John Calipari’s tweet last week would have seemed like a joke six years ago.

The Kentucky basketball coach stumped for nine teams from the SEC to receive NCAA Tournament bids.

“We are the best league,” Calipari wrote, “and our teams deserve that respect!”

The Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East might like a word in the best league conversation. And the SEC won’t claim nine spots in the Big Dance, but it might get as many as seven – a sign of continued relevance for a conference that ranked behind the American Athletic Conference not that long ago.

USA TODAY’s latest bracket projection, released Saturday, includes six teams from the SEC in the 68-team NCAA Tournament. Kentucky and Auburn lead that group with No. 1 seeds. That projection has the SEC trailing the Big Ten (nine) and tied with the Big East (six) and the Big 12 (six).

Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Florida is among the First Four, per the latest bracketology.

“Those top six teams can play with anybody,” said Mike Tranghese, the SEC’s special adviser for men’s basketball and former Big East commissioner.

Mike Tranghese, the former Big East commissioner, has helped the SEC capitalize its resources to achieve more success in men’s basketball.

This will mark the fourth straight NCAA Tournament for the SEC receiving at least six bids. It set a conference record with eight qualifiers in 2018.

Calipari also campaigned for Florida, Texas A&M and South Carolina to earn admission by tweeting that any SEC team with at least a .500 conference record should earn a bid. Those three bubble teams each finished 9-9 in the SEC.

ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi lists Florida and Texas A&M seventh and eighth, respectively, among his top eight bubble teams outside his field of 68.

The SEC hired Tranghese in…



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