Whoooo! It’s post-season basketball time, and it begins down here in the South with the SEC Tournament in Nashville. Alabama is the No. 1 seed, and won the regular season title, but will they be favored? Just as important should they be favored on a neutral court?
Well, we call it neutral, but let’s be honest with ourselves: this event is usually a sea of Clampetts crawling down from Lexington in satin blue jackets, Jarret Padgett-era trucker hats, and dad shoes. Though this year will likely also have a boisterous home crowd cheering on a surging Vanderbilt.
Let’s take a look at teams odds, and say a bit about them, shall we?
LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, and Ole Miss are various degrees of hopeless, though with varying degrees of dangerousness. LSU and Ole Miss are flat-out no-talent, no-hopers. Kermit has already been fired in Oxford, and this iteration of LSU is perhaps the worst SEC team I’ve seen in a decade. It makes Tony Barbee look competent. It made the sad final David Hobbs years look like 1990 UNLV.
In some defense, South Carolina and Georgia play very hard, and they have some nice offensive players in place. But away from Athens and Columbia? That’s a bit of an ask. If any team were to come out of Sad Wednesday and possibly tally an upset, I’d put my money on the Gamecocks. They’ve been very dangerous at home. Their offense is a PITA to play against. They have some scorers, and unlike UGA, are playing pretty well coming into the tourney. They’ve won 3 of 5, played Alabama and Arkansas to within a bucket, scored a nice road win over Ole Miss — and they’ve already beaten UK in Lexington. They can catch someone napping. Their reward, however, is a UT team that beat them by about 35 points to end the season. So 1-and-done is the most likely prognosis. Then again, Tennessee can lose to literally anyone, depending on which version of their “offense” shows up.
Alabama The Tide rattled off 13 straight to open conference play, then lost two of their next 5. No shame in that. Aggie has only been beaten once at home, and lumped into a mix with Auburn and Arkansas, the trip to Knoxville was almost always going to be a late-season L.
The troubling issue is one of slow starts and then ice-cold shooting. The Tide have started slow their last four games, and the defense has let up a lot of intensity at times (closing minutes against Arkansas, first half against ‘Barn, at USC etc.). They need to rediscover their stroke, and their effort, if they want to cut down the nets. You can’t help if someone gets hot; you can help sloppy passing and getting after the glass.
Probably still the favorite, though I’m not sure they should be.
Mizzou — The Hit or Miss guys. This team can score in oodles...and play absolutely dreadful “defense.” They’ve been especially ghastly outside of CoMo, and have shown no signs that they can turn it on when they need to on that side of the ball. Gates is a good coach; the Tigers found a nice one to elevate to the P5. But mercy, they’ll only go as far as the O takes them. And in postseason play, that’s not very far at all.
Their reward is probably a UT team they beat on the road in a buzzer beater, but defensively, the Vols are a different team than they were 6 games ago. Don’t count on it happening twice. And, even if they escape from that, most likely Alabama awaits: A team that devoured them on their home floor, and against whom they face a bad matchup. Should USC upset UT, that’s not a gimme either — the ‘Cocks played Mizzou very close in CoMo, and their offense is a tough draw with the Tigers bad defense on a neutral floor
Kentucky — If you want to kill the king, you damn well better make sure that he is dead. The SEC’s attempt to plunge a stake into the cold, Cal heart of the Wildcats did not succeed.
The king lives.
After beginning the first half of the season dropping all sorts of bad games, UK suffered several injuries that made them better. Why? Because it did what Cal would not — make them experiment with the lineup. And it turns out, the best grouping were not the five he was sending out.
Now they are. And Kentucky looks like...well...Kentucky. Dangerous. Physical. Talented. And peaking at the right time.
Given Cal’s tourney experience, the pro-UK crowd, and the ‘Cats peaking at the right time, this might just be my favorite...assuming they can survive the bottom half of the bracket, which is not an easy ask. The Tourney is not typically a whistle-fest either, which only inures to the benefit of UK, who have been playing goonball before Slick Rick was even hanging out late in Italian restaurants.
