Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
The SEC Tournament gets underway on Wednesday, but thanks to Trevor Releford’s half court game winning shot at the buzzer on Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide secured a double bye and will not play until Friday at 2:30 CT.
Alabama’s win over Georgia and Missouri’s loss to Tennessee gave the Crimson Tide the 4-seed in the SEC Tournament, which means they need only three wins to take home the SEC Tournament Championship and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
An auto-bid to the Big Dance is the only sure way in for the Crimson Tide. They are on a weak bubble at the moment, and are on the outside looking in for a berth. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Alabama is in the ‘Next Four Out’ category. They are the sixth team being left out behind Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss, Baylor and Southern Miss.
It’s safe to say the Crimson Tide has some work to do in order to make it into the tournament for the second year in a row. The good news is that they will have every opportunity to boost their resume this week.
So, can Alabama win three games in three days to win the SEC Tournament an automatically qualify for a bid to the NCAA Tournament? It’s certainly possible.
The conference tournament is wide open. Florida and Missouri are the only two teams who are considered locks for the tournament, so every other team is fighting for their postseason lives.
Alabama’s road is not easy. They are automatically in the quarterfinals thanks to Releford’s heroics, but they have two huge obstacles standing in their way of making it to the championship game on Sunday.
In all likelihood, Alabama will take on Tennessee in Friday’s quarterfinals. The Vols should take care of either Mississippi State or South Carolina on Thursday without much issue. If that’s the case, then the Tide and Vols will battle for the third time this season with each team having won on their home floor.
Alabama topped Tennessee 68-65 on January 12th in Tuscaloosa, but the Vols avenged that loss with a 54-53 win in Knoxville two weeks later. Alabama seemingly had the game in Knoxville won, having led for the majority of the afternoon until the game’s final minutes. Trevor Lacey had a shot to win the game at the end, but the refs swallowed their whistles on what should have been a foul that led to two Lacey free throws to tie or win the game.
Either way, both previous meetings came down to the wire, so Friday’s potential matchup in Nashville will most likely come down to the game’s final minutes.
The Vols have been one of the best teams in the SEC since the middle of February led by SEC Player of the Year candidate Jordan McRae and the conference’s third leading rebounder in Jarnell Stokes.
Tennessee is 8-1 in their last nine games with the only slip-up coming on the road to Georgia. In that span, they earned wins over Kentucky, Florida and Missouri to put themselves in position to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a win or two in the SEC Tournament.
This game has the feel of an NCAA Tournament elimination game with the loser being knocked from contention. The Crimson Tide has to win this game to have any shot at an at-large berth. A loss on Friday would undoubtedly put the Crimson Tide in the NIT.
If Alabama is able to knock out Tennessee to advance to the Semifinals, then the Crimson Tide would most likely take on No. 1 seeded Florida on Saturday. The Gators will play the winner of Georgia and LSU on Friday, and they won all three combined meetings against those two by double digits in the regular season.
The Gators were far and away the best team in the SEC this season, and it would take Alabama’s best game in order to knock them out. The Crimson Tide gave Florida a tough game in Gainesville on March 2nd, but Billy Donovan’s crew kicked into another gear and went on a 25-5 run to finish the game after Alabama had opened up an eight point lead in the second half.
Still, on a neutral court, if Alabama plays with a sense of urgency and gets strong games from Releford and Lacey, then they could conceivably pull the upset and advance to Sunday’s championship game.
I think if Alabama knocks off Tennessee and Florida then it would be enough to earn them a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but it would help if they went ahead and finished the deal on Sunday and won the SEC Tournament.
They would more than likely play Kentucky, Ole Miss or Missouri in the championship, and I like their chances against any of those teams. They beat Kentucky at home, but lost road games to Ole Miss and Missouri.
Still, if Alabama can knock off Florida, then they can beat any of those three.
The SEC Tournament is wide open, so why not Alabama? If the Crimson Tide can put together three days of their best basketball, then they could very well be the team left standing in Nashville.
Follow John on Twitter.