Florida and Alabama appear to be on a collision course for March 1 in Gainesville, and it would take a major collapse for either to lose their division lead at this point. The Tide's non-conference failures still hang over their resume, but their effort in Nashville, even in a loss, could do some some favors with the selection committee.
The next four in the East may play each other too often to get all of them on the dance floor, but we're in for a crazy race for the other first round bye in the SEC Tournament. Here's our ballot with three weeks to play:
1. Florida (20-5 - 9-2 - RPI 11)
Lock the doors behind them. Overtime wins over Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt, a two point win over Kentucky and a one point win against the Vols on Saturday. This team knows how to execute at the end of the game. 12-2 since the overtime loss to Jacksonville.
2. Vanderbilt (18-6 - 6-4 - RPI 15)
Other than the egg they layed against Arkansas, this team has been unbeatable at home. They made huge strides there this week from the bubble to the dance floor with close wins over the next two teams in our poll. They've still got the win over North Carolina in their back pocket too. They get LSU and Auburn sprinkled in with the other four East contenders the rest of the way home.
3. Alabama (16-8 - 8-2 - RPI 87)
Their play in Nashville made me even more of a believer, with their vaunted defense shredded for 81 points yet they still had a chance to win. No letdown in a ten point win over Ole Miss on the rebound, they'll now spend two weeks in SEC West obscurity before they finish with Florida in Gainesville and Georgia in Tuscaloosa. Very much alive in the SEC race, if not the favorite based on strength of schedule.
4. Kentucky (17-7 - 5-5 - RPI 14)
You hate to make it as simple as "can't win on the road", and don't forget they did spank Louisville away from Rupp...but their only SEC road win is in Columbia. They've only got Fayetteville and Knoxville left, and will get three very winnable games (Mississippi State, at Arkansas, South Carolina) before finishing with Florida, Vanderbilt, and at Tennessee. Their panic is relative to their past success; this team will get in with plenty of room to spare.
5. Tennessee (15-10 - 5-5 - RPI 30)
The Vols have already played seven games against the RPI Top 25 (3-4) and ten against the Top 50 (6-4). Plain and simple, Tennessee needs more wins, and will be the favorite in four of their next five.
6. Georgia (17-7 - 6-4 - RPI 42)
DId themselves no favors with the home loss to Xavier, and they continue to live dangerously with close wins against inferior competition. Playtime is over: Vandy in Athens on Wednesday, then consecutive trips to Knoxville and Gainesville. Dawgs have to get one of these to stay in.
7. Ole Miss (16-9 - 4-6 - RPI 61)
Three game winning streak came to an end in Tuscaloosa, but having already played everyone in the East but Carolina, they could really get on a roll to finish. Even winning out probably wouldn't get them in, but they can easily get a first round bye in Atlanta and have their best basketball ready for an SEC Tournament run.
8. South Carolina (13-10 - 4-6 - RPI 119)
Using head-to-head to give them the advantage over Arkansas; Gamecocks also beat Florida and Vanderbilt in their first four SEC games, but are 1-5 since with the only win over LSU, and a 15 point home loss to Auburn included. Also included: a nine point first half against Georgia.
9. Arkansas (15-9 - 5-6 - RPI 107)
Broke a three game losing streak with a win over LSU, but John Pelphrey could be running out of time. Get a non-conference date with FAMU this week, but then it's Alabama and Kentucky.
10. Mississippi State (13-11 - 5-5 - RPI 146)
Lost to Auburn.
11. LSU (10-15 - 2-8 - RPI 220)
12. Auburn (9-15 - 2-8 - RPI 272)