Gators only SEC team with NCAA berth secure entering tournament

The number of SEC teams to make the NCAA tournament might hinge on this week’s conference tournament.

The only team assured of going to the NCAA tournament is top-seeded Florida, which plays LSU or Georgia on Friday (1 p.m., ESPNU). The SEC tournament begins Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., with the bottom four seeds facing each other.

South Carolina starts with Mississippi State (7:30 p.m., SEC Network), followed by Texas A&M and Auburn (10 p.m., SEC Network).

No. 13 Florida (24-6) is the only SEC team ranked in the Associated Press poll and stands at No. 6 in the RPI (a ranking based on wins, losses and strength of schedule). ESPN and CBS both have the Gators as a No. 3 seed in their mock NCAA brackets.

While Florida is fighting for NCAA seeding, the rest of the conference teams are tenuously in the field or completely out and must win the SEC tournament — and the conference’s automatic bid — to reach the NCAA tournament.The championship game is Sunday (1 p.m., ABC), and the 68-team NCAA field will be announced at 6 p.m. (CBS).

Kentucky, thanks particularly to its win over the Gators last weekend, and Missouri appear to be headed for the NCAA tournament but cannot afford an early exit this week. CBS and ESPN have Missouri as a No. 8 seed, while they have Kentucky as an 11 or 12.

Kentucky is the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament, followed by Ole Miss and Alabama. Those schools all receive first-round byes.

Missouri, which went 2-2 against ranked opponents, is seeded sixth, one spot behind Tennessee.

Tennessee, Alabama and Ole Miss likely need multiple victories this week to barge into the NCAA tournament.

CBS has the Volunteers, winners of eight of their past nine games, as a 12-seed, while ESPN has them among the teams just outside the field. If they survive their first two games, they are on track to face Florida in the semifinals Saturday, giving them a perfect opportunity to add a quality win.

UF went 14-4 in the SEC this season, losing road games to Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. It beat the Razorbacks, Wildcats and Tigers in Gainesville, and played the Volunteers once.

The Gators have not won the conference tournament since capturing three straight from 2005-07. Kentucky beat them in the 2011 title game and the 2012 semifinals.