While the league and its postseason bracket are typically dominated by the Kentucky Wildcats, the 2017 SEC tournament has the potential to see another team ascend to a title.
Kentucky owns 29 SEC tournament championships, which is by far the most in the league ahead of Alabama's six.
The Wildcats are the two-time defending winners, but teams like Florida and South Carolina are legitimate contenders, especially with Kentucky looking vulnerable at times this season.
Let's take a look at the schedule for this year's event, which will be played at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The seedings are not yet finalized with a few days remaining in the regular season, but check out SECSports.com for the full tournament bracket. Continue along for a preview of the tournament along with some predictions.
|2017 SEC Basketball Tournament|
|Round||Date||Time of First Game (ET)||Network|
|First||Wednesday, March 8||7 p.m.||SEC Network|
|Second||Thursday, March 9||Noon||SEC Network|
|Quarterfinals||Friday, March 10||Noon||SEC Network|
|Semifinals||Saturday, March 11||Noon||ESPN|
|Final||Sunday, March 12||Noon||ESPN|
On paper, head coach John Calipari's Kentucky squad is clearly the heavy favorite next weekend.
Led by another dynamic freshman class featuring Bam Adebayo, De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, Kentucky has as much offensive firepower as any team in college basketball. It is no surprise that the Wildcats are fifth in the nation with 87.3 points per game, but they have shown that they are no lock to win a conference title in Nashville.
Roughly a month ago, Kentucky was losers of three out of its last four games, with the bookend being a 86-66 drubbing from Florida. The team was also down by as much as 19 points at home in its last game against Vanderbilt, but it needed a huge second half from its top scorer to pull out a win over Vanderbilt:
Kentucky Basketball @KentuckyMBB
Only (ONLY!) 20 points in the second half? Meh 😜 https://t.co/UDAxTMIoqC2017-3-1 05:26:02
If the Wildcats are sputter offensively, then they become extremely vulnerable. The team is 182nd nationally with 72.4 points allowed per game, and Kentucky is conceding a 42.6 percent field-goal rate, good for 113th in the country.
This could become a problem against a team like South Carolina. Head coach Frank Martin has instilled a tenacious defensive attitude in the Gamecocks, as they top the SEC by allowing just a 39.4 percent field-goal percentage.
South Carolina fell 85-69 to Kentucky in Lexington during the teams' only meeting. The Gamecocks were without P.J. Dozier, but Fox also left the game with a turned ankle.
The addition of Dozier—who averages 13.6 points per game and leads his team with 2.9 assists per night—along with Sindarius Thornwell, makes South Carolina a much tougher test for the Wildcats.
Thornwell went off for 34 points in the lone meeting with Kentucky this season, and his numbers for the season make him a SEC Player of the Year candidate, via the school's athletics department:
Gamecock MBB @GamecockMBB
Sindarius Thornwell in the SEC: 1️⃣ in steals 2️⃣ in scoring 6️⃣ in rebounding Universal impact. @Sin_City_803 for #SECPOTY https://t.co/tLTAMujx0w2017-3-2 18:32:22
Yet, Florida may be the greatest threat to unseat Kentucky. The Gators are a game behind the Wildcats in the SEC standings, and that's no fluke. They have plenty of depth and experience, as seven players—including three seniors—average over 20 minutes per game.
With a dynamic scorer in guard KeVaughn Allen, a playmaker at point guard in senior Kasey Hill, a legitimate stretch forward in Devin Robinson and an impact sixth man in Canyon Barry, this is a complete basketball team.
This is not the stout team that most expected in the preseason, and head coach Mike White is now receiving plenty of praise for the turnaround, including from ESPN's Jeff Goodman last week:
Jeff Goodman @GoodmanESPN
Whether or not Florida wins today at Kentucky, Mike White has done one hell of a job this year with the Gators.2017-2-25 19:16:40
Florida will not beat itself, which gives it an even greater chance for success in Nashville. The Gators are second in the conference behind South Carolina in turnover margin, and 15th nationally. They also rank high in most defensive categories, while coming in at 58th nationally by scoring 79.1 points per game:
|Florida 2017 National Defensive Rankings|
|Points Allowed Per Game||Opposing Field-Goal Percentage||Turnovers Forced Per Game||Three-Point Percentage|
|66.2 (45th)||40.6 (35th)||15.33 (35th)||30.5 (14th)|
Arkansas, which quietly has a 22-8 record, is a potential sleeper in this tournament. It will likely be the No. 4 seed, and the Razorbacks had won five straight, including at South Carolina, before dropping its last contest against Florida.
The SEC is not much for depth this season, as the four teams highlighted are the only ones with 20 wins and a legitimate chance at making the NCAA tournament, per CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's latest projections.
Unless Alabama, Mississippi or a sneaky talented squad like Auburn can muster an upset, the aforementioned quartet should find themselves in the semifinals.
If the current standings hold up, then Kentucky would play Arkansas. This would be a poor matchup for the Razorbacks, as they struggle to keep up with high-octane teams. Kentucky smoked them 97-71 earlier this year, and Oklahoma State hung 99 on them later in the season. Expect the Wildcats to prevail here.
Florida and South Carolina play similar styles, and the two split their meetings this season. Yet, Florida simply has more depth and more scoring options. While Thornwell and Dozier may be the two best players on the court, they do not have enough support to garner much faith against the Gators.
In the end, look for Kentucky to maintain its spot atop the conference in Nashville. Calipari has overcome youth with his teams, and the Wildcats have actually been solid lately with seven straight wins even despite the Vanderbilt effort.
This team holds the edge in personnel, and its freshmen have stepped up in big stages this season, which they will do so again.
Statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.