Tourney talk: Can Ole Miss make the NCAA field? Can Arkansas get a two?

 Chris Lee   in Basketball

Things are lining up for Ole Miss to make the NCAA field, while Arkansas has a shot to get a two-seed

The Southeastern Conference is set to get six teams in the NCAA tournament, and Ole Miss could make a seventh. Here's a look at the Rebels' situation and more.

Ole Miss getting closer

"The door is wide open for Ole Miss... a win tonight and the Rebels could be knocking on the door as the first team out of our next bracket projection. After that, who knows? Bubble teams are losing all over the place." 

Those were the words of renowned bracketologist Joe Lunardi just before the Rebels tipped off against South Carolina on Thursday evening. The Rebels took a first step by knocking off the Gamecocks, 76-59, just afterwards.

Let's start with the big picture.

There should be 21 one-bid leagues, making for 47 more spots presuming there are no upsets in the other 10 conference tournaments.(Remember, the Ivy League isn't playing this year.) 

I had Ole Miss ranked 52nd coming into Thursday, with the 10 teams ahead of them (in order) being UCLA, Syracuse, Louisville, Colorado State, Utah State, Boise State, Wichita State, Drake, St. Louis and Xavier. 

Obviously, lots needs to be re-evaluated after Thursday's results. 

The bad news: Beating South Carolina, which has a NET ranking of 133, does nothing to help. 

The good news: Loss-avoidance keeps Ole Miss in the conversation on a day in which a lot of other bubble teams fell.

Wednesday started a favorable turn of events when bubble teams Xavier (62 NET) lost to Butler (114). Louisville (57) lost to Duke the day before. 

Duke, which started to play itself into the conversation with that win, suddenly saw its season ended due to Covid-19 issues.

Opinions were split coming into Thursday as to whether Boise State (43 NET) is tourney-worthy or not, but a loss to Nevada (98) may have killed the Broncos' chances.

UCLA took a bad loss to Oregon State (106). Most feel the Bruins are in the tournament, but with a 2-6 record against Quad 1--and one of those was against Arizona (46) but I'm not convinced. 

Syracuse (lost to Virginia) and Michigan State (Maryland) also lost, though to teams heading to the NCAAs. 

Michigan State should be safe due to a slew of great wins, though you never know how the committee will react to its 67 NET. 

The Orange are just 1-7 against Quad 1, but the five computer ratings the committee uses averaged Syracuse at 41st coming into Thursday, and its 39 NET also puts it in tournament-worthy territory. What doesn't show up in Quad 1 are wins over North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Clemson, which are all part of Syracuse's 5-1 mark in Quad 2. 

My bottom line for Ole Miss: Beat LSU on Friday, and we can have the conversation about whether the Rebels belong. Lose, and none of this matters.

Can Arkansas make a run at a two?

Lunardi had Arkansas as a No. 3 in his bracket Thursday, and BracketMatrix.com also had the Razorbacks as the top three-seed. I'm doing my own rankings and I think the Razorbacks have a strong case as the top three-seed as well. 

After Thursday's games, Bracket Matrix had the two-seeds as Iowa, Alabama, Ohio State and Houston, in that order (and I agree with that as well). 

Arkansas' clearest path would be for Houston to stumble somewhere in the American tournament.

The Cougars are tough to seed--they're No. 5 in the NET rankings but are just 2-1 against Quad 1 teams. And if you poke around on Houston's résumé in terms of quality wins, it's soft: Texas Tech is the only sure-fire NCAA tournament team the Cougars have beaten. 

The Razorbacks, meanwhile, are 6-4 against Quad 1, and have beaten four teams--Alabama, LSU, Missouri, Florida-- that'll be in the Field of 68. 

To be fair, Houston has a number of other wins against teams that could make the field--Wichita State should make it, perhaps Boise State, Memphis and SMU--and that also matters. But Arkansas has a chance to get another win over Missouri on Friday, and perhaps two more against NCAA tournament-bound teams on Saturday and Sunday. 

And while the Cougars may be able to pick up some nice wins in the American tourney, a win on Tulane (NET of 176) on Thursday won't move the needle. The best-case scenario would be to beat Memphis (53) and Wichita State (64), but again, those wins aren't as impressive as what Arkansas could do. 

Edging Iowa for a two might be a stretch, but Ohio State has eight losses and that includes four in a row to end the regular season. So if the Buckeyes lose to Purdue on Thursday, a door could open there also.

As for passing Alabama, I don't see that happening barring the Crimson Tide losing to Mississippi State on Thursday and Arkansas running the table in Nashville, given that 'Bama won the league's regular-season title by two full games. 

Tennessee's sneaky case for a five-seed

Lunardi has the Vols as a six-seed on Thursday, but Bracket Matrix has Tennessee as the last five. 

I tend to agree with Bracket Matrix. In fact, I have Tennessee as the last five right now, too.

First of all, the NET--which ranks the Vols 18th--places Tennessee there. 

The committee also looks at five other computer rankings--Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, ESPN's BPI and its Strength of Résumé ratings and the KPI--and the Vols average 18th of those. 

Tennessee's Quad 1 record of 6-5 also compares favorably with other teams in the same area such as Florida State (3-3), USC (3-3), Colorado (3-4), Creighton (4-3). Texas (6-6), Purdue (6-6) and Virginia (5-4). 

The Vols are also the only team in that group with three wins against top-20 NET teams. 

Where Tennessee suffers is a 1-2 record against Quad 2. But one of those losses was a home defeat to Missouri, with the other being a home loss to Kentucky. 

All the teams around the Vols are still playing, so Tennessee may need to beat Florida on Thursday to feel good about getting a five. But the Vols certainly have a claim they've earned one if no more basketball were played. 

One other note: It'll be interesting to see what the committee does with Villanova (NET of 14 as of Thursday). The Wildcats are in the 3-4 range but a bad loss to Georgetown in the Big East tournament on Thursday won't help, plus, star guard Collin Gillespie is now hurt and done for the year.