SEC Wrapup & Tournament PreviewPosted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009
Ryan ZumMallen of LBSportsPost is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and SEC Conferences.
A lot of people have written off the SEC as an also-ran. It’s lacked a Top 20 presence most of the season and doesn’t figure to make a lot of noise in The Dance. LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee are looking like the only teams that have earned themselves a Tournament spot – save, of course, a surprising SEC Tournament champion. But in a conference boasting the likes of Jodie Meeks, Nick Calathes, Ole Miss’ Terrico White and others, it’s entirely plausible that a middle of the pack squad could pull a Chattanooga and punch themselves a Tourney ticket.
LSU was clearly the best team in the conference this season, posting the best margins of points (+10.1) and rebounds (+5.7) per game. But the Tigers are not without their faults. Their three SEC losses were to Alabama, Vanderbilt and Auburn – who boast a combined 25-23 conference record. Not exactly quality losses, and LSU will need to be wary carrying a two-game losing streak into the conference tournament; lest we forget that many teams need an SEC title more than the #16 Tigers do.
The names that you should expect to see in the SEC Title game are the top four seeds: LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee and Auburn. They’ve all got automatic byes into the second round and, like I said, three of them have pretty much locked up their Tournament bids. The real fun will be to see how Auburn handles themselves, as they ride a four-game winning streak and the hot play of forward Korvotney Barber into the week. The 6’7” junior won Player of the Week honors after posting averages of 15/17 in wins over Alabama and LSU. Watch for Auburn’s game against the winner of Florida and Arkansas to see if the Tigers have any shot at the hardware.
So it looks like the party’s over for Kentucky. That midseason injury to Patrick Patterson’s ankle set the Wildcats off kilter and they never quite recovered. Only bottom-dwellers Georgia and Arkansas fared worse in their past twelve games. Vanderbilt shared Kentucky’s conference record at 8-8, but they clawed their way up to that mark after a 1-3 start, and are playing well as they head into a throwaway tournament opener against Arkansas. After winning that, though, the Commodores get a shaky Tennessee team that seems to be afraid of its own shadow. They may not be able to make it all the way, but don’t be surprised to see Vanderbilt rocket through the bracket.
Mississippi State and Florida share 9-7 conference records, and cupcake first round opponents in Georgia and Arkansas. But they’ll have to play above themselves to take out South Carolina and Auburn after that, so their roads will likely end in the second round. Get settled in for a classic southern matchup or two along the way, as no one in this conference figures to go down without a fight.
Just when we all thought the SEC would put us to sleep, the standings shook up and left us with the blueprints for an exciting finale.