NCAAB Sports

SEC Basketball Tournament Preview

SEC Basketball Tournament Preview

The SEC Basketball Tournament seeds have been set and Bridgestone Arena is in for a treat this year with the field of 14 being arguably the strongest the conference has seen in recent years. Here the bracket is broken down and big matchups will be highlighted.

The Bracket

SEC Basketball Tournament Preview

LSU slides in as the top seed regardless of the season-ending turmoil, most recently amounting to the suspension of head coach Will Wade. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks continue to be the surprise of the conference. They easily took care of Georgia on Saturday to secure the four seed in the tournament as well as the coveted double bye. Auburn’s big upset at home over Tennessee dropped the Volunteers to the three seed while giving Auburn the five seed, awaiting Wednesday’s winner between (12) Missouri and (13) Georgia.

Kentucky has won the tournament in each of the last four seasons. They’ll be a favorite again this year coming in at +190 as odds to win the tournament, according to MyBookie.ag. Tennessee matched them at +190, followed by LSU and Auburn, each at +420 with Mississippi State the leader of the rest of the group at +1500.

Bubble Teams That Need to Win

As of right now, the SEC has 6 teams that should be locks for the NCAA Tournament. Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology has:

SEC Basketball Tournament Preview
Kentucky celebrates their 2017 SEC Championship. (Photo courtesy of secsports.com).
  • (1) Kentucky
  • (2) Tennessee, LSU
  • (5) Auburn
  • (6) Mississippi State
  • (9) Ole Miss
  • Last Four In: (11) Florida
  • First Four Out: Alabama

Arkansas, while further out on the bubble, is a team making their case for the tournament that needs a strong showing in Nashville.

(9) Arkansas vs (8) Florida, Thursday 12pm CT

Arkansas comes in riding a three game winning streak after losing their previous six, part of a rough February that nearly dashed any hopes of an NCAA Tournament. Florida meanwhile closed out February on a five-game winning streak and at 17-11, no longer a bubble team. However finding a win in March has been difficult after dropping their last three, the most damaging loss at home against Georgia, currently 112 in the NET.

The losing team will undoubtedly find themselves in the NIT. If Arkansas comes out on top they’ll have more work to do against LSU the next day before they can think about the NCAA Tournament. Florida currently sits at 33 in the NET and may be safe with that win to consider themselves in.

(10) Alabama vs (7) Ole Miss, Thursday 6 pm CT

Ole Miss comes in after a close one in Columbia against Missouri. The general consensus is that they are comfortably in regardless of the outcome and don’t need to make it to Friday. Alabama meanwhile has to have a win or they’ll see their bubble burst. The Tide has dropped their last three and is at a worrisome 58 in the NET. Even with a win, they’ll have more work to do against Kentucky on Friday.

(4) South Carolina vs Winner of Game 4, Friday 25min after Game 7 (at noon)

South Carolina sits on the very outside looking in at this point, (78 in the NET), but it’s hard not to include the four seed in the SEC Tournament as a possible NCAA team. It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Gamecocks, playing as seemingly two different squads in the non-conference versus conference play. They have one really big factor working in their favor: the bubble is extremely weak. If they can make it to the SEC Championship they might have an argument for a bid, but they’d need stiff competition to bolster their resume, and that would mean facing Auburn and LSU. It is worth noting if South Carolina were to do just that and lose the SEC Championship game they would sit at 18-16. No team has received an at large bid with 16 losses.

Teams to Watch

Arkansas, 17-14 (8-10)

As stated earlier, the Razorbacks are hot. They also have one of the most favorable routes to the Championship game. They’ll see a cold Florida team in their first game. Should they win they’ll have an LSU team that is being bogged down with the FBI scandal and all that comes with that. In the semifinals, they’ll see either South Carolina or most likely Auburn. Arkansas went 0-2 against the pair during the regular season, though both were road games and amidst a six-game losing streak. However, the other semifinal game would likely be against Kentucky or Tennessee so again, Arkansas has the favorable side.

