What’s at stake in the 2023 SEC Tournament?

The 2023 SEC tournament kicks off in Nashville, Tenn., this week, here’s a look around the league at where each team stands heading into the postseason:

THE TEAMS PLAYING WEDNESDAY

No. 12 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Ole Miss, 6 p.m. CT

No. 11 Georgia vs. No. 14 LSU, 8 p.m. CT

No. 14 LSU Tigers (13-18, 2-16 SEC)

134th Strength of Record (SOR), 155th NET, 151st KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): N/A

The good news for the Tigers is that they have the best player of any of the teams in the bottom four in senior forward K.J. Williams, averaging 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds. LSU also came up just shy in its first meeting against Bulldogs, falling 65-63 on the road. The team was 3-1 in neutral-site games during its non-conference slate. If Williams gets hot, the Tigers could pull off the first-round upset and live to see another day.

LSU didn’t look particularly strong down the final stretch of the season, though, losing its last three contests and giving up a 19-point lead against Missouri in its final home game of the year. They Tigers will need to be at their very best to beat Georgia and they have rarely been that this season.

Best Case: K.J. Williams goes off and the Tigers upset Georgia in the first round

Worst Case: LSU loses to the Bulldogs and their season comes to an end

No. 13 Ole Miss Rebels (11-20, 3-15 SEC)

156th SOR, 129th NET, 113th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): N/A

The dismissal of Kermit Davis might’ve given the Rebels the wake-up call they needed. After interim head coach Win Case took over, Ole Miss won its next game against LSU and stayed close in losses to Texas A&M and Mizzou, two teams in the top four of the league. Junior forward Jaemyn Brakefield has emerged as another high-volume scorer for the team, alongside junior guard Matthew Murrell. Playing against a South Carolina team one spot ahead of them is about as close to a 50-50 game as the Rebels are going to get, splitting their season series with the Gamecocks.

But Ole Miss has struggled closing out close games all year, going 1-6 in conference matchups that were decided by five points or less. It’ll be tough for the Rebels to overcome that trend in March.

Best Case: The Rebels edge out South Carolina and take on a vulnerable Tennessee team in the second round

Worst Case: Ole Miss drops another tight game and promptly begins its head coaching search

No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks (11-20, 4-14 SEC)

164th SOR, 228th NET, 216th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): N/A

South Carolina played better as its schedule got easier, going 3-4 down the final stretch of the regular season, its wins coming against LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia. The road victory over the Rebels should be especially encouraging going into the tournament, as they fell to Mississippi at home earlier in the season by 12. Senior forward Hayden Brown had a strong run of games to close out the year, scoring at least 10 points in nine of his last 11.

The Gamecocks’ tourney fate will come down to freshman forward G.G. Jackson and how well he plays up to his potential. If he’s at his best, he should be able to guide South Carolina into the second round.

Best Case: The Gamecocks take out Ole Miss to advance to the next round with a chance to take out Tennessee

Worst Case: South Carolina gets upset by the Rebels and lose G.G. Jackson to the NBA Draft

No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs (16-15, 6-12 SEC)

109th SOR, 153rd NET, 148th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): N/A

Georgia pulled off a couple of impressive wins throughout the season, including victories over Auburn, Mississippi State and Kentucky at home. Of all the teams in the bottom four of the conference, the Bulldogs presumptively have the best chance at reaching the quarterfinals, especially with their ability to get to the free throw line and knock down foul shots. Junior guard Kario Oquendo has started to find his rhythm, too, posting two 20-point outings in the team’s final four games.

But it’s been a long time since Georgia picked up a win, going into the tournament riding a five-game losing streak. Coaches typically want their teams playing their best basketball as March rolls around. The Bulldogs don’t appear to be doing that.

Best Case: Georgia snaps its losing streak by taking out LSU and potentially upsets Vanderbilt in the second round

Worst Case: The Bulldogs get bounced by the last-place team in the conference

THE TEAMS PLAYING THURSDAY

No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 Mississippi State, Noon CT

No. 5 Tennessee vs. South Carolina/Ole Miss, 2 p.m. CT

No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Arkansas, 6 p.m. CT

No. 6 Vanderbilt vs. Georgia/LSU, 8 p.m. CT

No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks (19-12, 8-10 SEC)

42nd SOR, 18th NET, 19th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 8.61

The Razorbacks got a welcome addition back to the roster a few weeks ago as freshman guard Nick Smith Jr., the No. 2 prospect in the 2022 class, came back from injury just in time for the team to make a postseason push. Smith’s been electric in his return, dropping at least 24 points in three of the five games he’s played in since being cleared to be on the floor. The team should have a small advantage in that most of the conference hasn’t gone up against Smith before, Auburn included.

Arkansas is still adjusting to Smith being back in the rotation, though. The team beat Florida and Georgia in his first two games back, but ended the year losing to Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky to fall to 10th lace. The Razorbacks have the talent to push any of the higher seeds to their limit, but the team will need to build up its chemistry to do so. Arkansas should fairly comfortably make the NCAA tournament, but could look to climb the seeding ladder with a few wins in the SEC tournament.

