Next Up: SEC Tournament. The SEC has been an interesting league this year. Tennessee is clearly the class of the conference, but after that, it’s been a nightly tossup as to who the next best teams are. Whether this belies a competitive balance including several good-not-great teams such as Vandy and MSU, or mimics the staid mediocrity of the middle of the ACC, we’re not sure yet. Althought we’re tending toward believing the latter.
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
The Favorite(s). Tennessee, with a significant asterisk. The Vols and Bruce Pearl don’t tend to fare so well in this event. In 2006, Pearl’s first season at UT, the Vols won the SEC East then proceeded to drop their opening quarterfinal game to South Carolina. Last year, they were conference co-champs in the regular season, and once again lost to a terrible team (LSU) in the quarterfinals. There’s more on the line for the Vols this year – most notably, a shot at a #1 seed in the NCAAs next week. The Vols have looked a little shaky down the stretch, but we have to believe that this year’s team will avoid the upset bug and at least play on Sunday.
The Darkhorse. Florida. Surprised? Yes, we know that the Gators have proven they can only beat bottom-dwellers Georgia (twice) and South Carolina in the last ten games. Yet, they played Tennessee and Kentucky into the final minute in their last two games. The talent is there, and we know the coaching is second to none, especially this time of year. Plus, if the Gators expect to return to the big stage, they really need a couple of wins this weekend. The biggest roadblock we see to Florida reaching the finals is Mississippi St., an experienced and defensive-minded team that gave Florida fits in Gainesville.
Bubble Buster Game. Probably that Florida-MSU game in round two, if UF can win its first game. If the Gators can make the semifinals, they’d be sitting at 23-10 (10-8). Does the committee leave out a two-time defending champion with 23 wins? Doubtful.
Cinderella. How about LSU? The Tigers finished strong down the stretch, going 5-4 with an upset win at Florida and close losses vs. Tennessee and Kentucky after making the right decision and firing Coach John Brady on February 8. Rest assured this is not a team that anyone wants to see in their bracket (read: Tennessee).
Games We Want to See. Tennessee and Vandy simply do not like each other, so that would be a fun semifinal on Saturday afternoon. A Vandy-Kentucky final game would also be interesting given the last time they played (UK down 30+ at halftime).
Champion. Mississippi St. Funny we hardly mentioned the Bulldogs yet, but MSU is playing great ball right now. We expect Tennessee to lose early, and MSU’s best-in-class defense should lead the Bulldogs to wins over Florida and Kentucky, where Arkansas will likely be waiting. We like the Dogs to take the title and earn a #4 seed in the NCAAs because of it.