Mar 11, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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:
Oct 19, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Junior forward Mark Tollefsen may be one of the best dunkers in America.
Oct 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT
Chris Jones’ three-pointer in the final seconds gave the White team a 75-72 win over the Red.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Evan Smotrycz was re-evaluated Saturday after suffering the injury at the end of practice Friday.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
Johnson last played in live action on January 11, when he suffered a torn ACL in the Panthers’ loss to Virginia.
Oct 19, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
With three of their five seniors being front court players, Colorado State needs to add depth ahead of the 2015-16 season. Sunday’s commitment will help in this area.
Oct 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Alan Williams gets most of the attention nationally, but he won’t be alone as the Gauchos look to rebound from last year’s disappointing finish.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
La Salle nabbed a talented combo guard.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A more mobile Dakari Johnson could be a scary thought.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
An entertaining regular season was followed by a wild conference tournament in 2013-14. Will that once again be the case?
Oct 19, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Purdue is in the unique position of having two talented centers on the roster.
Oct 19, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Freshman wing Sam Logwood of New Mexico can get up.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT
With Texas Tech’s top two guards being upperclassmen, C.J. Williamson’s commitment is an important one for the program.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the victorious Red team with 13 points, and Stanley Johnson scored a game-high 17 to lead the Blue team.
Oct 18, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT
Southwest Tennessee CC transfer Chris Hawkins showed off his jumping ability in winning the dunk contest at Memphis Madness.
Oct 18, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Michigan State’s played in many different places throughout Izzo tenure, but they’ve yet to visit The Palestra.
Oct 18, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT
UConn showed off its new trophies while also paying homage to some former greats during their annual preseason event Friday night.
Oct 18, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Arkansas, Iowa State, Rutgers and Washington remain in contention for 6-foot-9 Malik Dime.
Oct 18, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Meiko Lyles’ departure means that one of Columbia’s other supplementary pieces will need to step forward.
Oct 18, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Trayvon Reed will have to wait until December to continue his legal proceedings..
Oct 18, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT
Both Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer started all three games for Florida Gulf Coast during the 2013 Sweet 16 run. After a one-year hiatus, the Dunk City duo want back in the field of 68.
- Led by senior forward Alan Williams, UCSB capable of earning first NCAA tournament bid since 2011 0
- Behind Thompson and Comer, Dunk City looks to take flight once again this March 1
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- Syracuse officials to meet NCAA Committee on Infractions later this month 0
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- 2014-15 Season Preview: Key assistant coaching hires 0
- 2014-15 America East Preview: Does Stony Brook finally make the Tournament? 0
- Big Ten writers release media poll, Wisconsin sits atop the league (6)
- Has Maryland found a new starting center? (2)
- First Preseason Top 25 poll is out, Kentucky sits at No. 1 (2)
- Maryland senior forward suffers sprained ankle (2)
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