Eager to improve on his league's disappointing 2012-13 season in which it only produced three NCAA tournament bids, SEC commissioner Mike Slive confronted the problem head on.
He hired former NCAA tournament guru Greg Shaheen to advise the league's coaches on their non-conference schedules and asked that every team submit its non-league slate to the conference for guidance and approval.
Slive's plan is smart in the long run, but it apparently is going to take more than stronger schedules to improve whatever ails SEC basketball. One year later, the league looks likely to get only three NCAA tournament bids again, an embarrassing total for a 14-team power conference.
Top-ranked Florida of course is a lock, as is Kentucky. And bubble team Tennessee moved closer to joining the Gators and Wildcats in the field on Friday by taking out South Carolina to set up an intriguing SEC semifinal matchup with Florida.
Aside from that, however, the outlook is pretty bleak.
Arkansas had played itself into contention before finishing with season-killing losses to Alabama and South Carolina. Missouri too had hope entering the SEC tournament despite a fairly blah resume, but the Tigers' failed bid to upset Florida on Friday in the SEC quarterfinals may have relegated them to the NIT. There's always a chance a talented LSU team or a surging Georgia team could make an SEC tournament run and steal a bid, but for now both appear to be NIT-bound as well.
The SEC has produced its share of national champions in recent years, from Florida in 2006 and 2007, to Kentucky in 2012. Florida could add to that total this year, but that doesn't change the fact that the league is behind its power-conference brethren as a whole.
Teams whose stock rose Friday:
• Saint Joseph's (22-9, 11-5): Langston Galloway's late 3-pointer to beat Dayton didn't just advance the Hawks to the Atlantic 10 semifinals. It also may pushed Saint Joseph's closer to making the NCAA tournament. The Hawks are 5-5 against the RPI top 50 with a trio of wins over Dayton and victories against UMass and VCU. They also have only one bad loss on their resume, a 77-69 setback at Temple. Nothing Saint Joseph's did in the non-conference portion of the schedule will help much, but the Hawks have done enough since then to have a chance to make the field. Avoiding a loss to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 semifinals, however, still might be wise.
• Pittsburgh (25-8, 11-7): For a while it seemed that Pitt's inability to beat marquee teams might doom the Panthers to the NIT, but they've quashed that talk with their ACC tournament performance. Beating Wake Forest was essential. Upsetting North Carolina in the quarterfinals may not have been, but it gives Pitt the top 40 win it had been lacking and ensures the Panthers' place in the NCAA tournament. With 25 wins, a No. 40 RPI and no losses to any teams worse than NC State and Florida State, Pittsburgh is a step ahead of bubble teams and is probably headed for a No. 9 or 10 seed.
Teams whose stock fell Friday:
• Nebraska (19-12, 11-7): Had Nebraska managed to hold onto an 18-point second-half lead against Ohio State in the Big Ten quarterfinals, the Huskers would have erased any remaining doubt regarding whether they belong in the NCAA tournament. Instead they allowed the Buckeyes to rally for a 71-67 victory that ensured an anxiety-ridden two days in Lincoln. Nebraska made a strong case by finishing fourth in the Big Ten and winning 11 of its final 15 games including marquee victories against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota. That boosted the Huskers' RPI to No. 41, but will it outweigh a 4-11 record away from home and bad losses to UAB, Purdue and Penn State? It will be close, but the guess here is Nebraska sneaks in.
• Dayton (23-10, 10-6): The possibility of Dayton hosting a First Four game on its home floor remains after the Flyers failed to get the win that probably would have guaranteed their spot in the field. They lost to St. Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals and now must wait until Sunday to find out their fate. Thanks to victories over Saint Louis, Gonzaga, UMass and George Washington, the Flyers have four top-30 wins and an 9-7 record against the RPI top 100. The only anchor weighing down Dayton's resume is three sub-100 losses against Rhode Island, Illinois State and USC. Dayton has probably done enough to make the field despite the loss on Friday, but it's not so safe that the next two days won't be nerve-wracking.
• Florida State (19-13, 9-9): We won't know for sure until Sunday, but Friday's 64-51 loss to Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals certainly felt fatal for Florida State. At the very least it was a squandered chance to secure a marquee victory that would have boosted the Seminoles' hopes of an NCAA bid. Nothing about Florida State's resume suggests that it should compare well to other bubble teams. It has only three wins against RPI top 50 teams -- VCU, Pittsburgh and UMass. It's 6-12 against the RPI top 100. It's RPI is in the mid-50s. No bad losses aside from a stumble against Miami helps a bit, but Florida State will probably regret failing to finish off upset bids against Michigan and Florida during non-league play.
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