The SEC conference tournament is without a consensus favorite.
The Florida Gators are the top seed, but they have struggled at times away from home. Florida has dropped its last three road games and four of its last five.
Though Kentucky seems to be coming to grips with playing without Nerlens Noel, it would be understandable to hesitate in calling the Wildcats the team to beat.
Mississippi is the third seed and a bit of a dark horse, but it lost regular-season matchups with both Florida and Kentucky. It has yet to prove it can defend consistently enough to win when the offense isn't clicking.
The Rebels are just 7-7 this season when held under 80 points and 4-6 in the SEC when they don't hit the mark.
The realistic choices for conference tournament champion don't go much deeper than this. Of these three flawed but clearly superior squads in the conference, which team will win it all?
Kentucky Has Earned the Right to Be Considered the Favorite
The SEC isn't exactly a strong conference this year, and this certainly isn't the type of Wildcats team we've grown accustomed to seeing over the last three seasons. However, on talent and size alone, they can compete with anyone in the country.
Of late, they've had to learn how to execute down the stretch. They've done that, and it has propelled them to some huge victories.
Most recently, their 61-57 win over the Florida Gators should have guaranteed them a spot in the NCAA tournament. It should have also given them confidence.
Willie Cauley-Stein has emerged as a terror on the defensive end, and he is anchoring the Wildcats' defense. Archie Goodwin has assumed the responsibility of taking charge when the offense gets stagnant.
This isn't a national championship contender, but it is my pick to win the SEC tournament.
Cauley-Stein's Draft Stock Is About to Rise
The Kentucky freshman is starting to look more and more comfortable with his extended minutes. He's averaging 9.4 rebounds and four blocked shots in his last five games.
Those are the types of numbers that can truly anchor a team defensively and serve as an ignitor for the transition game that best suits the Wildcats.
Take a look at this play against Georgia, as it is an example of the many ways Cauley-Stein has been positively impacting the team's defense.
The more confident he gets and the more he works to stay out of foul trouble, the more effective he will be. I'm fully expecting to see Cauley-Stein play his best basketball of the season in leading the Wildcats to the title.
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