SEC Tournament 2013: Ranking Top Contenders for Conference Title

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SEC Tournament 2013: Ranking Top Contenders for Conference Title
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With few teams really emerging in a competitive SEC, there's plenty on the line at this year's conference tournament, which starts this Wednesday.

Of the 14 teams in the SEC, only the Florida Gators have a place in the NCAA Tournament locked away, no matter how bad the postseason tourney goes.

The NCAA Tournament picture is extremely muddy after that. The Missouri Tigers, Kentucky Wildcats, Tennessee Volunteers and Alabama Crimson Tide are all fighting for bids into the Big Dance.

It should make the event very fun to watch. Here are the four teams with the best chance to win the SEC Tournament.

 

4. Missouri Tigers (22-9, 11-7 SEC)

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Missouri could be a real hit-or-miss team in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers had a solid regular season and finished 2-2 against teams in the AP Top 25. Missouri is also averaging 77.2 points a game, 15th in NCAA, and 41.4 rebounds a game, second in the country.

While those are very strong numbers, the Tigers only managed to finish 2-8 on the road. A perfect 17-0 record at home isn't going to do you any good in the postseason.

If Laurence Bowers can continue his strong run, Missouri could be in business.

In each of his last three games, Bowers has scored 20-plus points, also recording a double-double in two of them. His performance over the last month or so has been much more consistent than Jabari Brown. That consistency will be key for the Tigers.

 

3. Ole Miss Rebels (23-8, 12-6 SEC)

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Andy Kennedy has a great opportunity to get the Ole Miss Rebels in their first NCAA Tournament in his seven-year tenure. It would be the Rebels' first tournament appearance in a decade. There is still a lot of work to do if Ole Miss is to make it to the Big Dance.

Having an RPI of 56 isn't bad, but a strength of schedule at 143 won't do Ole Miss any favors. The Rebels also finished only 1-2 against teams in the AP Top 25.

On a good night, they can shoot the lights out. The Rebels averaged 79.2 points a game, fifth in the country.

Marshall Henderson is the type of player who can take over a game. Conversely, since he shoots at such a high volume, Henderson could wreck Ole Miss should he have an off night.

 

2. Kentucky Wildcats (21-10, 12-6 SEC)

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Many college basketball fans likely reveled in the Wildcats' problems this year. John Calipari finally got his comeuppance for the way he takes so many players and immediately sends them to the NBA.

Should fans feel that way, it's a rather foolish sentiment.

It's clear this team is much worse without Nerlens Noel. You have to give Calipari a ton of credit for the way he's kept Kentucky competitive despite the personnel turnover from last year and injury to Noel.

A 61-57 win over Florida was the perfect way to end the regular season. It gives the Wildcats great momentum coming off two losses prior to that game.

Kentucky will be motivated by the fact that it needs at least a couple more wins to establish itself as a tournament team. There's enough talent in guys like Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress to push the Wildcats when it counts the most.

 

1. Florida Gators (24-6, 14-4 SEC)

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The Gators will no doubt open as the prohibitive favorites, and rightfully so. Florida finished the regular season 4-1 against teams in the AP Top 25, with the lone loss coming by one point on the road to the Arizona Wildcats.

While Florida has been very good this season, Kenny Boynton has regressed a bit. His shooting percentage, scoring average and three-point percentage are all down from last year. Boynton really struggled in the Gators' six losses, shooting a combined 19-of-63 from the field for just 38 points.

If Florida is to win the SEC Tournament, he'll need to be much more reliable.

The best thing going for the Gators is their stifling defense. They ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, giving up only 53.0 points per game.

It's hard to win when you can't score. With such a great defense, it's impossible to look past Florida next week.

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