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Kentucky Wildcat Basketball: SEC Tournament Preview

The Southeastern Conference post season basketball tournament tips-off in Nashville, Tennessee tonight with two opening round contests, and with the NCAA tourney bubble bursting with SEC teams, the focus and intensity of each squad should be at a peak.

Last season it was the Vanderbilt Commodores who cut down the nets. Who will it be this year?
Last season it was the Vanderbilt Commodores who cut down the nets. Who will it be this year?
Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE

The 2013 Southeastern Conference basketball tournament begins this evening at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. This year marks the fourth time the SEC has held its season-ending soiree at the 18,160 seat capacity arena, with Bridgestone having also hosted the tourney in 2001, 2006, and 2010.

Several SEC teams find themselves squarely on the Big Dance bubble entering the tournament, which should make for an exciting, and quite possibly, unpredictable affair. The festivities tip-off with two opening rounds game on Wednesday night, and culminates in the tourney championship contest Sunday afternoon at 1:00 ET on ABC.

Now, here is A Sea of Blue's preview of the 2013 SEC Basketball Tournament.

Teams listed in order of SEC Tournament seed:

(1) Florida Gators

  • Head coach: Billy Donovan
  • Overall record: 24-6
  • SEC record: 14-4
  • In the last 10: 6-4, 3-3 in the last six games
  • RPI: 9
  • Quarterfinal match-up: Winner of (8) Georgia vs. (9) LSU

The balanced Gators have been the best team in the SEC all season. Led by Second Team All-SEC senior guards Kenny Boynton (12.5 points per game) and Mike Rosario (12.3 ppg), along with 6-foot-10 First Team all-conference big man Erik Murphy (12.4 ppg) -- who happens to lead the league in 3-point percentage at 46.6 percent -- and Second Team All-SEC center Patric Young (6.2 rebounds per game), Florida is equally capable of putting up points in the paint as well as beyond the arc, as they lead the league in 3-point percentage at 38.2.

Defensively, the Gators are the conference's best team statistically, limiting opponents to only 53.2 points per game and 37.3 percent field goal accuracy.

Perhaps keeping the Gators from cutting down the nets Sunday afternoon in Nashville, though, could be the squads recent trouble of scoring the basketball: In its last six games, Florida is averaging only 62.7 points per game (10 points below its season average), and have topped 70 points only once; at home against Arkansas in a 71-54 win.

Win-ability Index, 1-to-100: 50

(2) Kentucky Wildcats

  • Head coach: John Calipari
  • Overall record: 21-10
  • SEC record: 12-6
  • In the last 10: 6-4
  • RPI: 50
  • Quarterfinal match-up: Winner of (7) Arkansas vs. (10) Vanderbilt

Since losing the SEC's top defender and UK's only First Team all-conference selection, Nerlens Noel, to a knee injury, the 'Cats have posted a 5-3 record, which is indicative of the team's up-and-down performance all season.

The 2013 Wildcats can best be described as a team capable of beating nearly anyone in the country, or losing to nearly anyone in the country. How this painfully young team will perform in Nashville is anyone's guess, but with an NCAA tourney invite on the line -- UK needs at least one win to feel secure on Selection Sunday -- one would think the 'Cats will be motivated to play their best basketball of the season.

Win-ability Index: 45

(3) Mississippi Rebels

  • Head coach: Andy Kennedy
  • Overall record: 23-8
  • SEC record: 12-6
  • In the last 10: 6-4, 4-1 in the last five games
  • RPI: 56
  • Quarterfinal match-up: Winner of (11) Texas A&M vs. (14) Auburn, or (6) Missouri

The Rebels, paced by senior forward Murphy Holloway, who leads the league in rebounding by averaging 9.6 per contest, and junior guard Marshall Henderson, the SEC's top scorer at 19.7 points per contest, began the season by winning 17 of their first 19 games. Since that hot start, though, Ole Miss has cooled off by posting a 6-6 mark, plummeting back to earth.

The Rebs are yet another SEC bubble team, so motivation for a strong tourney showing should not be an issue. That motivation, though, is countered by how successful Kennedy is in controlling Henderson, and his penchant for taking bad shots, early in the shot clock. If Kennedy is able to persuade Henderson to get his teammates involved, Ole Miss will be a tough "out," but if the precocious guard loses his conscious on the way to Nashville, it could be a short trip for the Rebels.

