The SEC Tournament starts today in Nashville. Obviously, this is the last chance for teams to make an impression on the NCAA tournament committee, and there are many teams in the SEC that need to do so in order to avoid the inglorious fate of the NIT or CBI. There are even more that need an outright tournament victory in order to avoid the ignominious fate of watching the post-season from the comfort of their dorm rooms.
As far as teams that are on the proverbial "bubble" right now and need to do more to get into the NCAA tournament, here's what I think:
- Mississippi St. has to get to the finals to have a shot at the dance. Otherwise, it's the NIT for them.
- Ole Miss needs to get to the finals, I think, to have a chance. They have one quality out-of-conference win versus the Kansas St. Wildcats, but they have an embarrassing lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks at home to offset that.
- The Florida Gators need at least two wins to be confident of getting in, but Florida has a couple of quality OOC wins, unlike most of the rest of this group.
- The Florida and the Mississippi St. paths to the SEC Tournament final are mutually exclusive due to the tournament draw.
- Ole Miss most likely gets Kentucky in the semifinals. They had best pray for an upset.
With all that said, let's look at the games on tap for today and do some quick handicapping after the jump.
Game #1 -- South Carolina Gamecocks (E5) @ Alabama Crimson Tide (W4) -- 12:00 Noon, SEC Network
These two teams are evenly matched. If you look at their statistics, you find that there is not a thumbnail's worth of difference between these two in the Four Factors, and the line has the Crimson Tide a 1-point favorite. That's what you'd expect from the 4-5 seed game.
The best either team can hope for barring an SEC Tournament victory is an NIT spot, so I think the motivation for both of them is about the same. This game is not "do or die" in the sense of post-season hopes for either squad. With that said, what usually rules in tournament games is guard play, and the Gamecocks have better guard play. I pick South Carolina in the mildest of upsets, 72-67.
Game #2 -- LSU Tigers (W6) @ Tennessee Volunteers (E3) -- circa 2:15 PM, SEC Network
Tennessee comes into this game playing good basketball, and LSU comes in off an upset over the Georgia Bulldogs in Baton Rouge. Statistically, Tennessee is a much better shooting and ballhandling team and gets to the line more, but LSU is the better rebounding squad.
Tennessee is playing for a better seed. Right now, I figure them at a four or five, but a deep run in the SEC tournament combined with their high number of quality wins could get them all the way up to a three. They will be highly motivated. The Tigers are playing for pride only, but LSU
won this tournament the conference last year and would like to get to the NCAA tournament again. The Volunteers are 12.5 point favorites, and I see them winning this game 80-67.
Game #3 -- Auburn Tigers (W5) @ Florida Gators (E4) -- 6:30 PM, SEC Network
This game is really all about the Gators' NCAA Tournament hopes -- lose this one and it's quite likely "Hello, NIT" for the third straight year. Statistically, it's a pretty close game, but the Gators do one thing the Tigers don't -- win games.
Auburn has pulled a few surprises this year against Georgia and Mississippi St., but I think the Gators will be focused, fighing as they are for their post-season lives, and they have been playing pretty good basketball of late. They gave Kentucky plenty of game in Rupp Arena, and unless that took all the fight out of them, they figure to be in good here. The Gators are 6-point favorites, and my prediction is 70-60 Florida.
Game #4 -- Georgia Bulldogs (E6) @ Arkansas Razorbacks (W3) -- Circa 8:45 PM, SEC Network
Here is the game that figures to be an upset. Georgia is a much better team than their record indicates, and even though they are on a two-game losing streak including a bad upset by LSU in Baton Rouge, the Bulldogs know that they are better than that, and Mark Fox has proven to be a good coach despite a fairly rocky first year.
Statistically, this is another close matchup. With Courtney Fortson in the lineup and Rotnei Clarke shooting threes, Arkansas is by far the more explosive of the two teams. But Georgia does have Trey Thompkins and the remarkable Travis Leslie, and those guys are going to get points and rebounds versus anybody. This one is called a pick-em by the oddsmakers, and it truly figures to be a great game. I believe Georgia's strength on the glass earns them this one, 75-71.
There are my picks, but you are more than welcome to add yours below. Also, I highly recommend you follow along periodically with SB Nation's SEC Tournament story stream for the latest from SEC team blogs and the SB Nation team.
Treat this as an open thread all day for discussing the tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats, the news, whatever. We'll have more later, as always.