Texas A&M — Tale of two teams. Unbeatable at home; Buzz gets to Buzz it up with the worst sorts of mudwrestling, hope some of the spotty jumpers fall, and then feed off the cult in the stands. It’s a formula that has not panned out very well away from College Station though. This is a thoroughly average tourney-type team in the skinsuit of the 2-seed. Were the Tourney held in Reed Center, Aggie would by hands-down favorite. But outside of that venue, they are 7-4 and have dropped three of four against ranked teams.
I don’t think they even survive their first contest, TBH: Winner of Arkansas / Auburn
Middle of the Pack
Florida — Sure, the Gators will play hard, but they’re down their star player on an offense that already could not sustain many losses. They want to ugly-up the game and drag teams into the 50s, but their first opponent is more than happy to play that kind of ball. Difference is, Mississippi State is better at it, has more talent, and has won some big games on the road.
Mississippi State — I call them “middle of the pack” because record-wise they are. And it’s not a good road team at all in conference play. But don’t think this team can’t win away from Starkville. They’ve scored road upsets at Arkansas and Marquette. But they’re really up and down, with an offense that can’t keep pace if the defense falters. And against elite teams it has. They’ll likely beat UF and be a major PITA to Alabama, but they’re probably not making it out of Friday.
Auburn — I don’t know what else to call 9-9 in the SEC, and 4-8 on the road. They’re just not particularly scary on nights they don’t get whistles. They have a few nice offensive pieces, but not nearly enough. And one half against Alabama aside, they’ve been the SEC’s worst perimeter team. Compounding the matter is a defense that can be lights out one night, and abysmal the next. This team seems to have an effort issue when opponents can hit the three-ball on them. We’ve seen it happen all year: defense gets roasted a few times, their own shots won’t fall, then the Tigers simply fold. Highly doubtful they make it past Arkansas. But even should they do so, they still have to run through Aggie and probably Kentucky. No way. 1-and-done is the call, in the least likable coaching matchup of the tourney. If this team steals a bid, I’m going to be nauseated.
Vanderbilt — This team has no real shot at winning the title, but they are playing red-hot at the moment, and every game is one for a possible bid. It’s a long shot, but they could actually lock one down with a few upsets. Yes, I know: Kentucky is a tall order, but this will be a de facto home court for the Commodores. I wouldn’t underestimate them.
Arkansas — This is the team that really scares you.
Plenty of pro-level talent, tenacious defense, well-coached, and super aggressive. There is no such thing as an easy Arkansas game. They’ve been a bit spotty out of Fayetteville, but when they’re motivated they’re as good as anyone in the conference. The saving grace for Alabama fans is that they have to go through Aggie, Auburn, and Kentucky to reach the Final. And whoever emerges from that bracket is going to be exhausted. There are few gimmes on that side.
Tennessee — The defense is frightfully good, and when they get to play their style of ball, it can be almost impossible to score upon. It’s not one that travels very well, though. They have leaned on a lot of whistles (they are drawing the second-most opponent fouls in the SEC). But there is a reason that the Vols are 4-6 OTR: they don’t get away with the hugging and banging out of Knoxville. The lack of consistent offense, or at least an Option A, and injuries to their star PG, are huge. If they make past Mizzou, a rematch against the Tide would be far less favorable.
In the end, Alabama’s defense rediscovers itself, even if its shot is still spotty. A healthy Tide, with a week’s rest and a chance to reset — and a favorable bracket where the greatest contender is without their best player — set Alabama up for an intense 40 minutes on Sunday. Kentucky, however, is almost certainly going to be worn down a bit, no matter who they face: Auburn, Aggie, or the Hogs. That’s after a scrappy contest against the dangerous Bulldog offense or the win-at-all-cost Commodores.
And I’m almost halfway convinced that we could see Arkansas in this game just as easily as the Wildcats.
Who’s winning the SEC Tournament?
This poll is closed