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How important is seeding in the SEC Tournament?

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A look at the impact seeding tends to have in the SEC Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Arkansas Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

With only five games remaining until the SEC Tournament, seeding for the SEC Tournament is very fluid as teams fight to get a top-four seed and earn a double-bye into the tournament quarterfinals.

As the standings change week-to-week, I decided to take a look into what effects seeding has on the SEC Tournament. Obviously, seeding is just one factor of many, and we have seen several times that the momentum a team has coming into the tournament is often a huge factor in determining how the tournament plays out.

Since the conference expanded to add Missouri and Texas A&M in 2013, the top four seeds have earned double-byes, which gave them an automatic berth in the quarterfinals with their first game coming on Friday.

Looking back at the last five years, the SEC Tournament Finals have always been match ups between top four teams, and the top seed has been in the finals each of the last five years.

In the last five years, the 1-seed has won the tournament three times, the 2-seed has won once, and the 3-seed has won once.

Kentucky Seeding History in SEC Tournament

Year Champion Runner-Up
Year Champion Runner-Up
2017 (1) Kentucky (3) Arkansas
2016 (2) Kentucky (1) Texas A&M
2015 (1) Kentucky (2) Arkansas
2014 (1)Florida (2) Kentucky
2013 (3) Ole Miss (1) Florida
SEC Tournament 2013-2017 Zac Oakes

2012 was the first year that the conference abandoned the divisions in tournament seeding. Prior to 2012, teams were seeded by divisions, with the top two in each division earning a first-round bye.

Going back over the past 20 years, all the way back to 1998, there were only three instances in which a top-four seed didn’t win the tournament, and only in 2006 and 2007 was the tournament runner-up outside of the top four.

I’ve compiled the results of each SEC Tournament below for reference.

Kentucky Seeding History in SEC Tournament

Year Champion Runner-Up
Year Champion Runner-Up
2012 (3) Vanderbilt (1) Kentucky
2011 (E2) Kentucky (E1) Florida
2010 (E1) Kentucky (W1) Miss. State
2009 (W3) Miss. State (E1) Tennessee
2008 (E6) Georgia (W2) Arkansas
2007 (E1) Florida (W3) Arkansas
2006 (E2) Florida (E5) S. Carolina
2005 (E2) Florida (E1) Kentucky
2004 (E1) Kentucky (E2) Florida
2003 (E1) Kentucky (W1) Miss. State
2002 (W2) Miss. State (W1) Alabama
2001 (E1) Kentucky (W1) Ole Miss
2000 (W3) Arkansas (W2) Auburn
1999 (E2) Kentucky (W2) Arkansas
1998 (E1) Kentucky (E2) S. Carolina

So what does all this mean for this year?

It’s clear that history is on the side of the top four teams in the conference and it would take quite the turnaround for Kentucky to break into that top four. The Wildcats sit two games behind Missouri, Alabama, and Florida, all tied for third in the conference.

However, if Kentucky can turn it around, four of their final five games are against teams ahead of them in the standings, providing the opportunity to make up some ground. Two of those games are at home (Alabama and Missouri), and the other two on the road (Arkansas and Florida).

But even if Kentucky were to win out—and that is hard to imagine at this point even for the most optimistic fans—things would have to break pretty dramatically for Kentucky to slide up to the top four.

As it stands, if tournament play began today, Kentucky would hold the 7-seed by virtue of a tiebreaker with Mississippi State and Texas A&M. In a three-way tie, the teams’ records against each other are used as a tiebreaker. Kentucky holds a 2-1 record against the Bulldogs and Aggies, Mississippi State is 0-1, and Texas A&M is 1-1.

Texas A&M and Mississippi State face off for the first and only regular season matchup between the two squads on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

Based on that current projection, that places Kentucky with the 6 p.m. game on Thursday night against the 10 seed (currently projected as Georgia due to a tiebreaker over LSU). If Kentucky were to win, they would have another 6 p.m. tip off against the 2 seed, which currently projects as Tennessee.

So if Kentucky finishes as the 7 seed, how have 7 seeds previously fared in the SEC Tournament?

2017- Vanderbilt- Conference Semifinals, lost to (3) Arkansas

2016- Ole Miss- Second Round, lost to (10) Alabama

2015- Vanderbilt, Second Round, lost to (10) Tennessee

2014- LSU, Conference Quarterfinals, lost to (2) Kentucky

2013- Arkansas, Second Round, lost to (10) Vanderbilt

There is still a lot to be determined when it comes to the conference tournament. The SEC has been one of the more unpredictable conferences from top to bottom this year, so it is likely that seeding will change substantially before the end of the regular season.

Even so, I still believe this Kentucky team can be a threat by postseason play.