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SEC Tournament Bracket: Kentucky Wildcats’ path to another conference title

Previewing and projecting Kentucky’s path to a 30th SEC Tournament title and fifth under Coach Cal.

SEC Basketball Tournament - Mississippi St. v Kentucky Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats have won four SEC Tournament championships since John Calipari came to Lexington.

To get No. 5, the Cats will face as many as three teams with NCAA Tournament hopes. The first would be Georgia if they can upend Tennessee in Thursday's second-round matchup between the Dawgs and Vols. Georgia needs to, at the very least, make it to the SEC title game to have any hope of making it to the Big Dance.

Getting a win over Tennessee and Kentucky could be enough to get them in, though they probably need to win the whole thing to secure a berth. Perhaps the biggest x-factor of any team in the SEC Tournament is Georgia forward Yante Maten. The All-SEC big man has missed the past two weeks after injuring his knee against Kentucky back on Feb. 18.

If Maten can return, that could be the difference in Georgia being able to take down a team the caliber of Kentucky in the tournament. But if he's still out, the Dawgs will have a tough time just getting past the Vols.

That said, Kentucky should win this game either way and advance to Saturday's semifinal game. That game would likely feature South Carolina or Alabama, who should end up playing Friday if Bama can win their Thursday game by beating the Mississippi State/LSU winner from Wednesday's action.

Even though the Gamecocks have struggled as of late, they still would be the slight favorite to beat the Tide and advance to Saturday. The Gamecocks lost at Rupp Arena on Jan. 21, 85-69, though it would have been worse had De'Aaron Fox not left the game early with an injured ankle. The Gamecocks were without P.J. Dozier that day, but he doesn’t impact a game nearly as much as Fox.

South Carolina may have the SEC Player of the Year in Sindarius Thornwell, but he doesn't have enough of a supporting cast to upend the Wildcats if they just bring their B+ game. Even if South Carolina loses, they still are in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, though it will likely be as an 8 seed or lower.

If the Wildcats win their first two games, they would likely face either Florida or Vanderbilt in Sunday's title game. The Gators are the No. 2 seed in the tournament, but Vandy swept them in the regular season. The Dores have also won five of their last six games with the one loss being a narrow defeat at Rupp Arena.

It's hard to see anyone other than Florida or Vandy making it out of that side of the bracket to Sunday's title game. The Dores need to win one or two games to feel good going into Selection Sunday, and another win over Florida would likely secure their spot in the Big Dance. If the Dores can win their first game against Texas A&M on Thursday, they'll face Florida Friday in the quarterfinals.

But don't completely sleep on Arkansas. The Razorbacks have won six of their last seven games entering this week, and the lone loss was a hard-fought defeat at Florida. The strong finish was enough to propel Arkansas to the 3 seed and should be able to get past the Ole Miss/Auburn/Missouri winner and play Saturday. Arkansas lost their one matchup with Florida while splitting the season series with Vandy.

If we're power ranking the top half of the SEC, it probably ends up like this:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Florida
  3. Vanderbilt
  4. Arkansas
  5. Georgia (with Maten)
  6. South Carolina
  7. Texas A&M

As you can see, Kentucky got a great draw by not having the three teams right behind them in their side of the bracket, not to mention just two of the top seven teams on their side. That's probably why Team Rankings gives Kentucky a 71.6-percent chance of making it to the championship game.

If Kentucky is to win another SEC title, here's my projection of how it plays out

Quarterfinals: Friday, March 10

No. 1 Kentucky vs No. 8 Georgia (1 p.m. ET, SEC Network) - Cats win, 76-67

Semifinals: Saturday, March 11

No. 1 Kentucky vs No. 4 South Carolina (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) - Cats win, 69-61

Championship: Sunday, March 12

No. 1 Kentucky vs No. 2 Florida (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) - Cats win, 77-75

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