WOW! What a week! The SEC could not have planned this any better. We are down to the final weekend of the regular season and both the men's and women's titles are up for grabs and the teams involved are playing each other. For the men it's Mississippi State at Texas A&M Friday night in what amounts to a winner-take-all match as it would be a complete shock if either team lost to LSU or Auburn Sunday after winning this match. On the women's side you have Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt in a three-way tie and we get Vanderbilt at South Carolina and Vanderbilt at Florida. Assuming that Florida and South Carolina take care of Kentucky in their other match (they both play Kentucky) the conference title comes down to who doesn't lose in the three-way battle. Vanderbilt gets the tougher path as they have to win two big matches as Florida and South Carolina just have the one (in addition to Kentucky).
This week's focus is all about the SEC regular season titles as well as positioning for the SEC and NCAA Tournament's so the preview will be similarly focused.
Last week I took a look at the men's conference races so now it's time for the women. There will be 30 women's conference tournaments this year with each winner earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The only conference that does not have a tournament is the Ivy League which awards its automatic berth to the regular season champion. The only school that won't be able to defend its conference title will be Wichita State which moved from Missouri Valley to the American after winning nine straight MVC titles. There will be 33 at-large bids into the NCAA Tournament with the at-large ranking cutoff expected to be 41 or 42.
Below is a look at the conference races with the contenders listed for all of my projected 1-bid leagues. For the Power 5, AAC, and CUSA I'll list who I think is probably in along with teams that will be on the bubble. Teams in the bigger conferences have enough matches left against ranked teams to make a move while teams in the one-bid leagues will not.
TCU, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State started off Big XII play undefeated.
Oklahoma State really had themselves a weekend. They moved up 3 spots in the rankings to #11 after beating #29 Texas Tech 4-0 and #19 Baylor 4-3. The Cowboys started off on Friday by sweeping the Red Raiders, winning the doubles point and all three singles in straight sets. The win was their first in a Big 12 opener since 2007, and was also the first sweep of a Big 12 team since 2007. OSU then had a dramatic win on Sunday against Baylor. OSU won the doubles point, but then found themselves down after 2 straight set wins by Baylor at #2 and #3 singles. The match was back and forth, with it all coming down to #6 singles with Leftherios Theodorou (OKST) defeating Akos Kotorman (BU) 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-2).
This will be a BIG weekend for the 38th ranked NC State Wolfpack as they play four matches, two of them against very good conference opponents. They host Wake Forest and NC Central on Friday and Virginia and Winthrop on Sunday.
Syracuse is hoping to bounce back from a rough weekend, losing to Florida State and Miami, but it’s a tall order against the Duke Blue Devils. Gabriela Knutson continues to have a fantastic spring for the Orange as she became the first Syracuse player to crack the top 5 in ITA singles rankings.
I know Pitt would love to play spoiler and get that first conference win, unfortunately it is not looking good for them this weekend as they play host to two of the best in the conference, the Ga Tech Yellow Jackets and the Duke Blue Devils.
Miami is up to 16 in the latest polls and Estella Perez-Somarriba continues her phenomenal play, earning player of the week for the fourth time this season. They have a relatively easy week, playing host to the Hokies of Va Tech.
The Virginia Cavaliers have arguable the biggest weekend ahead, as they hit the road for two huge matchups. First, they go to Chapel Hill for a match against the Tar Heels before heading over to Raleigh for a match against the very in form Wolfpack of NC State. I am sure they would be happy to go 1-1, but it is very important to salvage at least one of these 2 matches.
It is also an important weekend for Wake to turn things around after losing back-to-back matches against William and Mary and Georgia Tech. They travel to NC State Friday before hosting Louisville on Sunday. If they could manage to win both of these it would be huge, but it is imperative that they at least win at home on Sunday.
The little bit of separation that was starting to show between the top two teams in the conference, and everyone else, was slammed shut with Georgia Tech stunning the Duke Blue Devils. Florida State notched two impressive wins against two teams that were coming in on a roll (Syracuse and Boston College).
With three to four matches remaining in conference play it's time to separate the wheat from the chaff and get down to it. We will see who belongs in that top tier with UNC and Duke. Clearly, Georgia Tech is right there with them this year and it will be fun to see what they can do in the postseason. Florida State is an intriguing squad that can play with anyone when they are at their best, as can Miami. Virginia does not appear to be quite up to that level this year, but with a matchup looming against #1 UNC next weekend, they can certainly change that perception. North Carolina State is playing very well at the moment. This past weekend they handled Louisville with extreme ease and seem to be moving up in the conference, as is Miami. Wake Forest is still an extremely good team capable of putting a run together. That leaves Virginia Tech, Louisville, Notre Dame, Boston College, and Pitt to play the role of spoiler.
With four to go, anything can still happen and judging from the way conference play has gone so far, it very well might!
The Mississippi State and Texas A&M Men made it through the second to last weekend of SEC regular season play unbeaten to bring us to what will undoubtedly be a winner take all showdown Friday in College Station. The two teams finish the regular season Sunday against the two teams in the cellar that you have to expect them to win. While the Bulldogs and Aggies were taking care of their end of the business one team that was not was Georgia. The reeling Bulldogs went into Tuscaloosa without Emil Reinberg or Walker Duncan, but did manage to have Robert Loeb back in the lineup. Unfortunately it wasn't enough and while it's hard to say it was a stunning loss it was yet another blow to a Georgia squad that now finds themselves in a pickle just trying to qualify for the NCAAs. It was also a good weekend for the last place team in the conference, Auburn, as they picked up their first conference win Sunday over Arkansas and went down to the wire losing 4-3 Friday to Ole Miss.
The big match for the Women this week was Florida at South Carolina in a battle between conference leaders. South Carolina entered unbeaten in the SEC while Florida only had one loss and a chance to pull even with the Gamecocks. The weather wreaked havoc with the match before it ever got started moving the match time up to 8 a.m. Saturday and playing singles first trying to beat the rain. Even with the modified schedule the rain intervened and forced a long delay with the match tied 2-2. When play resumed Florida took 7 of the 8 games played and closed out the two remaining matches to upset the Gamecocks and post a 4-2 win and pull into a tie for the conference lead.