Folks, it’s that time of year. Eight NCAA Tournament bids have been handed it out already and the Big East Tournament tipped off early Tuesday afternoon. March Madness is upon us and I couldn’t be any happier about it.
The SEC Tournament is not exactly the crown jewel of Championship Week, but it’s going to be quite the event nonetheless and I’m here to break it down for you. Here’s what the bracket looks like.
The Favorite – Florida Gators
When you win the conference’s toughest division by three games, finishing your season by winning eight of nine games, you’ve earned the designation as conference tournament favorite. Florida has had an absolutely superb regular season and they deserved to sweep Coach of the Year and Player of the Year honors with Billy Donovan and Chandler Parsons. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t buy them as pre-season conference favorites, but they’ve lived up to the billing and then some.
Working against them, though, is a very tough bracket. To make the title game, they will have to knock off Tennessee (assuming the Vols beat Arkansas) and either Vanderbilt or a very motivated Mississippi State team. Florida has less to play for than most teams in this tournament since they are assured of at least a three or four seed in the NCAA’s.
The Dark Horse – Mississippi State
Yes, I know Mississippi State is the West’s two seed, so calling them a ‘dark horse’ may be a bit strange, but by consensus there are six teams that have had better regular season than the Bulldogs so I have no problem giving them this designation. Rick Stansbury’s team is in a familiar spot of having to win this Tournament to make the NCAA’s and if not for this play, they would have pulled it off.
This year, it would come as no surprise to me if they made another run. MSU always plays well in this tournament and they are a very, very talented squad. They only need to win three games and will be more motivated than pretty much any team they face. They do have the disadvantage of playing the late game on Friday, meaning they would have short rest on Saturday, but this team could end up stealing an at-large bid by winning in Atlanta.
Most to Play for – Georgia Bulldogs/Alabama Crimson Tide
These two squads are listed as the first teams on Joe Lunardi’s Last Four Out, so they need to make noise in Atlanta to put themselves on the right side of the dreaded bubble. The Tide and Bulldogs played just this past Saturday in Tuscaloosa, with Alabama winning a big game, but if UGA takes care of business in round one, the two will go at it again in what figures to be an elimination game for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Toughest Road – Tennessee Volunteers
UT opens with Arkansas, a talented team that hung a loss on them in Thompson-Boling earlier this year. If they win that one, Florida will be rested and waiting. Then, it will be either a desperate Mississippi State team or a Vandy squad that the Vols would be trying to beat for the third time. Alabama, Kentucky or Georgia would be another tough finals match-up.
To my amazement, UT seems to be relatively safe in their quest for an NCAA Tournament berth. They are just 18-13 with an 8-8 record in conference, but they have enough quality wins to feel pretty good about making it to the NCAA’s. However, going one and done in the SEC Tournament will cause some serious worry come Selection Sunday.
One Man Wrecking Crew – Chris Warren, Ole Miss
Warren has been a fantastic player since he set foot in Oxford and will be playing in his final SEC Tournament. He has shown the ability to beat teams nearly single-handedly and could build some confidence in a relatively favorable opening round match-up against South Carolina. A win there would build some confidence entering a match-up with Kentucky, a team Warren already knocked off earlier this season with a late three pointer.
Best First Round Match-up – Tennessee-Arkansas
With how bad the bottom of the SEC has been this year, we have a couple first round stinkers in LSU-Vandy and Auburn-Georgia. Ole Miss-South Carolina is pretty interesting, but UT-Arkansas is much more compelling for a few reasons. First of all, Tennessee doesn’t want to put themselves in a position of having to worry on Selection Sunday should they loses this one. Second, John Pelphrey could be making his last stand as Arkansas coach, as the chopping block could be waiting. Finally, Arkansas upset UT earlier this year so the revenge factor is in play.
Georgia over Auburn
Ole Miss over South Carolina
Tennessee over Arkansas
Vanderbilt over LSU
Georgia over Alabama
Kentucky over Ole Miss
Florida over Tennessee
Mississippi State over Vanderbilt
Kentucky over Georgia
Florida over Mississippi State
Kentucky over Florida
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