Breaking Down the SEC East Race

Tim PollockSenior Writer IFebruary 23, 2009

With only four games left in the conference season, the SEC East is still deadlocked in a three-way tie, with Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina all looking to claim the crown.

What follows is a breakdown of the remaining games and challenges for each team. 

Let’s start with Florida.  Things get juicy for the Gators Tuesday night when they travel to LSU—a team that has ripped off 11 straight conference wins after losing a lackluster conference opener to Alabama of all teams.  The Tigers have no home conference losses this year and only one home loss all season (to a tough Xavier team). 

From there, Florida gets an unpredictable Tennessee team and then closes the season by traveling to Mississippi State and getting Kentucky at home.  Winning all four seems out of the question for the inconsistent Gators, who have the dubious distinction of being the only SEC team to lose to Georgia this season.

I see the Gators going 2-2 to finish the season, ending at 10-6 for the season.  

As for Kentucky:  This Wednesday, the Cats travel to South Carolina in a game that could very well determine the East champion.  A loss to South Carolina would give the Gamecocks a sweep of Kentucky and would therefore give Carolina the tiebreaker, so you can bet the Cats will be ready to play.   

Kentucky then closes with LSU at home followed by road games at Georgia and Florida.

While my gut tells me Kentucky will end the season 2-2, a trusted and unbiased Kentucky fan insists that the Wildcats will go 3-1 to close out the year, so I put my trust in that man’s hands, meaning Kentucky will end at 11-5 for the season.   

As a side note, typically the phrase “unbiased Kentucky fan” would be considered an oxymoron (you know it’s true, Kentucky fans), but in this case, I trust my source. 
Meanwhile, after South Carolina’s game against Kentucky, they travel to Vandy, get Tennessee at home, and then finish with a trip to Athens to play Georgia.

Based on the remaining games, it appears that South Carolina’s schedule is the easiest.  Then again, the Gamecocks have won so many close games already that you have to wonder if they can continue to pull off more last second wins.

The difference for the Gamecocks is simple, though:  They have gotten last second wins from four different players.  Downey sank Kentucky, Zam Fredrick pulled off the miracle win over Florida and drilled a jumper to beat Baylor, Mike Holmes’ tip-in beat Alabama, and, most recently, Dominique Archie’s put-back allowed South Carolina to pull off an overtime win over Arkansas.

Because of that, I’ve got South Carolina also going 3-1 down the stretch, ending at 11-5 and tied with Kentucky for the SEC East lead.  Based on the tiebreaker, however, the Gamecocks win the East, and the city of Columbia—led the by new student “Garnet Army”—goes bonkers. 

The real question, however, will be if one of these top four teams—Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, or LSU—can win the SEC Tournament.  If we get another 2008 Georgia type tournament, the SEC’s reputation will take yet another hit—and rightfully so.   

Finally, my apologies to Tennessee fans for leaving the Vols out of the equation, but Tennessee’s ugly two-game skid, nasty losses to Ole Miss and Kentucky, makes me think they have thrown in the towel.  At 7-5 and victims of a Kentucky sweep, the Vols have too big a hole to dig out of, especially with Mississippi State, Florida, and South Carolina still on the schedule.