SEC Tournament Preview: Rapid Fire RoundPosted by Brian Joyce on March 13th, 2014
The SEC tournament is underway, and the SEC microwriters have so many key questions to answer to preview the SEC Tournament. Today’s burning questions are a rapid fire round of all the major story lines we haven’t covered yet heading into the beginning of the tournament. Which potential matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend? Can Kentucky pull it together or is destined for an early exit? How many wins does Arkansas need for an NCAA berth? What about Missouri? Which team cuts down the nets on Sunday? The SEC microsite writers answer all of these questions in rapid succession as we head into round two of action in Atlanta.
David Changas (@dchangas)
Which potential match-up are you most looking forward to this weekend? Tennessee-Florida. Assuming the Volunteers have turned a corner and can get by likely quarterfinal opponent Arkansas, have they improved enough to take down a Gator squad that has certainly already secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?
Can Kentucky pull it together or is destined for an early exit? Objectively, there isn’t a lot to be excited about with respect to Kentucky’s recent play. However, there are a few factors that make me think they’re going to reach the championship game on Sunday. First, they have an unmatched history in this event, and have been particularly good in Atlanta in the past. Second, they’ll have an overwhelming crowd advantage, as Big Blue Nation always descends upon the Georgia Dome in hordes. Third, they have a relatively easy draw. They avoid the Florida/Tennessee/Arkansas side of the bracket and should have only LSU and Georgia or Ole Miss standing between them and the title game. I’ll be surprised if they don’t make it there.
How many wins does Arkansas need for an NCAA berth? Two. If the Razorbacks lose to Auburn or South Carolina Thursday, it’s over for them. If they win and can then take down Tennessee, it would give them another quality win to add to the resume. Other than Florida, they have more of those than any SEC team. It would erase the damage they did Saturday with their blowout loss at Alabama, and should be enough to get them into the field.
What about Missouri? Barring a first-round win and a quarterfinal upset of Florida, the Tigers’ NCAA hopes appear to be doomed. If they can shock the Gators, they’ll do enough to get themselves back into the conversation. But that appears highly unlikely, and it looks like Frank Haith’s squad is headed for the NIT.
Which team cuts down the nets on Sunday? While Tennessee is intriguing because of the way it’s been playing, and Kentucky appears to have a relatively easy draw to the final, it’s hard to go against Florida. The Gators are rolling, and are far and away the league’s best team. It’s tough to envision any team other than Florida cutting down the nets.
Brian Joyce (bjoyce_hoops)
The championship game could be anti-climatic because the two teams playing the best basketball in the conference will likely meet in the semifinals. I’m most looking forward to Tennessee and Florida butting heads on Saturday. Tennessee is on fire right now, and if anybody is going to take down the Gators it will be the red hot Volunteers. With that being said, I’ll take out the unnecessary build-up and skip ahead to the last question. Florida will cut down the nets on Sunday. The Gators won 18 games in a row in conference play, and I believe they’ll win another three in Atlanta.
Earlier in the week I was 100 percent sure Kentucky wouldn’t pull it together. The Cats were pushed around by a very physical front line in both matchups with LSU, and I predicted another game where UK doesn’t have anybody to body up to Johnny O’Bryant. But now, John Calipari comes out with the “tweak” heard around the world, and I’m not so confident in my prediction of Kentucky’s demise any more. Will he post up his 6’6” guards? Will he put Julius Randle in the middle of his zone offense to take away the low post double team and to get better movement? I don’t know, but I’m curious to see the change that has the Kentucky roster overwhelmed with poise and certainty. If the Cats can reverse the downward trend of the last several weeks, the bracket is wide open for another clash with Florida.
Several SEC teams have work to do if they want to be dancing. Arkansas obviously needs to avoid a slip up against either Auburn or South Carolina because that kind of loss is not one you want as your final impression on the selection committee. In my opinion, Arkansas doesn’t have enough quality wins to convince the committee they should be in the field. The Razorbacks’ two victories over Kentucky don’t look as good as they once did, so there’s more work to do here. The Hogs not only need to win on Thursday, but they need a win over Tennessee on Friday to get in. Missouri is out at this point. The Tigers finished down the stretch with three losses in their last five games, with two of those against Alabama and Georgia. Missouri needs a win over Florida on Friday to work their way back into the discussion.
Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell)
Potential Match Up: LSU-Kentucky. No two teams in this conference can combine to put more talent on the floor than LSU and Kentucky. The front lines could feature as many as six future NBA players. In what feels like it could be a dud of a tournament, that is exciting. The last time these two teams met was exciting too, as Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer nearly shot the Tigers to a win in Rupp Arena.
Can Kentucky pull it together? Yes and no. Maybe I’m delusional, but I still have faith in the Wildcats. Unlike last year, this team is still headed to the NCAA tournament, and still has such an overwhelming talent advantage that they should take care of their weaker side of the bracket. Paired with what should be an obvious fan advantage, that should be enough to propel them to the title game. But can they beat Florida? I’m not that delusional.
How many wins does Arkansas need? Two. The Hogs really shot themselves in the foot by losing at Alabama last weekend. Had they won that game, all they’d need was a take care of business win over South Carolina to set themselves up nicely. Instead, they’ve probably lost the benefit of the doubt and need to beat (in all likelihood) Tennessee to sit back and relax on Sunday.
What about Missouri? Even a seemingly impossible win over Florida doesn’t necessarily put the Tigers in a good position to make the field. Clearly, there is no better resume booster than a win over a team that in all likelihood will be the number one seed. But Missouri has played so poorly on offense and defense the last two weeks that their tournament hopes are past being on life support. The Tigers should’ve lost to Texas A&M at home last week, so there’s no guarantee they get by the Aggies. Even if the planets align for Frank Haith and his team beats Florida, it probably takes a win over Tennessee (the team that just hammered them) to be safely back in the discussion.
Which team cuts down the nets on Sunday? Florida. They are by far the best team in this league, and proved it each time they suited up in conference play. Coming out flat doesn’t seem to be all that likely given all the seniors on this team. The three straight oh-so-close Elite Eight appearances should create a sense of urgency in the big tournament. But remember, this current group has never won the SEC tournament and probably still has visions of Marshall Henderson’s histrionics from last season’s final. That should create a sense of urgency in Atlanta too.