Best Case: The team starts to mesh with Nick Smith Jr. and surprises both Auburn and Texas A&M to make a run to the semifinals

Worst Case: The Razorbacks continue struggling to find their footing with Smith and fall to the Tigers in their opening game

No. 9 Mississippi State Bulldogs (20-11, 8-10 SEC)

47th SOR, 46th NET, 45th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 10.85

MSU is squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble heading into the conference tournament. Most bracket projections have the Bulldogs making it to the Big Dance, either as a 10 or 11 seed. But many of the forecasts predict the team to be one of the last four in. Mississippi State did itself a huge favor by taking down Texas A&M at home on Feb. 25, 69-62, but hurt its chances by falling to Vanderbilt on the road in its regular season finale on Saturday, 77-72.

It leaves the Bulldogs with some work to do to secure its place in the field of 68. They’ll lean on their suffocating defense to try to grind their way past Florida in the second round, but they’ll need senior big man Tolu Smith to carry them on offense to make it any further.

Best Case: Mississippi State takes care of Florida to boost its tournament odds before heading into a tough matchup with top-seeded Alabama

Worst Case: The Bulldogs are upset by the Gators and miss out on the Big Dance

No. 8 Florida Gators (16-15, 9-9 SEC)

72nd SOR, 59th NET, 59th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): N/A

Florida’s tournament hopes took a turn for the worse after senior center Colin Castleton suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s game against Ole Miss on Feb. 15. The Gators lost their following three games, then ended the year with a pair of wins over bottom-four teams Georgia and LSU.

The team isn’t considered to be in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and will need to win the SEC championship to keep its season alive. That type of run seems unlikely — despite senior guard Kyle Lofton and freshman forward Riley Kugel taking over the scoring load, the team’s ceiling is significantly lower without Castleton. A matchup against a Mississippi State team that runs its offense through the post could be troublesome for Florida.

Best Case: Kyle Lofton and Riley Kugel have big games and the Gators surprise MSU

Worst Case: Florida gets run over by Tolu Smith without Colin Castleton and exit the tournament early

No. 7 Auburn Tigers (20-11, 10-8 SEC)

29th SOR, 32nd NET, 26th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 9.34

Auburn is another team that might be on the NCAA tournament bubble, but is more likely to be in than out. The team ended the regular season with a Senior Day win over Tennessee and will come into the postseason riding that momentum. Junior guard Wendell Green Jr. and sophomore forward Johni Broome have been solid for the team all season long.

But the Tigers have been particularly inconsistent for the last month and a half. The team opened SEC play going 6-1 and ended it going 4-9. Two of the wins were against bottom-four opponents in Georgia and Ole Miss. They haven’t won back-to-back games since mid-January, an especially glaring red flag for a team that is hoping to make a deep run in the tourney. A trip to the quarterfinals would likely cement Auburn’s status as an NCAA tournament team. But without it, the team will be holding its breath on Selection Sunday.

Best Case: The Tigers return to form to get by Arkansas and Texas A&M, reaching the semifinals

Worst Case: Auburn fails to string together its second win in a row for the fourth time since January and goes into Selection Sunday with some uncertainty

No. 6 Vanderbilt Commodores (18-13, 11-7 SEC)

52nd SOR, 83rd NET, 81st KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): N/A

Vanderbilt has been one of the unexpected success stories in the league this year, going from being voted to finish in 12th place to winning 11 conference games for the first time since the 2015-16 season and finishing in sixth. The team got off to a 3-6 start in SEC play but closed the year out by going 8-1 and now enters the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Commodores aren’t a likely NCAA tournament team, but could angle to clinch 20 wins on the year in the conference tournament.

However, the team lost a key piece of its roster as senior forward Liam Robbins, its leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker, suffered a season-ending injury in a 68-66 win over Kentucky on March 1. Vandy managed without Robbins in its regular season finale, defeating Mississippi State at home. But on a neutral floor, the Commodores might not be able to keep the good times rolling.

Best Case: Vanderbilt works around the loss of Liam Robbins to win in the second round, giving the team a shot to pick up its 20th win on the season against Kentucky

Worst Case: The Commodores can’t make up for Robbins’ absence and suffer an upset at the hands of Georgia or LSU

No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers (22-9, 11-7 SEC)

19th SOR, 3rd NET, 5th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 3.34

Tennessee’s loss at Auburn on Saturday cost the team dearly, as it lost a tie-breaker with Missouri to miss out on the No. 4 seed and a double bye into the conference quarterfinals. The Volunteers are another team who lost an important member of their starting lineup as sophomore point guard Zakai Zeigler, who led the SEC in assists this year, has been ruled out for the season with a torn ACL.

The team has more depth than most other schools to handle that type of loss — Tennessee flattened Arkansas, 75-57, despite Zeigler playing for just three minutes in the game. The team also led Auburn through the first half of Saturday’s game by four. But it doesn’t mean the Volunteers aren’t vulnerable, as evidenced by the Tigers’ second-half comeback. The team isn’t at risk of missing the NCAA tournament, but it will need to prove to the selection committee that Zeigler’s injury shouldn’t alter their seeding.

