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Jumbo Package: Previewing the SEC Tournament

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Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thursday, everyone. The SEC tournament kicks off in earnest today, after Vanderbilt won the play-in game over Texas A&M last night. The game of most interest to Alabama fans will be the Kentucky vs. Mississippi State game at 11am on SEC network, the winner of which will play Alabama on Friday in the same time slot. Some tournament previews for you:

What to watch: The Rebels are one of the most notable major conference bubble teams, and considering the potential for adding quality wins against NCAA Tournament teams, they will have a chance to play their way into the tournament. Kentucky, on the other hand, arrives at the SEC Tournament without the usual pomp and circumstance considering its only way to make the field of 68 is with the league’s automatic bid. The Wildcats, like Duke, will be the most interesting team until they lose. Then our focus will be on an Alabama team that’s been at the top of the sport for most of the year and an Arkansas squad that’s one of the hottest in the country right now.

Best-case scenario: Championship Sunday. Alabama won the league by multiple games, and there’s no reason they can’t dominate everyone in their way this week. Even Arkansas, perhaps their best competition, is a team Alabama beat by 31 in January.

Prediction: Championship Sunday. The Tide will end Kentucky’s tournament Friday, spoil an inspired Florida run Saturday and look like a Final Four contender all weekend, only to fall to Arkansas in a thrilling title game Sunday afternoon.

Travis Graf: Alabama. Coming into the tournament with a 16-2 record in conference play, the Crimson Tide have shown that they can knock off anyone that stands in their way. They’re a well-balanced team that can have any one of five guys go off for 20-plus points in a given game. Alabama comes into the tournament ranked 5th in 3-point attempts made per game. If they’re hitting around that mark this week, they’ll be tough to beat.

Justin Rowland: I’ll have to go with Arkansas, the team that has won 11 consecutive SEC games. In that stretch, the Razorbacks have blown some teams out and won some close contests. Winning is a habit and they’re riding high. It has been 21 years since Arkansas won the SEC Tournament and I’ll call for that drought to end. The Hogs have exceptional balance with four guys averaging 12 points or more in SEC games and several others capable of contributing. This team is top-30 nationally in adjusted offense and defense (KenPom) and if they meet Alabama for the championship — a game many will anticipate — it’ll be a track meet.

In general, Alabama and Arkansas are the odds on favorites to meet on Sunday for the championship and most of the pundits have Arkansas winning, which would extend their unbeaten streak to 14 games. The SEC Network crew discussed whether they were taking Alabama/Arkansas or the field to be crowned.

The Tide are the top seed in this thing for a reason, but to win they will have to be at their best.

The Crimson Tide is currently projected as a No. 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, and is a lock to participate in March Madness. But teams like Kentucky and Mississippi State are playing to stay alive and earn an automatic bid to the big dance. But Alabama, especially its seniors, is looking to continue to improve on the court.

“The motivation, I feel like, is just to keep adding on to what we started,” senior guard John Petty said. “I feel like this team has done a great job all year of putting ourselves in a position to make a deep run and do great things for this school, so at this point, it’s just all about playing locked in and being focused, just to continue to finish the goal.”

Senior guard Herbert Jones added, “I also think a lot of the motivation is that a lot of people didn’t expect us to do what we have done this year. I think as long as we keep that chip on our shoulder, I think we’ll be OK.”

They will need to keep that motivation. As we have discussed previously, they will likely be facing a desperate Kentucky squad on Friday that is unaccustomed to missing the NCAA tournament.

SB Nation asked us to participate in a short preview with word limits. This is what I had to say about Alabama’s chances.

CASE FOR TEAM

Alabama gets after it hard on both ends of the floor, and when they are shooting the ball well can beat anyone in the country. Oats favors a mature team, and he’s got it. Senior C Jordan Bruner just returned from a knee injury, which is critical for the interior defense.

CASE AGAINST TEAM

Oats really doesn’t have a featured point guard, which is so important come tournament time. Bruner isn’t and won’t be 100%. And, of course, any team that shoots a bunch of threes is vulnerable on any night where the shots don’t fall.

Your thoughts on the case for and against the Tide in the Big Dance?

Moving on to football, Nick Saban was a guest on a podcast hosted by Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden yesterday, and he had some interesting comments about his own motivation to keep going.

“The shelf life with me doesn’t come with age or a number,” he explained. “It comes from do you still believe you can create value in the organization from doing a good job and helping players in the program having better chance to be more successful in life because of the program you have. ... As long as I can do that, I feel pretty good about doing this, but I don’t want to ride the program down.”

He doesn’t know when that will be, but he views college coaching like a new job every season.

“I look at this whole thing in college coach, and you lose about 25 percent of your team every year,” Saban said. “So, it’s almost like you took a new job. The day after the national championship game or the day after the last game that you played, it’s like, OK, this is a new job.

“We’re going to lose 25 percent of our team, a lot of really good players. Most of the time the leadership on the team leaves. So, you have all these new challenges with people in new roles and that’s very challenging to me and I still enjoy doing that part of it.”

This is just more evidence that he was never built for the NFL. As we all know, he has never been shy about turning over assistant coaches either. Every year brings a new team and a new challenge to conquer. May he continue to embrace those challenges for a few more years.

Last, I believe a certain school a couple states to the west likes to call themselves “DBU.”

Ahem.

The Tide have taken that league over.

That’s about it for now. Have a great day.

Roll Tide.