Skip to content

2014 SEC Tournament Preview: How will Kentucky, bubble teams fair?

Mar 11, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

source:

AP Photo

As weird as this may sound, the SEC may have more to play for in their conference tournament than any other conference in the country will have.

Hear me out.

RELATEDRead through NBCSports.com’s latest Bracketology

It starts with Kentucky. The Wildcats entered the season as the No. 1 team in the country and have, since then, essentially remained the same team. That’s not a compliment. The best teams in the country improve throughout the year. Kentucky hasn’t gotten any better. Every step forward is followed by a step back. Their performance in March this season is going to be used as a referendum on head coach John Calipari, the Kentucky program and the way Cal uses the one-and-done. It just is. If Kentucky is going to put it all together in the NCAA tournament, that momentum will need to be built this week.

But that’s not it. The league also has a trio of teams currently sitting smack on the bubble’s cutline. Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas are all trying to play their way into the tournament, and all three will likely at least two wins to feel comfortable. Why? Because the way the bracket shakes out, both Tennessee and Missouri will need two wins to land a victory against Florida. Arkansas will need three. All three can theoretically get an at-large bid without that win, but it will mean that Selection Sunday is just that much more stressful.

MOREBrowse through all of our conference tournament previews

When: March 12-16

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta/

Final: March 16th, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Florida Gators

Florida will enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and the favorite, although not by much, to bring home the national title. You don’t think they’re going to be the favorite to win the SEC tournament in a down year? Please. There’s a reason that they went 18-0 in conference play this season.

There are two things that make the Gators so dangerous this season. The first is that they can play so many different styles defensively. They can play straight man. They can play a switching man-to-man. They can use a 2-3 zone or a 1-3-1 zone. They can press. And they’re good at all of them, which makes them a nightmare to try to prepare for. Offensively, they do lack a big-time, NBA caliber scorer that defenses have to prepare for, but they make up for it with the fact that they simply do not have anyone that’s a liability offensively and with Scottie Wilbekin, who has become one of the better clutch scorers in the country.

And if they lose?: Kentucky Wildcats

source: AP

AP Photo

I don’t really want to pick Kentucky as the second-most likely team to win the SEC tournament, but there really isn’t a choice here. In terms of talent, it doesn’t even compare. The Wildcats are head-and-shoulders above anyone else in the league, and they are probably more talented than Florida. But that doesn’t make them a better team. All of Florida’s pieces fit. All of their guys buy into their roles. They have a senior point guard that’s a leader on the floor and capable of taking and making big shots while spending the rest of the game distributing the ball around.

Kentucky doesn’t have any of that. But if, somehow, everything does happen to click, this group will have a real chance to make a run in March.

Other Contenders:

  • Georgia Bulldogs: Mark Fox caught a break when he was put on the opposite side of the bracket from Florida, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas. While they aren’t exactly in the bubbly picture right now, Georgia did finish third in the SEC this season.
  • Tennessee Volunteers: Even without Robert Hubbs, I like this Tennessee team more than anyone else in the SEC. Antonio Barton is playing better, Jarnell Stokes is starting to manhandle people down low again and Jordan McRae is one of the league’s best-kept secrets. They need at least one win in the tournament to feel good about their chances on Selection Sunday.

Sleeper: Missouri Tigers

Frank Haith has the best perimeter attack in the conference at his disposal, with Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross available. There are two questions for this group, however: How well does their front line play and what do they do at the point guard spot? It’s Clarkson’s job, but the younger guys have gotten more of a shot of late.