Win-ability Index: 30

(4) Alabama Crimson Tide

  • Head coach: Anthony Grant
  • Overall record: 20-11
  • SEC record: 12-6
  • In the last 10: 7-3, 2-3 in the last five games
  • RPI: 61
  • Quarterfinal match-up: Winner of (12) South Carolina vs. (13) Mississippi State, or (5) Tennessee

The Crimson Tide have struggled this season to score, averaging only 63.7 points per contest, but defensively Bama is strong, allowing less than 60 points per game to opponents. First Team All-SEC player, junior Trevor Releford, leads the Tide in scoring with 15.6 points per game, and is second in the league in thefts, averaging 2.1 steals per contest (he was also named to the SEC's All-Defensive team).

Sophomore Trevor Lacey, the other starting Bama guard, is second on the team in scoring, putting up 11.9 points per game while dishing out 3.2 assists.

Rebounding has been a problem for Bama all season -- 10th in defensive rebound percentage, 9th in offensive rebound percentage -- as the Tide's top board man, 6-foot-6 sophomore swing Rodney Cooper, snags only 4.7 rebounds per game.

Obviously, Bama is another SEC bubble team which could impact the focus of its performance in the tournament.

Win-ability Index: 35

(5) Tennessee Volunteers

  • Head coach: Cuonzo Martin
  • Overall record: 19-11
  • SEC record: 11-7
  • In the last 10: 9-1
  • RPI: 54
  • Second round match-up: Winner of (12) South Carolina vs. (13) Mississippi State

The Vols have rebounded nicely after the loss of the team's best player, Jeronne Maymon, to a preseason knee injury. First Team All-SEC guard Jordan McRae (16.2 ppg, 37.2 percent 3-point shooter) has evolved into the team's back court leader, and sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes (12.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg) has competed mightily to fill the void left by Maymonn's absence.

Tennessee comes into the SEC tourney the league's hottest team, boasting a 30 point win over UK, a six point win over Florida, and a two point victory over Missouri; all accomplished in the last month.

One of the top rebounding teams in the SEC, the Volunteers snag 71.7 percent of their defensive rebound opportunities (2nd in SEC), and 35.8 percent of offensive board chances (3rd in SEC).

Win-ability Index: 55

(6) Missouri Tigers

  • Head coach: Frank Haith
  • Overall record: 22-9
  • SEC record: 11-7
  • In the last 10: 6-4
  • RPI: 32
  • Second round match-up: Winner of (11) Texas A&M vs. (14) Auburn

As talented as any team in the SEC, the Tigers have struggled with chemistry issues (eight transfers on the roster), playing away from Columbia (2-7 in SEC road contests), and the distraction created by the NCAA's investigation of Haith's activities while at Miami (Fla.). First Team All-SEC guard Phil Pressey, though, makes the Tigers a dangerous opponent, not only because of his scoring, 11.9 points per game, but also due to his ability to get his teammates involved, as he leads the league in assists with 7.1 dimes per contest.

Six-foot-eight senior forward Laurence Bowers, a Second Team All-SEC pick, leads Missouri in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per game, while making a league best 55.8 percent of his shots from the floor. The Tigers' man in the middle, 6-foot-9 Alex Oriakhi, is one of the conference's top rebounders, pulling down 8.5 boards per contest. As a team, Missouri leads the SEC in rebounding, corralling 71.8 percent of its defensive board chances, and 39.4 percent of its missed shots.

It's anybody's guess how the Tigers will perform in their initial SEC tourney foray, but it is a team talented enough to win the tournament if clicking on all cylinders.

Win-ability Index: 45

(7) Arkansas Razorbacks

  • Head coach: Mike Anderson
  • Overall record: 19-12
  • SEC record: 10-8
  • In the last 10: 6-4, 2-3 in the last five
  • RPI: 77
  • Second round match-up: (10) Vanderbilt

Second Team All-SEC players Marshawn Powell (6-foot-7 junior forward) and BJ Young (6-foot-3 sophomore guard) make the Razorbacks a-go-go, particularly when playing in Fayetteville. Arkansas' 1-9 road record makes it unfortunate for Anderson and his Hogs that the SEC tourney is not being held in Arkansas.

The Hogs strength, their 40 Minutes of Hell-type press, has allowed Arkansas to lead the SEC in turnover margin -- UA averages 11.6 turns while forcing nearly 18 miscues per game, which makes the Razorbacks an opponent not to be taken lightly.

Win-ability Index: 30

(8) Georgia Bulldogs

  • Head coach: Mark Fox
  • Overall record: 15-16
  • SEC record: 9-9
  • In the last 10: 5-5
  • RPI: 125
  • Second round match-up: (9) LSU

Six-foot-five sophomore guard and SEC Player of the Year, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (18.0 ppg), is the only Georgia player whose scoring average is in double-figures, as the Dawgs struggled offensively on the season, putting up only 60.7 points per game.

