If you want an indication of how status quo this league is, despite a minor upset or two in the early rounds, all of the top-four seeds survived to the semifinals, with the league's 1 and 2 seeds meeting today. Cinderella is a myth next to superior talent and coaching.
Tennessee 59 South Carolina 44
Tennessee played as well as anyone in the conference down the stretch. Led by stifling defense and superior post players, the Volunteers obliterated South Carolina in the paint all day. Making matters worse, the Gamecocks' streaky shooting failed them, as they shot 28% from the floor and 25% from beyond the arc. This game was as hideous as the final score suggested, as USC posted a woeful 18 points in the first half. South Carolina concluded it season on something of a high note, despite finishing 15-19.
Kentucky 85 LSU 67
Credit the LSU Tigers; they were able to make hay against a Kentucky defense that, for all its size, is still vulnerable to a concerted effort to pound the ball low. Of course, it helps if your guards give you some scoring (Stringer coming off the bench was the only spark here), and if the opponent doesn't make its shots (no such luck). Kentucky's inside-out game was very effective, as the Wildcats were able to score from virtually anywhere on the floor. The deep shooting was judicious and effective, and the Tigers had no match for Calipari's front court. That said, both teams were renovating the Pyramid of Giza with the bricks they were tossing at the free throw line, hitting a woeful 50% of the their free throws. The Wildcats are going to lose a First Weekend game if this doesn't improve. Meanwhile, LSU at 19-13 is likely headed to the NIT, where their dino-ball will be hellish to defend.
Florida 72 Missouri 49
This game was dumb and ugly. Both teams slopped around in the first half, and went into the locker room tied. But you sensed that eventually Florida would clamp down on the exhausted Missouri Tigers, fresh off a tough double OT win on Thursday. As is par for the course, it happened. The Gators came out in the second half with their piss hot, started hitting their shots, forced turnovers, redoubled their hustle, and blasted the Tigers --who suddenly remembered that they were coached by Frank Haith and not Billy Donovan. Missouri (22-11) got a needed win on Thursday, but it still may not be enough to make the field of 64/68. The Gators need Patric Young to be better than he was on Friday.
Georgia 75 Mississippi 73
Live by the three, die by the three. Ole Miss jacked up 25 of them; of course, 16 of those attempts were from Marshall Henderson. The Rebels made a grand total of two, hitting a stinky 8% from deep. For all our attention on the bratty, coke-fueled felon, Ole Miss actually has two guards who are very tough to beat -as the Bulldogs discovered. If Newby and Summers actually had a good game at the same time, this would a tough team. Still, the Bulldogs got balanced scoring from the perimeter, outhustled the Rebels in the paint, and Marcus Thornton was the best player on the court. Charles Mann's quiet 16 points were finally noticed as he hit what would be the go-ahead, game winner with 17 seconds left. SEC basketball sounds like a broken record at this point, but it's NIT time for the 19-14 Rebels.
Kentucky 70 Georgia 58
So much for that whole "bullying Kentucky down low" thing. The Wildcats' deep bench, superior size, and all around athleticism were the tale of this one. Conceding the perimeter shot, Kentucky let Georgia's guards do a little damage, and instead settled on clearing up the boards, harassing entry passes, and generally making life miserable for Thornton and crew. For their part, the Wildcats shot very well from the floor, and seemed to make dagger after dagger from deep. You never had a sense Georgia was in this one, despite the final score. Free throw shooting woes continued, as Kentucky again hit just half of their attempts. You have to think that that may be the difference in today's finals against Florida, in what should be an ugly, low-scoring affair. UGA (19-12) is likely headed to the NIT, with an RPI hovering near 70.
Florida 56 Tennessee 49
You can clearly tell that Billy Donovan is Anthony Grant's mentor: suffocate teams on defense, play uptempo enough to keep the crowd from falling asleep, grind out hellishly ugly half-court offenses, and occasionally hit an outside shot. Saturday's second half beatdown of the Tennessee Volunteers had to have Grant rubbing one out, as the Gators allowed 14 second-half points, erasing a half time deficit, and frustrating the Volunteers into silly turnovers and poor shots. Patric Young needed to be better, and he was, scoring 16 hard-earned points and harassing Jarnell Stokes for the better part of the afternoon. Seriously, the second half of this one was as lopsided, and frankly awful, a game as you'll see. The last time so much clanging iron was heard the Amistad was on its way from the Ivory Coast.
Today's finals at 2:00 CDT on CBS should be a gruesome affair, as Kentucky suddenly remember they are Kentucky, and Florida has remembered that it doesn't let teams even hit 50 points on them. Kentucky has to hope they can roll 11-deep, make perimeter shots, and survive what will be a seriously intense Gator second half.