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The Dumbest Standings Scenario in SEC Basketball History Is Still Possible

SEC why

Please search “stressed accountant” in Google images. You will be delighted with the results.

We’re waking up in uncharted territory this Thursday morning: there’s a six-way tie for third place in the Southeastern Conference basketball standings. You’re reading that right: after 15 games, six teams have the exact same record. Do you know just how hard it is to achieve this?!? It’s very hard. Think of a mathematically improbable thing you’ve accomplished, and then realize it’s much harder than your silly feat.

For the six-team tie we’re envisioning to occur, it would take an event that happens roughly 0.13% of the time. Barring a mathematical error – I went to school for an English degree, and that was only the fourth-weirdest choice I made – we have a potential once-in-several-lifetimes occurrence on our hands. Heck, for a five-team tie, it’s breezy: the five involved teams (Kentucky, Mississippi State, Alabama, Florida, Missouri) all have a 38% chance or better at a 10-8 record, per, who even has it as the most likely scenario.

Our six teams in this scenario would all tie at 10-8. You know them as Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi State, and LSU. It’s impossible to create a seven-way tie at 10-8 including Arkansas, and, while a 9-9 tie is possible, it didn’t get to six teams in a clean way.

The official Southeastern Conference rules for determining seeding in such a monstrous, hellish event go like this:

When three or more teams are tied, the following procedure will be used in the following order until the tie is broken. If two teams re- main tied after a tiebreaker provision, the two-team tiebreaker formula will be used.

  1. Best winning percentage of games played among the tied teams (Example: Team A is 3-1, Team B is 2-2 and Team C is 1-3 – Team A would be seeded highest, Team B second-highest and Team C lowest of the three).
  2. Best winning percentage of the tied teams versus the No. 1 seed (and proceed- ing through the No. 14 seed, if necessary).
  3. If two teams remain, coin flip by the Commissioner.
  4. If three or more teams remain, draw by the Commissioner.

In theory, a critical matchup in the SEC Tournament could be determined by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey drawing straws, or something. Unless my knowledge has failed me, the SEC has never had to reach Rule 4, and I don’t think it’s reached Rule 3, either. (If I’m wrong, please tweet at @gyrateplus and let me know.)

Regrettably, I wasn’t able to find an easy-to-calculate scenario that got us to a draw or even a coin flip. But you’re getting a six-team tie and you’re going to like it. I’ve picked out each team’s most likely scenarios; there’s wiggle room in each, but for the most part, these are pretty close to the seeds they’ll get.

  • Florida: def. Auburn & UK; 5-2 against rest of group, 3 seed
  • Alabama: def. Arkansas & Florida; 5-3 against rest of group, 4 seed
  • Kentucky: def. Missouri & Ole Miss; 4-3 against rest of group, 5 seed
  • Missouri: def. Vanderbilt & Arkansas; 2-4 against rest of group, 6 seed (tiebreaker: beat Tennessee, 2 seed)
  • LSU: wins out; 2-4 against rest of group, 7 seed
  • Mississippi State: def. South Carolina & Tennessee; 2-5 against rest of group, 8 seed

So, if nothing else, we got down to Rule 2. The only thing you can really change up here is Florida defeating Alabama instead of Kentucky and them having a separate two-team battle, which is won by Florida by virtue of them defeating Auburn in this scenario. The closest we’ll get to Rule 3 this year is a potential Vanderbilt and Ole Miss tie for 13th place, which goes down to the 6 seed (!) because Ole Miss has played Missouri twice (with a win) and Vanderbilt once (unknown result). (Same with a potential Georgia and South Carolina tie.)

But, again: we could pretty easily have a five- or six-way tie for third place. Tennessee’s potential semifinal opponents are running away, kicking and screaming and oh dear, Kentucky’s pants are wrapped around their head. Put those back on, please. The all-time SEC record for the amount of teams tying for one spot is five, set in…oh Jesus, 1951?!?!? Since then, there’s five separate instances of a four-way tie, with four of those occurring in the last 20 years. A four-way tie isn’t all that special. Five? Six????? Oh yeah, baby, now we’re talking statistical anomalies.

In fact, the only major conference to produce a five-way tie in the last 15 years is the Pac-12 in 2014, also for third place. (The mid-major Missouri Valley Conference also produced a five-way tie for third place in 2011.) The SEC is, at least by one measure, on pace to produce something that’s happened just twice in major-conference basketball in the last 26 years. That’s pretty good.

However, there’s never been a six-way tie for any position in the modern era of college basketball, and possibly ever. While College Basketball Reference has the best records they can, some are incomplete by nature, simply because keeping reliable conference records from 50+ years ago isn’t easy given the resources available at the time. If you’re older, you’ll know that it was common for there to be upwards of 60 teams simply unaffiliated with a conference. Simply enough, there weren’t enough teams in many conferences to even have the potential scenario of a six-way tie. Because of major conference engorgement and growing larger, this is now a possibility. It’s the dumbest, ugliest, most perfect scenario we’ve had to date.

For the dumbest SEC Tournament scenario, we’ll have to wait for another year. For the dumbest SEC standings scenario, it’s statistically unlikely we’ll ever have it better than this.

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