The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has been the worst power-six conference this season. In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology, only three SEC teams are projected to make the field. The 14-team SEC tournament is important, considering the fact that only Florida and Missouri have solidified themselves NCAA Tournament bids. For Kentucky, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Arkansas, this SEC tournament will either make or break them. It’s the first year Texas A&M and Missouri will appear in the SEC tournament, and because of that the SEC decided that every team deserved to participate in the tournament, resulting in an extra day of games. With so many teams fighting for a bid on Selection Sunday, the SEC tournament should be very exciting.
First Round Game to Watch
No. 7 Arkansas v. No.10 Vanderbilt- Although this game will not be played until Thursday (there are only two games on Wednesday), it provides the most excitement. Vanderbilt, the defending SEC tournament champions look to end Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament dreams. Arkansas did not lose at home during the regular season, beating Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky in Knoxville. However, they were a completely different team on the road, losing eight times, including six by double-digits. BJ Young (15.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG and 3.4 APG) and Marshawn Powell (14.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG and 1.2 BLKPG) lead the way for the Razorbacks. Vanderbilt, who finished 8-10 in conference play, played well down the stretch. The Commodores won six of their last nine games, including a 67-49 victory over Arkansas on Feb. 9. Rod Odom, who had 15 points in Vanderbilt’s victory over Arkansas, will play an important role in Thursday’s game. The six-foot-nine junior has averaged 10.2 PPG and 4.4 RPG on the season. Another key player for Vanderbilt will be sophomore Kedren Johnson (13.6 PPG, 3.6 APG and 3.6 RPG). Johnson, who is from Lewisburg, Tenn. (roughly 48 miles from Nashville), could have many family members at Bridgestone Arena to cheer him on. He has scored in double-figures in each of his last four games.
Tennessee Volunteers- At the five seed, Tennessee will play the winner of South Carolina/ Mississippi State on Thursday. The Volunteers should win their first two games before meeting Florida in the semifinals. I’m not predicting that they win, but Tennessee is a dangerous team who is playing for their NCAA Tournament dreams. Jordan McRae has been very good, especially of late. He is the type of scorer who can take over a game and lead his team to victory, showing that with a 27-point performance in Tennessee’s 64-58 win over Florida late last month.
Players to Watch
Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) – The six-foot-eight sophomore is an absolute monster on the glass, grabbing at least nine rebounds in every game since January 24. Stokes’ rebounding numbers will be equally important as Tennessee tries to make its case for an at-large bid.
Erik Murphy (Florida) – When Murphy scores in double-figures, Florida usually wins. Only twice (last Saturday to Kentucky and back on January 15 in that epic Arizona game) has Murphy scored 10-plus points and Florida lost. That is just a small reason why Murphy is the X-Factor for the Gators. Murphy has the ability to stretch the floor with his 3-point jumper, and if it’s on, Florida is tough to beat.
Team that has to make a statement
Without a doubt, the Kentucky Wildcats need to make a statement. Kentucky, the No. 2 seed, needs to win their first match-up against Arkansas/Vanderbilt, and then win the next one to feel comfortable about their NCAA Tournament status. But why not be safe and win the whole thing. The Wildcats have four players (a healthy Nerlens Noel would be five) averaging double-figures. I don’t think there is a team in college basketball that would want to face Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats have to make it their first.
Florida- Right now, Lunardi has Florida as a three seed. I don’t think Florida would drop to a four seed, but if they win the SEC Tournament there is no reason why the Gators can’t grab a two seed.
Missouri: Despite finishing sixth in a very weak conference, the Tigers are all but in the field of 68. According to Lunardi, the Tigers are an eight seed right now. If Missouri can string a few wins together, they can very well improve their seeding.
Favorite to Win
I think Kentucky gets it done. Florida will be the popular favorite, but the Wildcats have an incentive to win the SEC’s automatic bid.
Freshman Archie Goodwin will be the reason Kentucky wins the tournament. Goodwin averages 14.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG and 2.8 APG for the Wildcats.
(12) South Carolina over (13) Mississippi State
(11) Texas A&M over (14) Auburn
(9) LSU over (8) Georgia
(5) Tennessee over (12) South Carolina
(10) Vanderbilt over (7) Arkansas
(6) Missouri over (11) Texas A&M
(1) Florida over (9) LSU
(5) Tennessee over (4) Alabama
(2) Kentucky over (10) Vanderbilt
(6) Missouri over (3) Ole Miss
(5) Tennessee over (1) Florida
(2) Kentucky over (6) Missouri
(2) Kentucky over (5) Tennessee