Making matters worse for Georgia is the squad's league worst turnover margin of -2.7, as Georgia averages 14.7 turns per game while forcing only 12.

Win-ability Index: 10

(9) LSU Tigers

  • Head coach: Johnny Jones
  • Overall record: 18-11
  • SEC record: 9-9
  • In the last 10: 6-4
  • RPI: 90
  • Second round match-up: (8) Georgia

Led by sophomore forward Johnny O'Bryant (13.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg), a First Team All-SEC pick, and Christian County High School alum Anthony Hickey (11.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.1 steals per game), an All-Defensive team selection, LSU could be a lethal match-up for a higher seeded team looking past the Tigers.

With wins over Alabama, Arkansas, and Missouri, the Tigers have proved capable of upsetting the apple cart, especially if their 3-point shots are falling -- Andre Stringer (40.4 percent) and Charles Carmouche (37.1 percent) are two of the league's top long-range shooters.

Win-ability Index: 15

(10) Vanderbilt Commodores

  • Head coach: Kevin Stallings
  • Overall record: 14-16
  • SEC record: 8-10
  • In the last 10: 6-4, 4-1 in the last five
  • RPI: 128
  • Second round match-up: (7) Arkansas

With one of the youngest teams in Division I, Stallings' team struggled for much of the season, but has posted a 6-3 mark over its last nine contests, with wins over Arkansas and Georgia in that span.

Kedren Johnson, a sophomore guard who averages 13.6 points per game (36.1 percent 3-point shooter), and 6-foot-9 junior forward Rod Odom (10.2 ppg), are the only two Commodores who average in double-figures.

Win-ability Index: 5

(11) Texas A&M Aggies

  • Head coach: Billy Kennedy
  • Overall record: 17-14
  • SEC record: 7-11
  • In the last 10: 4-6, 1-4 in the last five
  • RPI: 95
  • First round match-up: (14) Auburn

When the Aggies take the court it's all about First Team All-SEC performer Elston Turner. Third in the conference in scoring at 17.7 points per contest, Turner has netted over 20 points in nine games this year (putting up 40 against the 'Cats on January 12), and has heated up of late, averaging 24.9 points over his last seven games, while shooting an even 50 percent from the floor (66-132).

Junior guard Fabyon Harris, a 43.9 percent 3-point shooter, also averages in double-figures for Kennedy's club with 11.9 points per game. Six-foot-nine senior forward Ray Turner (6.5 rpg) and 6-foot-9 sophomore Kourtney Roberson (6.6 rpg) man the low blocks for the Aggies.

The glaring bugaboo the Aggies struggle to control is defensive rebounding, as Texas A&M is 13th in the league, grabbing only 66.1 percent of its missed shots.

Win-ability Index: 5

(12) South Carolina Gamecocks

  • Head coach: Frank Martin
  • Overall record: 14-17
  • SEC record: 4-14
  • In the last 10: 2-8
  • RPI: 208
  • First round match-up: (13) Mississippi State

Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington perfectly personifies the Gamecocks' problems this season, as he averages 2.8 assists per game versus 2.9 turnovers. Not an assist/turnover ratio which inspires victories, although three of SC's four SEC wins have come against Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU.

Win-ability Index: sub-zero

(13) Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Head coach: Rick Ray
  • Overall record: 9-21
  • SEC record: 4-14
  • In the last 10: 2-8, 2-14 in the last 16
  • RPI: 233
  • First round match-up: (12) South Carolina

Coach Ray's team plays hard, and other than freshmen Craig Sword (10-3 ppg) and Gavin Ware (8.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) making the SEC All-Freshman squad, that fairly well sums up the positives his club has produced this season.

Win-ability Index: Less than zero

(14) Auburn Tigers

  • Head coach: Tony Barbee
  • Overall record: 9-22
  • SEC record: 3-15
  • In the last 10: 1-9, lost nine straight
  • RPI: 249
  • First round match-up: (11) Texas A&M

Tiger point guard Frankie Sullivan scores 14.1 points per game, and 6-foot-10 center Rob Chubb pulls down 6.4 boards per game, other than those superlatives, the Tigers have struggled all season to score points (average 64.9), rebound (-.6 rebound margin), shoot the basketball (40.9 field goal percentage), defend its own basket (opponents are shooting 42.9 percent), but most glaring, Auburn allows the opposition to make nearly 35 percent of their 3-point shots.

Win-ability Index: Less than zero squared

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

To follow me on Twitter: @KenHowlett