Best Case: Senior guard Santiago Vescovi makes a seamless transition at point and Tennessee’s defense carries them to the semifinals

Worst Case: The Volunteers struggle without Zakai Zeigler’s shot creation get bounced by South Carolina or Ole Miss

THE TEAMS PLAYING ON FRIDAY

No. 1 Alabama vs. Mississippi State/Florida, Noon CT

No. 4 Missouri vs. Tennessee/South Carolina/Ole Miss, 2 p.m. CT

No. 2 Texas A&M vs. Auburn/Arkansas, 6 p.m. CT

No. 3 Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt/Georgia/LSU, 8 p.m. CT

No. 4 Missouri Tigers (23-8, 11-7 SEC)

15th SOR, 48th NET, 55th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 7.77

The Tigers’ NCAA tournament resume doesn’t have many holes in it. The team has zero losses against Quad 2-4 opponents, five wins over Quad 1 opponents and three wins away from home against likely tournament teams. Mizzou is the only school in the SEC that can boast that it is undefeated in neutral site games, defeating both UCF and Illinois in non-conference play. A loss in the SEC tournament wouldn’t necessarily hurt the Tigers, depending on the opponent, but a win could certainly bump them up a seed.

Missouri is currently on a four-game winning streak, its last victory over Ole Miss locking the team into fourth place and a double bye to the quarterfinals. The Tigers have never played on Saturday in the SEC tournament and now need just one win to do so for the first time in program history. The team might have the firepower to go even deeper — even though Alabama blew Mizzou out in their regular season meeting, 85-64, the Crimson Tide did so without facing All-SEC First Team selection Kobe Brown. A potential rematch might see the Tigers play a bit better.

Best Case: Mizzou shoots the lights and catches a few teams off guard to make a deep postseason run

Worst Case: The Tigers flounder against Tennessee’s rugged defense and settle for a middling seed in the NCAA tournament

No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats (21-10, 12-6 SEC)

23rd SOR, 19th NET, 21st KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 6.16

Kentucky re-established itself as a force in the SEC over the final third of conference play, going 5-1 to close out the regular season. The Wildcats roster one of the most dominant big men in the league in senior center Oscar Tshiebwe and have become one of the better shooting teams in the country, making 35.9% of their 3-pointers. Kentucky will be seeded in the NCAA tournament like it’s a top-25 team in the country and might have the pieces to earn the program’s first SEC tournament title since 2018.

The Wildcats have had a handful of head-scratching losses in the regular season, though, falling to South Carolina, Arkansas and Vanderbilt at home as well as Georgia on the road. The team shot just 30.0% from outside or worse in three of those losses — to reach the places expected out of a blue-blood program like Kentucky, the Wildcats will need to find their range from distance.

Best Case: Kentucky handles a Vanderbilt team desperately missing Liam Robbins on the boards and does what it takes to reach the SEC championship game

Worst Case: The Wildcats go cold from long range and get knocked out in the semifinals

No. 2 Texas A&M Aggies (23-8, 15-3 SEC)

22nd SOR, 23rd NET, 24th KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 6.18

The Aggies may have been doubted after going 8-5 through non-conference play but have since proven themselves to be true title contenders in the SEC. Texas A&M enters the postseason with a massive chip on its shoulder after reaching the conference championship game last year and being snubbed of an NCAA tournament berth. The Aggies showed they’ll be able to compete with anyone in the field by beating Alabama at home in the regular season finale, 67-61.

The team will need to outperform its shortcomings on the road to make it all the way back to the championship game again. Six of the Aggies’ seven losses this year have come outside of Reed Arena. Still, head coach Buzz Williams demonstrated that his style can be exceptionally successful in a tournament setting and will look to right the wrongs of last season.

Best Case: Texas A&M flexes its physicality on defense and sophomore point guard Wade Taylor IV fuels the team’s offense to return to the SEC championship game

Worst Case: The Aggies trip up away from home again and get surprised by Auburn or Arkansas

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (26-5, 16-2 SEC)

2nd SOR, 2nd NET, 3rd KenPom

Average NCAA tournament seed projection (per Bracket Project): 1.00

The loss to Texas A&M in the regular season finale on Saturday wasn’t the exclamation point the Crimson Tide were hoping for to punctuate a dominant run through the conference. But it should leave the team feeling like it has unfinished business, still needing a few more wins to secure its spot as the No. 1 overall seed in the field of 68.

If there are no upsets this weekend, Alabama has the easiest path to the SEC championship game. That likely won’t be the case, though, and the Crimson Tide will have to get past a trio of good teams to wear the conference crown. Alabama’s only stumbles on the year have come away from home. But with SEC Player of the Year Brandon Miller leading the way, the Crimson Tide should be the favorite in every matchup they play in.

Best Case: No one is able to hang with the Crimson Tide’s mixture of stifling defense and up-tempo, perimeter-heavy offense and Alabama cruises to an SEC title and the top seed in the NCAA tournament

Worst Case: The team comes up short against another solid team in the conference and misses out on the chance to win both the regular season and tournament championships

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