ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has been projecting the NCAA Tournament field for ESPN.com since its inception. Wednesday he held a conference call for media members and touched on several items regarding SEC teams.
Question: How do you assess a team like Kentucky that’s kind of been two teams: They have a good version and then they have a not-so-good version, a lot of times in the same game. How is a team like that scored?
Lunardi: “It’s probably not as uncommon as we think, the Jekyll and Hyde deal in college basketball. We are still talking about college-aged kids, and I think we know from our own parenting experiences that they tend to be unpredictable. So maybe the surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.
“Now in Kentucky’s case this year, I think that they’re kind of playing against their own shadow in some respects. Because most people expect them to be a one-seed, to be the 800-pound gorilla in the SEC, and to always be a Final Four favorite. So this year when they’re just what I would call ‘regular good,’ people seem to think that something’s wrong. They’re going to be at worst a three-seed. They’re going to be favored at least into the second weekend. After that, it’s always 50/50 games. I don’t really think they’re that hard to assess, if you just look at it outside the prism of what Kentucky is supposed to do, versus most people who would take a two or a three-seed in a given seeding.
Question: How do you assess the SEC. How many teams are in? Is Vandy in?
Lunardi: “I think Vandy is in. They could be in a situation where they have to go again to the First Four where they played other times, and there have certainly been a lot of SEC representation at the First Four over the years. But when I look at it, I don’t think there really is a bubble in the SEC at this point. I think the five that are going, obviously UK and Florida at the top, South Carolina, Arkansas, and now Vandy, and short of a complete run by an underdog in a dramatic fashion at the tournament, those are the five that we’re going to be talking about a week from now.”
Question: You have Florida pretty solid as a 4 seed. Is there any chance of them slipping or what do they have to do in the SEC tournament to maintain the top 4 seed?
Lunardi: “I looked, and most seem to have them split between 3 and 4. So, I guess I might be in a small minority that has them as a 4. And I guess that’s in part because I’m trying to factor in a little bit of the current roster, which is short-handed. And to me, that’s worth a half a seed line to a seed line, and if they were to be upset to a lower seed, and if they get to the final, lose to Kentucky, I don’t think they will be worse than a 4. If they lose to somebody else, I suppose they could slide to a 5. But overall their numbers and profile are still pretty strong.”
Question: Could they slide to a 5 if they lose their first game?
Lunardi: “Yes, I think so. And they could also stay the same. Remember, no result happens in a vacuum. What are all the other 4s and 5s doing, right? I’ve had years, where, in doing an update on a Monday, all four No. 1 seeds lost in a given weekend, so nothing changed, right? It’s kind of like if everybody stands still, nobody loses the race.”