It’s March and we all know what that means. Basketball. All. Day. The Southeastern Conference takes their annual tournament to New Orleans this year and the first round starts tomorrow. The SEC ranks as the 4th best conference in both RPI (1-Big 10, 2-Big East, 3-Big 12) and Pomeroy (1-Big 10, 2-Big 12, 3-Big East) rankings this season. Let’s take a look at some tournament history and what we can expect this year.
The SEC first began their tournament in 1933, but suspended it from 1953-1978. During that time the league’s automatic NCAA birth was given to the regular season champion. Even today with the tournament reinstated, the SEC still recognizes its yearly champion as the regular season winner but awards it’s automatic bid to the tournament winner.
The University of Kentucky has mostly dominated this tournament, winning the title 27 times, including the previous two. The University of Alabama comes in second with 6 titles, their last coming in 1991. South Carolina is the only current SEC school to have never won the tournament.
This is the first time New Orleans has hosted the tournament since 1996, when Mississippi State won.
Obviously the winner on Sunday gets the league’s automatic bid, but several teams have an opportunity to help their chances on Selection Sunday with a strong performance this weekend.
Let’s Meet Our Participants:
Kentucky (30-1, 16-0): The Wildcats enter the tournament with a perfect 16-0 regular season conference record for the 4th time in school history. Coach John Calipari claims he doesn’t put much stock in the conference tournament and even questions it’s importance relative to the NCAA, but has won his previous two attempts as UK head coach. Kentucky is essentially guaranteed a #1 seed in the NCAA’s, but is competing with Syracuse for the #1 overall seed. Three wins this weekend should clinch that.
Tennessee (18-13, 10-6): The Vols earned the 2nd Seed as a result of winning the three way tie breaker, but even a 4 seed would have been extremely impressive for this team. Cuonzo Martin has this team firmly on the bubble, somewhere no one thought they would be in his first year. Joe Lunardi currently has the Vols as one of his “last four out”, so a couple wins in the SEC Tourney will certainly help their case.
Vanderbilt (21-10, 10-6): Vandy had a roller coaster season this year. They’ve had chemistry and consistency issues all season, but certainly have the talent to hang with any team in the country when they are on their game. A tournament title could propel this team as high as a 4 seed in the NCAA.
Florida (22-9, 10-6): Florida came out strong this year and made an appearance in the top 10 briefly before a late season loss to Kentucky sent the team into a tailspin. The Gators have lost 5 of their final 8 games and their NCAA seed has gone from a 2 or 3 to a 5 or 6. Billy Donovan needs to refocus his team this weekend and get them playing with confidence again or else it could be a very brief March.
Alabama (20-10, 9-7): The Crimson Tide will most likely make the NCAA tournament, but a win tomorrow would certainly ease their minds. Bama is probably the 2nd best defensive team in this league and that will keep them in most any game. If the Tide can knock out Florida on Friday (yes, they’ll beat South Carolina tomorrow), they’re probably looking at a 6 or 7 seed.
Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8): Here’s another team with plenty of talent that could never put it all together this season. The Bulldogs boast a tall and athletic team that gave Kentucky fits in their meeting this season, leading the Wildcats by 13 at halftime. They are capable of playing with anyone, but find themselves on the outside of the NCAA tournament thanks to a five game losing streak late in the year. An appearance in the final game could possibly send them dancing, but they may want to go ahead and claim that automatic bid just to be sure.
THESE TEAM NEED TO WIN THE TOURNAMENT TO MAKE THE BIG DANCE
Ole Miss (18-12, 8-8): The Rebels had a decent enough year, with good wins over Miami and Alabama. The problem was the losses to Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee, Dayton, LSU, and Auburn.
LSU (17-13, 7-9): You might not believe this, but LSU beat Marquette earlier this year. That was the highlight of their season.
Arkansas (18-13, 6-10): Arkansas actually has a couple of impressive wins this year. They defeated Big 10 Co-Champion Michigan as well as Vanderbilt. Good for you guys.
Auburn (15-15, 5-11): The Tigers hit a low point against Vandy this year, scoring only 35 points but had a decent win over South Florida early in the season.
Georgia (14-16, 5-11): I had no idea Mark Fox was still the coach at Georgia. That might not last very much longer. The Bulldogs beat Notre Dame this year, so they had that going for them.
South Carolina (10-20, 2-14): The Gamecocks beat Western Carolina, Mississippi Valley State, Clemson, Presbyterian, Southeastern Lousiana, Wofford, South Carolina Upstate, South Carolina State, Alabama and Georgia. Clemson, Alabama and Georgia – You should be ashamed of yourselves.
LSU over Arkansas
Alabama over S. Carolina
Ole Miss over Auburn
Mississippi St over Georgia
Kentucky over LSU
Alabama over Florida
Tennessee over Ole Miss
Mississippi St over Vandy
Kentucky over Alabama
Tennessee over Mississippi St
Kentucky over Tennessee