TAMPA, Fla. – Southeastern Conference coaches and players spent all week, and a good part of the season, defending their league.

There’s not much they can say now.

The SEC got three teams in the NCAA tournament Sunday, the league’s smallest representation since 1990. It was a clear indication how the selection committee felt about a league that ranked sixth in RPI and had few head-to-head wins against teams from the major conferences.

LSU, Tennessee and Mississippi State made the 65-team field, and the Bulldogs might have missed out if they hadn’t toppled Tennessee 64-61 in the tournament final on Sunday.

Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky – all hoping to improve their NCAA resumes in the SEC tournament – failed to get in.

“Disappointing,” Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl said. “We were very disappointed. There’s only one thing we can do, and that is win and demonstrate we deserve better as a league.”

If the number of SEC teams was a blow to the conference, those seedings might have been the knockout punch.

LSU, the regular-season champion, was a No. 8 seed. Tennessee was a No. 9 seed and Mississippi State was a No. 13 seed.

“I’m surprised at the high seeds, especially Tennessee,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “LSU being that high of a seed, that was surprising to me. When I saw Tennessee come across there as a 9, the kids didn’t know it, but I knew it. You kind of knew where the league stood in the eyes of the people making the decisions when I saw that.”

Each of the six major conferences has gotten at least three teams into the NCAA tournament in every year since 1988, when the Pac-10 landed just two spots.

The SEC had earned at least five berths in each of the last 12 seasons. The conference had gotten more than three teams in every year since 1990, when Alabama, Georgia and LSU made it. Perennial powerhouse Kentucky was on probation that season.

The Wildcats had made the NCAA field the last 17 years. They ended that streak Sunday, no surprise since coach Billy Gillispie’s team lost nine of its final 13 games.

Back at last

Morgan State’s first trip to the NCAA tournament represented a touch of redemption for third-year coach Todd Bozeman.

The NCAA banned him from coaching for eight years after he admitted paying a recruit while coaching at California. Morgan State gave him a chance, and the results have been worth it.

The 15th-seeded Bears (23-11), who won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday night, will play against No. 2 Oklahoma on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo.

Morgan State won the MEAC regular-season title last year but was upset by cross-town rival Coppin State in the tournament championship game. The Bears went to the NIT.

Eleventh heaven

Three teams made it back in after 11 years in the wilderness on Sunday: Florida State earned a No. 5 seed, Michigan got back with an at-large No. 10 seed and Radford won the Big South to make it as a No. 16.

The Seminoles (25-9) will face Wisconsin in Boise, Idaho, on Friday. If they win, they’ll be assured of finishing the season without consecutive losses – they’ve followed each one so far with a win, but lost to Duke in the ACC tournament championship.

Florida State made its last NCAA appearance in 1998, advancing with a first round win over TCU before being eliminated in the second-round by Valparaiso. The Seminoles are just two wins shy of matching the school record for wins set by the 1972 team that finished second in the nation to UCLA.

The Seminoles also played the Badgers in football, defeating Wisconsin 42-13 in late December at the Champs Sports Bowl.

Michigan, meanwhile, is back in the NCAA for the first time since it was eliminated by UCLA in 1998.

The Wolverines (20-13) beat UCLA, Duke and Purdue to polish their resume and got back in the bracket in John Beilein’s second season as coach.

Radford will face No. 1 seed North Carolina on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

Bouncing Buckeye state

Five teams from Ohio will represent the state – known more for its passion for football than basketball – in the NCAA tournament. No. 4 seed Xavier, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 11 Dayton, No. 13 Cleveland State, and No. 13 Akron.

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