Only twice this century has a team from the SEC failed to make the Sweet Sixteen. Right now, it looks like this year’s hopes are on the shoulders of two unexpected teams. In 2009 and 2016, the conference had a total of three schools make it to the second round of the tournament. Alabama, who was picked to finish 5th, currently leads the league and Missouri is right behind them after being picked 10th.
Alabama Crimson Tide
What Nate Oats has done in his short time at Alabama shouldn’t be a surprise. In three of his four seasons at Buffalo, he won the MAC and reached the NCAA Tournament. In his second year, Alabama is on the verge of going back and being the conference’s best shot at making the second weekend.
The Crimson Tide sit at 16-5 and 11-1 in conference play after defeating South Carolina on Tuesday. Alabama is one three-point loss to Missouri away from being undefeated in the league and you can see Oats’ influence. Like his teams at Buffalo, the Crimson Tide can score the basketball, averaging 79 points per game. One of the big reasons for their success has been their proficiency from behind the line; the Crimson Tide shoot over 35% while holding their opponents to just 29%.
Fly Over Sports Podcast: Episode 32 – Fly Over Sports Podcast
They have four players scoring in double figures led by guards Jaden Shackelford and John Petty Jr. Leading rebounder Herbert Jones and Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly also net over 11 points per game. However, Alabama doesn’t come without warts.
With nearly half their shots coming from three-point land their shooters can be streaky at times and shoot just 49.3% on two-point shots. Alabama can also get turnover happy, like in the win against South Carolina when they turned it over 22 times.
Cuonzo Martin is in his 4th year at Missouri. After two sub-.500 seasons, he has his team who was picked 10th at 13-4. Their 80-59 loss to Mississippi on Wednesday dropped them in a logjam of five teams chasing league-leading Alabama. Martin’s team put the league on notice with a pair of top-25 wins over Oregon and Illinois in non-conference play.
The Tiger backcourt of Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith has led the way, combining for 28.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. This senior-laden team is led in the frontcourt by Jeremiah Tilmon. The 6’10 forward leads the team in rebounding with 7.8 per game while shooting 62.7% from the field.
The biggest issue for Missouri when looking at the stats is their margin for error is razor-thin. There isn’t a statistical category where the Tigers dominate their opponents, which makes their senior leadership that much more important. With ten of the team’s 17 games decided by ten points or less, those seniors that have been through the wars keep everyone calms in the tight games.
An SEC team in the Sweet Sixteen has been like death and taxes. This season, for that to continue, the Crimson Tide or Tigers may be the best bet. Alabama has the flashy offense that if they get hot, are capable of beating most anyone in the country. Missouri may not have the names or the flash, but the Tigers have the veterans that teams rely on in March. Two unexpected teams from the SEC have carried the conference so far, and in 2020-21, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected.