Tournament preview: SEC

It sounded crazy when he said it.

Bruce Pearl, months after he was introduced as Auburn’s head coach, told ESPN.com five SEC teams would earn slots in this season’s NCAA tournament field. He guaranteed it.

The SEC? Really?

"We're going to have five, at least five teams in the tournament this year," Pearl told ESPN.com in October. "At least five. ... So I'm just telling you. Jump on the bandwagon now."

Well, Pearl might be Nostradamus. His prediction could come true as the league preps for its conference tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville this week.

Kentucky has been the focus of the buzz that surrounds the league. But Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia could all get into the field. And Texas A&M remains a contender, too.

Problems for some of those SEC bubble teams could arise if they fall to a bad squad -- and there are a few of them -- in Nashville. There’s more potential for harm than success in this event.

But, the SEC looked like a one-bid league (see: Kentucky) after the season commenced and lofty preseason contenders, such as Florida, faltered early. Now, it appears, Kentucky will have some company. The events in Nashville will either expand or reduce the size of the SEC contingent that represents the conference in the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky has locked up the No. 1 overall seed as its pursuit of the perfect season continues. An upset loss to Florida or Alabama in the quarterfinals shouldn’t change that.

So the Wildcats remain the headliners. But the SEC tourney -- surprisingly -- is bigger than Kentucky’s aspirations.

Just as Pearl predicted five months ago.

What’s at stake?

Well, Kentucky is pushing for the first undefeated season since Bob Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana squad achieved the feat nearly 40 years ago. Three years ago, a one-loss Kentucky team suffered a loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament but still won the 2012 national title. With nothing to lose -- other than history, of course -- you have to wonder how Kentucky will approach the conference tourney. John Calipari told reporters on Saturday that he’s not a “fan” of conference tourneys. “What does it really do for us?” he asked.

And that’s a question so many coaches of Power Five schools ask each season. There’s nothing for Kentucky to gain as far as Selection Sunday is concerned, but perfection is still possible. How much does the latter mean to the program?

It would be odd to see this rare collection of talent win the national title after suffering its only loss in a tournament hosted by the league that it has dominated in the previous two months. But that’s the most significant stake in Nashville.

Still, NCAA tourney bids might be on the line.

Georgia (38) and Arkansas (22) seem safe based on their RPIs and quality wins, but a Bulldogs loss to South Carolina or Missouri in Friday’s quarterfinals (if either makes it that far) wouldn’t help its cause.

Ole Miss (roads wins over Oregon and Arkansas) and LSU (wins at West Virginia and Arkansas) are much healthier than the bulk of the bubble. Still, it’d be best for Ole Miss to avoid a second-round loss to Missouri or South Carolina, and it wouldn’t be a good idea for LSU to lose to Mississippi State or Auburn (if either make it that far) in the quarterfinals, either.

Still, Pearl’s prognostications might prove to be true on Selection Sunday. And the SEC tourney could factor into the final results.

Team with the most to gain

Texas A&M is the Neapolitan ice cream of the field. A little bit of everything, but not enough of anything.

The Aggies don’t possess one bad loss. But they’re also missing signature victories. Their case, right now, rests on a sweep of LSU, another bubble team. Overall, Texas A&M doesn’t look like a tourney team. That, however, could change in Nashville. If the Aggies win their opener in the second round, they’ll get a shot at LSU in Friday’s quarterfinals. A third win over LSU would strengthen its case, especially if the Tigers secure an at-large berth.

From there, Texas A&M could face Kentucky on Saturday and make (ruin) history with a win.

No guarantees for Texas A&M, but the Aggies need this tourney more than the other bubble teams in the SEC, it seems.