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The SEC Tournament and Beyond

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So what lies ahead for the Wildcats this weekend?  We don't know, but we do know that the SEC tournament starts today in Atlanta, and that the Wildcats are not playing in the first round.  That fact in itself is a surprise, because most everyone who may be reading this, including the author, would never have believed it if someone actually suggested in January that Kentucky would be playing the only team with zero wins in the history of the SEC tournament -- that troubled team called "Bye".

But somehow, the Wildcats found a way to claw, slash, grind and battle their way to a second place finish in the East, and as improbable as that sounds, to serious consideration for an at-large bid in the SEC tournament from the depths of a 6-7 non-conference season.  Depending on who you believe, the Wildcats are either a lock for the NCAA tournament and are fighting for improved seeding, or they are "on the bubble" and need further wins in the SEC tournament to be considered safe.

We have already looked at the odds of winning in each round.  Now let's take a look at the tournament bracket:

First Round - Thursday, March 13
Game Teams Time (ET)/TV Audio Stats
G1 [E5] South Carolina vs. [W4] LSU 1:00 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
G2 [W6] Auburn vs. [E3] Vanderbilt 3:15 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
G3 [W5] Alabama vs. [E4] Florida 7:30 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
G4 [E6] Georgia vs. [W3] Ole Miss 9:45 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
Second Round - Friday, March 14
Game Teams Time (ET)/TV Audio Stats
G5 Game 1 Winner vs. [E1] Tennessee 1:00 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
G6 Game 2 Winner vs. [W2] Arkansas 3:15 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
G7 Game 3 Winner vs. [W1] Miss. State 7:30 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
G8 Game 4 Winner vs. [E2] Kentucky 9:45 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
Semifinals - Saturday, March 15
Game Teams Time (ET)/TV Audio Stats
G9 Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner 1:00 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
G10 Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner 3:15 p.m. / Raycom SEC Audio Live!
Finals - Sunday, March 16
Game Teams Time (ET)/TV Audio Stats
G11 Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner 1:00 p.m. / CBS SEC Audio Live!

From here, you can click on the links to listen to the games or check the live stats.  Kentucky doesn't play until late tomorrow night against the winner of Ole Miss and Georgia.  Whoever it is, I will be doing an abbreviated run-down on them after we know the outcome of their matchup.

If we manage to win our first game, our next opponent would be Alabama, Florida, or Mississippi State.  If we are able to get to that semifinal game, it is simply pregnant with subplots no matter which team we face.  If it is Alabama, we will be facing them for the first time with Richard Hendrix, and without Patrick Patterson which is fairly significant.  If it's Florida, it will be the rubber match between the two teams, and the Gators will be fighting for their NCAA lives.  If it is MSU, we will be facing them for the first time without Patterson.

Kentucky is hardly a favorite to get to the finals, but this team has defied the odds since January 12th when they dispatched Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena.  My feeling is that after the trial by fire that they have been through, these Cats are going to be brutally tough to beat from now on.  It seems to me that every team they have played in the last seven games has suffered from determination disadvantage, and particularly since Patterson went down with injury.  That injury seems to have galvanized this team into playing better and better, and even though the Cats have shown a disturbing tendency to let leads get away from them, they always seem to have enough to pull out the win.  We will see how a neutral court in a dome setting affects their play.  Obviously, it shouldn't matter to the two seniors, who have been here before.  But the younger players may find it a distraction.

Even if the Wildcats do not get past round one, it is my belief they are headed to the NCAA tournament as long as they aren't embarrassed, and my next comments are predicated on that being true.  In terms of seeding, I am hoping that we receive a 10 or 11 seed, rather than an 8 or 9.  That would give us a chance to go deeper before we meet a top 2 seed in the bracket.  I think some of the 3 seeds will be especially vulnerable in this year's tournament.  It seems to me that after the top 10 teams, there is a fairly dramatic fall-off, unlike some other years.  To me, this year's NCAA field looks to be one of the top-heaviest in a long while.

But before we worry too much about seeding, UK needs this first game to remove any remaining doubt (even from the stubborn Jay Bilas) about their place in the field.  That means beating either Ole Miss or Georgia on a neutral floor, and Kentucky has not yet proven that they are able to establish enough of a margin to make an upset unlikely, so be sure to take your nitroglycerin before the game if you have a heart condition.