Deeper Sleeper: LSU Tigers

I loved LSU entering the season, and on paper, I still do. They have a trio of future NBA players on their front line in Johnny O’Bryant, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer are more than capable in the back court. That’s a good roster, but it just hasn’t clicked … except when they face Kentucky. That’s their second round matchup if they can get by Alabama, with, in all likelihood, Georgia or Ole Miss waiting after that. The bracket sets up quite nicely for the Tigers.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Jordan McRae, Tennessee: McRae is the best perimeter scorer for the Vols, a high-flying wing that is capable of popping off for 30 on a given night.
  • Charles Mann, Georgia: Mann is the best player for the third-best team in the SEC, and I’m willing to bet that unless you’re a major SEC basketball fan, you haven’t heard of him. That’s a statement on SEC hoops if I’ve ever heard one.
  • Jabari Brown, Missouri: Brown is the best shooter in the SEC, a lights-out perimeter scorer with deep range and a quick trigger.
  • Trevor Releford, Alabama: It’s a shame that Alabama wasn’t better during Releford’s tenure, because he’s been one of the better point guards in the country this year.

CBT Prediction: Florida over Georgia

Best SEC Tournament Memory:

Latest Posts
  1. Kansas/USA defeats Brazil at World University Games

    Jul 5, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Kansas (USA) is 2-0 so far at the World University Games.

  2. Mixtape of Class of 2016 five-star guard Markelle Fultz (VIDEO)

    Jul 5, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT

    markelle fultz

    Markelle Fultz is one the best guard prospects in the country.

  3. Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang posts double-double in World University Games opener

    Jul 4, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    Mangok Mathiang Mangok Mathiang

    Mathiang’s playing on an Australian team that includes the likes of Peter Hooley and Hugh Greenwood.

  4. Former South Carolina power forward Demetrius Henry transferring to La Salle

    Jul 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    The 6-foot-9 Henry averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season.

  5. United States advances to FIBA U19 World Championships gold medal game

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT

    Jalen Brunson AP

    Jalen Brunson led the way with 30 points for the United States, which plays Croatia Sunday.

  6. Mixtape of five-star wing Miles Bridges (VIDEO)

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    bridges

    Miles Bridges is one of the better scorers in the 2016 class.

  7. POSTERIZED: Jayson Tatum throws one down on Greek defender

    Jul 4, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT

    Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Getty Images

    The US is taking on the hosts in the semifinals, with the winner getting Croatia on Sunday.

  8. Players from Kentucky, Oregon, Gonzaga and Dayton trying out for Canadian national team

    Jul 4, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Kyle Wiltjer (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Four players from 2015 NCAA tournament programs are trying out for the Canadian national team.

  9. Kansas opens World University Games with a win over Turkey

    Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Kansas won its debut overseas this summer as Wayne Selden had a big outing.

  10. Four-star Class of 2016 guard commits to UConn

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    UConn landed a quality guard in the Class of 2016.

  11. Report: Oregon point guard Ahmaad Rorie will transfer to Montana

    Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Ahmaad Rorie, Brandon Chauca AP

    Given Oregon’s many perimeter options, minutes were likely to be at a premium for Rorie in 2015-16.

  12. Louisiana Tech reduces transfer restrictions for Xavian Stapleton

    Jul 3, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The rising sophomore was originally being blocked from transferring to 55 schools.

  13. Ohio State lands center Kaleb Wesson, first commit in 2017

    Jul 3, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT

    Thad Matta AP

    Ohio State begins its 2017 class with a local product.

  14. Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2008?

    Jul 3, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT

    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 05:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers celebrates in the game against the Miami Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 5, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Tonight is his first game this season .  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

    A lot of unranked players made their way into the top five in a surprisingly deep class.

  15. United States U19 team advances to semifinals of FIBA U19 World Championships

    Jul 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT

    Jalen Brunson AP

    Jalen Brunson led four Americans in double figures with 17 points.

  16. Former St. John’s center visiting Minnesota this weekend

    Jul 3, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    Chris Obekpa AP

    Minnesota is one of four schools the 6-foot-10 center is reportedly considering.

  17. Four-star point guard Alterique Gilbert to announce college decision Saturday

    Jul 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Getty Images

    The lone school to host the Georgia native on an official visit is considered to be the favorite in this recruiting race.