The SEC men’s tournament will tip-off Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, here are a few things you need to know.
13 seed LSU vs. 12 seed Mississippi St.
Despite going only 2-16 in conference play, including a win over Tennessee, LSU is not the lowest seed in this tournament. They will face off against an up and down Mississippi St. team who finished 6-12 in conference play but 15-15 on the season. This includes sweeping LSU, including an 88-76 beat down this past Saturday.
14 seed Missouri vs. 11 seed Auburn
Missouri ends up as the last seed in this tournament due to their Jan. 4th loss to LSU. Missouri will wind up playing against a much improved Auburn team, coached by former Volunteer coach Bruce Pearl on Wednesday. Missouri got swept by Auburn in the regular season, much like LSU, Missouri just lost by 10 plus points to their tournament opponent this past Saturday.
9 seed Tennessee vs. 8 seed Georgia
Possibly one of the most intriguing matchups in the first two rounds, as these teams are so evenly matched. UT lost a one point heartbreaker to UGA on Feb. 11th. More on this matchup later though.
Winner of game one vs. 5 seed Alabama
Though we dont know who Bama will face this should be a good game. Alabama head coach Avery Bradley has his team playing well and seemingly ready to make a run in the tournament.
10 seed Texas A&M vs. 7 seed Vanderbilt
Vandy swept A&M in the regular season, but A&M is not a bad team. It’s just Vandy is built to make a long run in this tournament and seemingly ready to do so as well.
Winner of game two vs. 6 seed Ole Miss
Lastly, we once again don’t know who Ole Miss will play. However, it seems it won’t matter because Ole Miss swept both Missouri and Auburn in the regular season.
Kentucky and Their Youth
This has become a question year in and year out for the Kentucky Wildcats, Despite their youth can they rally to win an SEC and an NCAA title?
The short answer, yes.
Will they? Who knows.
Here is what I will say, Kentucky obviously has all the talent you could ask for. As they always do it seems like. However, they always seem to find a way to lose come March because when the pressure is on young talent, it tends to translate into mistakes, isolation and non-team oriented basketball.
Kentucky can not succeed in the SEC tournament or the NCAA tournament playing young.
Can Vanderbilt Make a Run?
In short, yes they certainly can.
Vandy swept Florida in the regular season, as well as beating South Carolina and Arkansas each once. That is a record of 4-3 (with a losses to Kentucky twice and Arkansas once) against the SEC tournaments top four seeds.
They also are the only team outside those four in the SEC with an NCAA tourney bid on the line, dependent on how they play in the SEC tourney.
With a path that doesn’t have them playing a team that beat them until at least the semifinals things are looking pretty good for Vandy. However, of the four teams they could have to face in the semifinal Vandy is a combined 2-3.
Can South Carolina get back on track?
After getting off to a 19-4 start, including going 9-1 to start SEC play. Everyone thought USC would give Kentucky a run for the number one team in the SEC and saw them as a darkhorse national title contender.
Unfortunately, not all good things last and after a four-overtime loss to Alabama they spiraled into a tailspin causing them to lose five of their last eight games.
The question remains can USC and senior guard Sindarius Thornwell recapture the momentum they tipped off the season with? Maybe, but either way this will be a team to watch come Friday.
Tournament Bids on the Line
Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, and USC have all secured their bids to the NCAA tournament. They now play only for seeding and bragging rights.
As I said above Vandy is probably the only team in the SEC tourney with a real chance to still make it to the NCAA tourney. However, their are teams like UGA and Alabama who are still teetering between being the last four out and the first four in come selection Sunday.
Even if they fail to make the big dance, a smaller prize more then likely awaits both teams in the form of the NIT.
Alongside UGA and Bama, you could make the argument that Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Auburn are all playing for possible NIT bids (though UT and Auburn are long shots without a lot of help).
In total the SEC already has four teams going to the NCAA tourney, but come selection Sunday it could be as many as six teams heading to the big dance and three or four going dancing in the NIT.
Tennessee will tip off Thursday at 1:00 p.m. ET against UGA.
They faced off only one other time this season, when UT lost a heartbreaker 76-75 after leading by 14 points in the second half.
UGA’s J.J. Frazier had 29 points and six assists, which is why despite freshman Grant Williams’ 30 points, the Vols couldn’t find a way to win.
If UT wants to advance past UGA stopping Frazier will be a priority, as well as defense overall considering they allowed the Bulldogs to shoot over 50 percent from the field in the game earlier this year.
Assuming the Vols do beat the bulldogs and advance, this tournament gets no easier.
In the quarterfinals UT would have to face number 1 seed, and national title contender Kentucky. Though yes the Vols beat Kentucky in Knoxville earlier in the year, they also lost in Lexington badly.
Let’s go out on a limb though and say the improbable happens and the Vols upset both the Bulldogs and the Wildcats. They then look at having to face either USC or Bama.
Vols fan would pray it be the Tide, since UT did win it’s only season meeting with them and that just so happened to come this past Saturday. However, if the Vols drew the Gamecocks the outcome looks much more dim, since the South Carolina swept Tennessee in the regular season.
As you can see just for Tennessee to win one game in this tournament the best the Vols can muster will need to show up. If they have any hope of winning two or more games, the Vols will need a herculean effort, alla the kind they gave when they won four straight including wins over Kentucky and Kansas State.
Players like freshmen Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, and Jordan Bowden will need to play like they really do have a season under their belt.
Senior leaders Lew Evans and Robert Hubbs III will need more then just great games statistically, they will need to be clutch and keep the team focused and motivated.
Finally, UT has to get production out of it’s bench. Underclassmen like Kwe Parker, Shembari Phillips and Admiral Schofield will need to be efficient and productive if the Vols have any shot of makinga run in the SEC tournament.