Where: St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida (The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of sports venues)
When: March 12-15 (Thursday-Sunday)
Defending Champion: Georgia Bulldogs
This is the first of a three part preview of the SEC Tournament. Tomorrow, look for my breakdown of what each team needs to do to make the NCAA Tournament and on Wednesday I will have a preview of the four first round matchups.
Conference tournaments are already underway and some tickets to the NCAA Tournament have already been punched (did you see the Morehead State-Austin Peay game on Saturday night?). On Thursday, the action in the SEC Tournament gets underway in Tampa, Florida.
Last year’s tournament was one of the strangest sporting events I can remember. Second round action in Atlanta was interrupted by a tornado that ripped through the city.
Kentucky was set to play Georgia in the late game on Friday night after Mississippi State and Alabama finished, but the tornado caused the game to be moved to the following morning at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Georgia was the six seed in the East, pulling a first round upset of Mississippi just to move on. They then beat UK in the postponed game in one of the most surreal game environments ever. Only family and band members were allowed in, which undermined the advantage brought by UK’s traveling fanbase.
The result was a very quiet crowd. Georgia won the game on a three by Zac Swansey (but not before a UK intentional foul and a Perry Stevenson block of a free throw just to add to the strangeness).
Georgia then had to win another game on Saturday in a rare doubleheader, beating Mississippi State before finally triumphing over Arkansas in the final. Georgia was perhaps the unlikeliest SEC Tournament champion of all time, overcoming the fact that they had to play three games in two days as well as the fact that they were a bad team.
You can be assured of the fact that this year’s SECT will provide intrigue as it always does, but expect the more traditional kind of intrigue in the form of nail biters and buzzer beaters, not tornadoes and rescheduling (according to weather.com, it’s going to be over 80 degrees with no more than a 10 percent chance of rain each day).
Without further ado, here’s a look at the bracket and what you need to know about the Tournament:
Auburn - The Tigers have stormed their way into the NCAA picture, winning eight of nine games and four in a row overall. Six of their eight recent wins are by double digits, including a 69-53 spanking of league champ LSU in the regular season finale.
Alabama - The Tide knocked off East champ Tennessee with a buzzer beater in Knoxville from the mourning Anthony Brock. The win was their fourth in five games, with their only loss coming to even hotter Auburn.
Vanderbilt - The ‘Dores won their last three to finish .500 in conference. Vandy knocked off South Carolina, LSU, and Arkansas in impressive fashion. Vandy is a very young team and they may finally be starting to click. They will be playing with confidence that they can beat anyone.
Kentucky - To say the ‘Cats faltered down the stretch would be an understatement. They lost eight of 11 after being prematurely crowned as SEC favorites. UK especially tanked when an NCAA bid was within their grasp, losing four in a row to close the season.
Florida - The Gators' win over UK kept their Tourney hopes on life support and halted a three game losing streak. Even still, a win over the sputtering ‘Cats did little to erase memories of a 3-5 finish to SEC play.
LSU - The Bayou Bengals lost two in a row to Vandy and Auburn after closing out the SEC title in Lexington. They had won 13 straight in conference before that.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Outside of the obvious guys like Devan Downey, Jodie Meeks, Nick Calathes, and Marcus Thornton, these are guys who could have a big weekend and lead their team to a couple wins.
AJ Ogilvy-C-Vanderbilt - Ogilvy battled through a foot injury early in the year, but he has lately regained the form that made him a preseason All SEC pick. In the ‘Dores three recent wins, he averaged 24.3 points per game with 8.3 rebounds and two double-doubles.
Alonzo Gee-G/F-Alabama - Gee had a rough 4-17 outing in Knoxville, but the senior has played his best basketball lately, and will be looking to go out with a bang to improve his NBA stock. He’s averaging 17.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in his last seven games.
Courtney Fortson-PG-Arkansas - This is a guy who can beat his opponent single-handedly just as easily as he can beat his own team. He’s capable of lighting you up for a triple double, but he’s also capable of going for double digit turnovers (he had eight against first round opponent Florida in the regular season).
LOW SEED MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A RUN
Alabama - Alabama has some serious talent: Alonzo Gee is one of the best athletes in the conference, JaMychal Green was a McDonald’s All-American last year, and Situation…I mean Senario Hillman can jump over anybody. Bama is sketchy shooting the rock, but if they get hot, watch out.
LSU - Yeah, they’ve lost two in a row, but they are the class of the SEC this year. They lost some focus to close the season out, but they have big time athleticism and big time experience. They will be looking to rebound from their recent play and strengthen their seeding in the Big Dance…I think they will do so with a vengeance.