Kentucky’s 6-7 SEC record going into its game against Alabama on Saturday raised a question: How likely is it for a team with a losing SEC record to receive a bid to play in the NCAA Tournament?
Short answer: It happens.
Since the NCAA Tournament field expended to 64 teams in 1985, SEC teams have received 157 bids. Of those 157 bids, six went to teams with losing records in league play.
Three of the six teams got into the NCAA Tournament through the automatic bid that goes to the winner of the SEC Tournament. Most notably, Georgia had a 4-12 league record in 2008, and then won the 2008 SEC Tournament. Of course, that was the SEC Tournament that moved to Georgia Tech when a tornado damaged the Georgia Dome. Georgia’s second-round victory over UK featured another once-in-a-lifetime oddity: Billy Gillispie ordered a player (Perry Stevenson) to goaltend a free throw.
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Arkansas (7-9) and Auburn (7-9) got into the NCAA Tournament by winning the SEC Tournament in 2000 and 1985, respectively.
Since 1985, three SEC teams with losing records received NCAA Tournament bids without winning the league tournament: LSU (8-10) in 1987, Alabama (7-9) in 2003 and Arkansas (7-9) in 2007.
How did the six teams with losing SEC records fare in the NCAA Tournament?
Four of the six lost first-round games. But Auburn won two games in 1985 before losing to North Carolina in the Sweet 16. LSU won three games in 1987 before losing to Indiana in the Elite Eight (That was the game in which Bob Knight received a technical foul after pounding a telephone on the scorer’s table.).
By the way, 12 teams that finished with .500 SEC records have received bids to the NCAA Tournament since 1985.
Conclusion: With the SEC basketball profile higher than usual this season, it would seem there’s a greater chance for a team with a losing league record to receive a bid.