Does the new non-divisional basketball format for the SEC help the conference profile when it comes to the NCAA tournament? Some (like some of the SEC coaches) have cited that as a big reason behind the change, but does it really accomplish that? Rush The Court has an outstanding analysis of this question, and comes to the conclusion that, on balance, it really does not:
Our fear is that this indicates SEC coaches are still caught up in the modern fiction that more wins — any kind of wins – are better than no wins at all. If the stated objective is to improve the profile of NCAA bubble teams, and hence the SEC (see comments from: Mark Fox; John Calipari; Billy Donovan), then what the league needs to do is to give its bubble teams the best opportunity for quality wins it can muster. SEC bubble teams are typically going to be in the range of conference records between 8-8 and 10-6. If that’s the case, they will also typically be placed into the first round under the new format matched opposite bad teams with records in the two-to-six win range (and ugly RPIs to match). It’s become obvious that the NCAA Selection Committee doesn’t really care about those kinds of wins, especially at the end of the season – it wants to see quality wins.
I think RTC makes a strong point here, but I also think that the idea repeated by the coaches RTC linked above that this format is supposed to help the SEC's profile is misguided, and probably incorrect.
What it does do is protect the four best teams. The bye teams in the new format are all either locks or near-locks for the tournament, and the new format reduces the chance that they will suffer a seed-destroying, or even bid-destroying upset to a really bad team.
That is more fair than the previous format, which often had an inferior team getting the opening-round bye, such as happened in 2011 where Vanderbilt, a team that defeated Ole Miss in the regular season and had the same record, wound up being forced to play in the first round, or in 2010 where 11-5 Tennessee had to play in the first round while 9-7 Mississippi St. got the bye, making the Volunteer's path to a higher seed much harder.
Myself, I agree with RTC's argument that the new format does not hold any promise of getting more teams from the SEC in the tournament. What it does do is increase the value of the regular season and treats teams more fairly. For my money, that makes it all the more worthwhile.
The bottom line is the same as it's always been. You want to play in the NCAA tournament? Win a lot of games against tough teams.