With just three weekends left in the Southeastern Conference baseball regular season there are still questions about who will represent the SEC in Hoover, Ala. May 21-26.
The SEC announced last year an expanded field for the conference baseball tournament. Instead of 10 teams qualifying, there will now be 12 of the 14 SEC teams in action.
Seeds 5-12 will meet in a single elimination format on the opening day of the tournament, followed by traditional double-elimination play Wednesday through Friday. The tournament will return to single elimination play on Saturday. The total number of games played will not change, remaining at 17.
The 12 teams are seeded 1-12 with the two divisional champions and top four seeds guaranteed opening-round byes, with the possibility of earning another bye later in the bracket. The tournament field will include the top teams from the SEC’s Eastern and Western Divisions plus 10 at-large bids seeded 3-12 based on conference winning percentage.
As it stands on May 3, Vanderbilt and LSU would be the top two seeds and are the only two teams absolutely guaranteed a spot in the tournament because with only eight or nine games left on the SEC schedule, the Commodores and Tigers can’t lose enough games to fall below the current bottom two teams; Tennessee and Georgia.
But there will be a lot of jockeying for position over the next three weeks, and the Volunteers and Dawgs aren’t out of the picture. Both Tennessee and Georgia could climb back into tournament contention.
Below are the current SEC baseball standings as ranked by tournament selection criteria, conference winning percentage. Let’s talk scenarios.
Vanderbilt and LSU, as stated above, have already qualified for the SEC Baseball Tournament.
Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss are on the cusp of punching their tickets to the tournament. Some could do so as early as this weekend.
Mississippi State and Kentucky are both USA Today Baseball Top 25 teams but must avoid a late-season let down.
Mississippi State just dropped three games to Vanderbilt last weekend and still has three games at Alabama, Ole Miss and South Carolina to end the season. Those two series—at Ole Miss and home against South Carolina—are tough and will be critical for the Bulldogs.
Kentucky has dropped eight of its last 10 games and has weekend series against Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Missouri left on the regular season schedule. The Wildcats are only three games ahead of Tennessee, the No. 13 seed and first team on the outside of the conference tournament looking in.
If Kentucky drops 80 percent of its remaining games, the Wildcats may not qualify for the Hoover trip.
4 Teams, 3 Spots
Texas A&M, Missouri and Auburn each have seven wins and Tennessee has six. Only one game separates (actually 1.5 in the case of Texas A&M who is dealing with a postponed game) these four teams who are battling for three spots; the final tournament seed 10, 11 and 12.
Texas A&M plays both Missouri and Tennessee in series over the next three weekends. A lot of the seeding questions could play out in those six games.
Missouri has Texas A&M, Alabama and Kentucky, all teams still fighting for position. Kentucky could be especially dangerous in the final weekend of regular season play if the Wildcats continue their downward spiral.
Auburn still faces Ole Miss, Florida and Arkansas, by far the toughest remaining schedule of these four teams fighting near the bottom.
Tennessee plays Georgia this weekend, which has just four wins in SEC play, and then faces Arkansas and Texas A&M. The Vols are currently out of the tournament as the 13th-ranked team in the SEC, but could gain ground quickly.
The 14 Seed
Georgia is not mathematically eliminated from being able to climb up into the SEC tournament field, but its road is tough.
After facing Tennessee this weekend (Saturday’s 7 p.m. ET game will be broadcast on CSS), the Dawgs play South Carolina and Florida over the remaining two weekends. Ouch.
Current SEC Baseball Tournament Standings
1. Vanderbilt 19-2
2. LSU 17-5
3. Arkansas 13-7
4. South Carolina 13-8
5. Florida 12-10
6. Alabama 11-9
7. Ole Miss 11-10
8. Mississippi State 10-11
9. Kentucky 9-12
10. Texas A&M 7-13
11. Missouri 7-14
12. Auburn 7-14
13. Tennessee 6-15
14. Georgia 4-16