless it's in the NIT. In the 51 years the SEC Tournament has been held, Kentucky has captured 27 titles and has won 84% of their games in the tourney. Yet the team didn't win it last year on the way to the national title. Vanderbilt upset the Cats 71-64, handing UK their only SEC loss of the season.
As one of the top-four seeds, Kentucky has a bye into the quarterfinals, where they will face either 10th-seeded Vanderbilt - in their home city - or No. 7 Arkansas on Friday. UK lost at Arkansas 73-60 on March 2 and edged Vanderbilt 74-70 at Rupp Arena on February 20. That was Kentucky's first win after star freshman Nerlens Noel was lost for the season with a torn ACL. The team is 4-3 in his absence, with all three losses on the road. UK is +700 to win this tournament.
Top-seeded Florida, the -160 Bovada favorite, hasn't won the SEC Tournament since winning three straight from 2005-07, with the Gators winning national titles in those two final seasons. The Gators are just 3-3 in their past six games. Close games have been their Achilles' heel as Florida is 0-5 in games decided by single digits this season. UF will open play Friday against the winner between Georgia and LSU.
There are three SEC teams in addition to maybe Kentucky that likely need a good run in the conference tournament to have a shot at an NCAA at-large bid: third-seeded Ole Miss (+1200), No. 4 Alabama (+1500) and No. 5 Tennessee (+2000). If form holds, the Rebels would play Missouri in the quarterfinals. All nine of Mizzou's losses have come away from home, but the Tigers seem safe for an at-large bid. Alabama would play Tennessee in the quarters if the Vols can get past the South Carolina-Mississippi State winner on Thursday. Should the Vols and Tide face off, the loser likely can kiss the Big Dance goodbye.
Pac-12 Tournament Runs Key for Colorado, ASU
The Pac-12 appears to have four locks for NCAA Tournament at-large bids: regular-season champion UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and California. It shouldn't thus matter what that quartet does in the Pac-12 Tournament, which starts Wednesday in Las Vegas - the first time it has been held in Sin City.
Fourth-seeded Arizona is the +180 favorite to win the tournament, which they haven't done since 2002. The Wildcats had lost two straight before beating Arizona State 73-58 to close the regular season. ASU (+2000) probably now has to at least reach the tournament final to have a shot at an at-large bid into the Big Dance as the Sun Devils lost their final four games. They open against Stanford and would face UCLA with a win and then potentially Arizona in the semifinals. Those three victories might be enough. ASU has never won the Pac-12 Tournament and is 0-3 against ranked teams this year.
Colorado (+800) is the fifth seed and the defending tournament champion. The Buffs open Wednesday against Oregon State and can't afford a loss at 20-10 overall and 10-8 in the Pac-12. The big question for Colorado is if it will have Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Andre Roberson for the game. The team believes he should be able to play after missing the past two with an illness. He leads the nation in rebounding at 11.5 boards per game and averages 10.5 points. Colorado lost to Oregon State 64-58 on Saturday without Roberson.
Should CU beat OSU this time, they would face Arizona on Thursday. That's a game the Wildcats don't want. They beat Colorado 92-83 in overtime in the Pac-12 opener for both but only when a winning three-pointer by Colorado's Sabatino Chen at the end of regulation was waived off by officials. On Valentine's Day in Boulder, CU beat the Wildcats handily 71-58. Wins over Stanford and Arizona would all but guarantee Colorado's NCAA Tournament spot. The school hasn't played in back-to-back Big Dances since the early 1960s.
None of the top four teams in the Pac-12 enter with much momentum. Cal (+700) was the hottest of the group but saw their seven-game winning streak end last Wednesday in an 83-70 loss to Stanford. The Bears' Allen Crabbe was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year after leading them in scoring at 18.6 points per game.
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