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Now is No Time for Sharing, Ladies

With only one week to go, the SEC women's standings were supposed to be relatively clear at this point. Instead, there is a tie for first between Tennessee and Kentucky (each sporting an 11-3 conference record and 1-1 head-to-head record between them) and a logjam of teams in positions three through seven. And if you include Florida in the 'haves' since they're only one game behind Vandy, the Alabama and Mississippi schools have played the foil nicely to create a wonderfully muddy picture for the SEC tournament seedings.

In the regular season, ties are ties: they don't stop anybody from kissing sisters. If Tennessee and Kentucky win out, they'll be co-champs of the regular season. But ties don't work in the tournament, especially when it involves the 4 through 7 seeds and a potential bye in the opening round. And with Tennessee and Kentucky tied in standings and in head to head, their fates are currently attached to the logjam, with each time cheering for a different horse. And to make matters worse, a certain lack of clarity in the tiebreaking procedure could completely change the seeding. So if the UT/UK tie remains, here are the SEC rules for tiebreaking among two teams:

  1. Win/Loss results of head-to-head. (Tie)
  2. Win/Loss results of the two teams vs. the number 1 seed, then progressing down until the tie is broken.
  3. Coin flip.

That second rule presents some serious problems. (Warning: this gets wildly confusing ahead.)

If things ended today, there would be four teams tied for #3 in the SEC. But how do you break that tie? It's not clear whether you can break the 3-6 tie prior to breaking the 1-2 tie, especially because a 3+ tie has the same second rule as a two-team tie. Rule #1 for 3+, however, is best W/L percentage among the tied teams, so let's take a look at that. The four teams are Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU, and Georgia.

  • Arkansas: 2-2 (50%)
  • South Carolina: 0-3 (0%)
  • LSU: 2-1 (67%)
  • Georgia: 2-0 (100%)

So, if the 3-seed tiebreak is allowed, the order is Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina. Going back to UT/UK, we see that both are 100% against Georgia (2-0 for UT, 1-0 for UK). It's not entirely clear whether percentage or total tally matters, but let's say percentage counts and we move on. Tennessee is 1-0 vs. LSU, and Kentucky is 0-1. So right now - for today only - Tennessee wins the tiebreaker.

There's a delicious little bit of zigzwang in play: Kentucky's win over Vanderbilt on Monday hurt their tiebreaker as it dropped Vandy (a team with a win over Tennessee) below the line. Vanderbilt is currently 2-3 against the others, but they do have a win over LSU, so if they were in the mix, LSU would drop to a tie with Arkansas and be perilously close to flipping the advantage to Kentucky.

Fortunately, the upcoming games will break things up in a big way. While we see a massive pileup of teams today, it's very possible to have the 1-2 tiebreaker decided, even if the two teams in question still need to play Sunday's games to finish the tie. On Thursday, Kentucky plays their second zugzwang in a row when they host South Carolina. Kentucky's win would knock their second best hope for winning a tiebreak off the line entirely. Also, LSU hosts Vanderbilt. If Vandy can win, they would bring LSU down into a tie with them and hold the tiebreaker.

Factoring these three teams only, you get this:

  • Vanderbilt: 2-2 (50%)
  • South Carolina: 2-1 (67%)
  • LSU: 1-2 (33%)

In this case, Kentucky gets the tiebreak. But it only happens if Vanderbilt beats LSU. In pretty much any other scenario, Tennessee has the edge. So on Thursday, UT fans are obviously rooting for Tennessee and South Carolina (UK's opponent) so that the picture is clear. (A Kentucky loss also nullifies their advantage with South Carolina, but that's not nearly so important as a Kentucky loss itself would be.) But other than that, Tennessee fans are rooting for Future Lady Vol Head Coach™ Nikki Caldwell and the Lady Tigers to take care of business against Vanderbilt. If Tennessee and LSU win, then Tennessee is in great shape to enjoy the #1 seed, and Kentucky's hopes for their first-ever #1 seed would have to wait at least one more year.

BUT ...

All that assumes that the SEC can break the lower tie first. Again, the rules are not clear on that point, especially since the tiebreakers themselves go from the top down. So if you instead take the logjam as an aggregate, then against those four teams at the top, the UT/UK records are:

  • Tennessee: 4-1 (80%)
  • Kentucky: 2-1 (67%)

So Tennessee is favored in this case, and if LSU and Kentucky prevail on Thursday, the advantage only grows. It'll be interesting to see how the tiebreaker is enforced. I do think the four-way tie will dissipate significantly in the next two games, but it's still anybody's guess how it all plays out.

And above all ... #beatArkansas