SEC Basketball Tournament Preview
Gafford was picked preseason first team All-SEC. (Photo courtesy of arkansasrazorbacks.com).

Arkansas also has NBA prospect Daniel Gafford who so far nobody has been able to find an answer for. During the three-game win streak, he’s posted  22 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game, including a ridiculous 29 point, 16 rebound performance against Alabama in the season finale. He was voted preseason 1st team All-SEC and is a projected top-20 pick for the NBA Draft.

Head Coach Mike Anderson suddenly finds himself with an opportunity before him. If Arkansas can make it by Florida they’ll be an already hot team fighting for an NCAA bid with NBA talent on the roster.

LSU, 26-5 (16-2)

Win or lose Friday, LSU will be a 2/3 seed for the NCAA tournament. For almost all of the season, they have been a team to watch for none of the reasons I am about to mention. Forget that they’re one of the most athletic and exciting teams to watch in the conference. Now they’re fighting a suspension to their FBI plagued head coach, they’re holding Javonte Smart out of the lineup due to the same scandal, and they’re dealing with an injury to top big man Naz Reid. Christian Dawkins has not done the LSU program any favors.

An update on the freshman guard is expected to surface on Tuesday morning, according to interim head coach Tony Benford. Either way, mix all of that with having to face either Arkansas or Florida on Friday, both bubble teams desperate for a win, and LSU might be the first team with a double bye to exit the tournament.

Kentucky 26-5 (15-3)

Kentucky is a team to watch for all the reasons they’ve been a team to watch since Calipari took the job: they’re really good at basketball. Calipari is one of the favorites for SEC Coach of the Year because of the turnaround he’s done with this team. Not that they’ve ever looked bad, but they haven’t looked like the dominant Kentucky team that Big Blue Nation is accustomed to under Calipari. That is until about halfway through the season.

SEC Basketball Tournament Preview
John Calipari is 301-69 as Kentucky’s Head Coach. (Photo courtesy of USA Today).

Following a loss to start the conference schedule, Kentucky went on a 10 game winning streak that included wins against ranked teams (14) Auburn, (22) Mississippi State, and (9) Kansas, all in consecutive games. The streak came to an end on the infamous questionable call at the end of the game against (19) LSU but was followed up with a dominant win against rival and then No.1 Tennessee.

On top of all of that, Kentucky hasn’t lost in the SEC tournament since 2014 – a 1 point loss to Florida in the championship game. And it never hurts to be playing at Bridgestone Arena; roughly a three-hour drive from Lexington and 45 minutes from the Kentucky border.

Predictions

First Round:

Game 1 (12) Missouri vs (13) Georgia, Wednesday 6 pm CT: Missouri

Game 2 (11) Texas A&M vs (14) Vanderbilt, Wednesday 25min after Game 1: Texas A&M

Second Round:

Game 3 (9) Arkansas vs (8) Florida, Thursday 12 pm CT: Arkansas

Game 4 (11) Texas A&M vs (5) Auburn, 25min after Game 3: Auburn

Game 5 (10) Alabama vs (7) Ole Miss, Thursday 6 pm CT: Ole Miss

Game 6 (11) Texas A&M vs (6) Mississippi State, 25min after Game 5: Mississippi State

Third Round:

Game 7 (9) Arkansas vs (1) LSU, Friday 12 pm CT: Arkansas

Game 8 (5) Auburn vs (4) South Carolina, 25min after Game 7: South Carolina

Game 9 (7) Ole Miss vs (2) Kentucky, Friday 6 pm CT: Kentucky

Game 10 (6) Mississippi State vs (3) Tennessee, 25min after Game 9:  Tennessee

Semifinals:

Game 11 (9) Arkansas vs (4) South Carolina, Saturday 12 pm CT: Arkansas

Game 12 (3) Tennessee vs (2) Kentucky, 25min after Game 11: Tennessee

Championship:

Game 13 (9) Arkansas vs (3) Tennessee, 12 pm CT: Tennessee

 

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