In addition to numerous exciting games already taking place and still to come in various conference tournaments around the nation, the Southeastern Conference will play its basketball championship tournament next week. The top team in that bracket is the still-hot Alabama Crimson Tide, who won their last two games to move their SEC record to a sterling 15-2. This accompanies their 20-6 overall record and No. 8 AP ranking (they are No. 5 in the most recent edition of the Coaches Poll). With their February 27 road win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the Tide clinched Tuscaloosa’s first SEC basketball regular season crown since 2002. As they await their regular season finale (March 6 at Georgia), the SEC bracket continues to take shape, and it appears that after the conclusion of the Tide’s already-earned double bye, there are still a number of opponents they could end up facing in the quarterfinal round. In that round, they will be matched up against the winner of the 8-seed vs 9-seed game, which will take place during the second round.
Kentucky is one team in the possible mix for an 8 or 9 seed in the conference tournament. Although Alabama swept them during the regular season, including a game in which they won in Rupp Arena for the first time since 2006, Kentucky is not a friendly opponent during conference tournament time. In each consecutive season from 2015-16 to 2018-19, the Wildcats were the team to knock the Tide out of the tourney. Only one of those four games, a semifinal during the 2016-17 season, was a single-digit margin of victory. The Cats, who were a Luke Maye miss away from overtime in that season’s Elite Eight, shut down a valiant effort from Avery Johnson’s Alabama team and won 79-74. The next year, Kentucky beat Alabama 86-63 in the semis after Bama convincingly upset that year’s regular season champion (Auburn) in the quarterfinals.
Mississippi State is another conference foe on the list of teams that Bama swept during the 2020-21 regular season. After a January battle between the two in Coleman Coliseum, Alabama was again tested by the Bulldogs in February as they looked to secure the SEC regular season title. As mentioned above, Bama prevailed, but only by a slim 64-59 margin. The most recent conference tournament meeting between the two teams was during the 2017 tournament. Then-5th seeded Alabama won that game by 20. Mississippi State has now taken the champs to the limit twice. They next face Texas A&M in the Aggies’ first game since January 30. Not unlike Big Blue, the Bulldogs present an upset threat to Alabama if they wind up taking them on a third time.
A potential opponent with an outside chance at a path to Alabama is Georgia. Athens’s Bulldogs lost to their Starkville counterparts to open league play, but they do have a 63-62 win against Kentucky. They currently sit at 10th in the SEC standings. Georgia surrendered 115 points to Alabama in the two teams’ only meeting to date. They will go head to head with the Crimson Tide again on March 6, and if they can’t spring the upset, it effectively puts their realistic chances at meeting Bama for a third time away. During their February 2020 meeting in Athens, which is the Tide’s most recent trip to Georgia, Alabama won in overtime by a score of 105-102.
None of these teams are certain of their conference tournament fate yet, as their official seeding and ensuing bracket placement have yet to be determined. Fans can expect a much clearer picture of the bracket at the conclusion of the SEC regular season. Additionally, once the two teams who will face each other for a quarterfinal bid square off, a win becomes imperative. Alabama has been in this position recently; they escaped the second round as the 9-seed with a thrilling buzzer-beater against Texas A&M in 2018. Any one of these teams is an interesting matchup for Bama; after all, when is March Madness ever boring? A key aspect of March Madness is that nobody ever truly knows what to expect.