Tomorrow, the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament begins. The SEC has been held under a large microscope this season, handling numerous questions. How well will Kentucky do without DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall? Will Bruce Pearl's suspension affect Tennessee's season? How much of a contender is Vanderbilt?
Many bracketologists believe that the Southeastern Conference will be represented by five of the 68 teams in the field. However, with bubbles bursting and unlikely automatic bids being granted, how will the SEC tournament change the bracket?
March 10, 1:00 p.m.
Due to the unusual tournament setup in the SEC and the dominance of the SEC East over the West, Georgia is forced to play in the opening game of the tournament against Auburn. The two teams faced each other on February 5 with the Bulldogs taking down the Tigers, 81-72 in overtime. Jeremy Price matched a career-high with 22 points for Georgia as his team hit just shy of 50 percent from the floor. Auburn rallied back from an eight-point deficit to force the extra session. Auburn was outscored 14-5 in the additional five minutes.
Don't expect Georgia to overlook Auburn this time around. Some question Georgia's chances for an at-large bid. Since this near bad loss to the Tigers, Georgia has gone just 4-4 and has established itself as a bubble team. Despite an RPI of 40, this would be a destructive loss for Georgia if it lost twice to Auburn in one season. The Bulldogs can brush off all of the critics with a victory here. Expect a good effort by Auburn, but also expect Georgia to pull away this time around.
March 10, 3:30 p.m.
Despite a better overall record than Mississippi State, the Rebels of Ole Miss are forced to play in the opening round. As the third team from the East division, Ole Miss will face the lowly South Carolina Gamecocks, the worst team in the West division. A victory by Mississippi will be its 20th of the season, but its RPI of 80 all but destroys an at-large chance for the Rebels.
Even though Mississippi is not on the bubble, it is a dark horse team to make a run in the tournament. After all, Mississippi State won the SEC tournament two years ago from the exact same seed.
The bad news: South Carolina just beat Ole Miss, 79-73, on February 22. The good news: The Gamecocks have not won a game since. Mississippi advances.
Winner: Ole Miss
March 10, 7:30 p.m.
Two teams with almost identical overall records, Tennessee and Arkansas square off in the first round. This matchup is between two dangerous teams that have a lot of dangerous weapons, and this could be the best game of day one. Tennessee is on the bubble but they seem like a tournament shoe-in in many people's eyes, but not Arkansas.
The Razorbacks will try to use Rotnei Clarke to pull off what some would think is an upset. The loss would certainly take Tennessee's chances and put the Vols in jeopardy. It may even knock Bruce Pearl's Volunteers out of the field of 68. Maybe Arkansas could even end up with Tennessee's spot?
March 10, 10:00 p.m.
Vanderbilt has hung around all season long and has become a very dangerous team in the eyes of many. People who are preparing to advance the Commodores a few rounds in their brackets will enjoy this game. It is almost insulting to have Vandy play in the first round against an awful LSU team. This will be a brutal game to watch. The Commodores will flex their muscles in this one and get ready for the quarterfinals. This is the closest that you will ever see to a 1 vs. 16 matchup in the conference tournaments.
March 11, 1:00 p.m.
The Crimson Tide debut in this year's tournament against a fellow bubble team in Georgia. Yes, despite Alabama holding the top seed from its division, it is considered on the bubble in some people's brackets. This could end up as an elimination game of sorts in the quarters. Georgia failed to reach that top tier in the conference, while 'Bama seems to have reached there without anyone really noticing. That will happen when the rest of your division is not that good.
Alabama needs one win to ease the minds of those who have the Tide on the bubble. Georgia can all but pencil itself into the madness with a victory. Alabama will get it and advance to its first SEC tournament semifinal since 2005. Georgia will lose a close one and likely lock itself in a room until Selection Sunday.
March 11, 3:30 p.m.
Kentucky has been the crown jewel of the SEC for what seems like forever. Its place on top was justified last year when the Wildcats used the SEC crown to gain a top seed and a berth in the Elite Eight. One year later, many of the stellar players that brought Kentucky to this point are now gone. Gone are John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins; insert Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones.
Not since a 2002 loss to UCLA have we seen the Rebels dancing. That nine-year NCAA tournament drought is the longest from any SEC team at the moment. Don't expect this year to be any different. Kentucky goes to the semifinals.
March 11, 7:30 p.m.
Once upon a time, the Florida Gators were one of the teams to beat in all of the SEC. They won the 2007 SEC tournament on their way to their second straight national championship. Believe it or not, they have not reached the SEC semifinals since that mark. That will change in 2011, when Florida rolls past a gung-ho Arkansas team that is too tired from its war with Tennessee.
Senior Chandler Parsons will own the boards and put the Razorbacks to bed early. An Arkansas comeback will fall short when Parsons and fellow senior Vernon Macklin come into the post without an answer from the opposition. Welcome back to the semifinals, Florida.
March 11, 10:00 p.m.
This game, if you think about it, will be the changing of the guard in a sense. Mississippi State has been a force to be reckoned with in the SEC tournament. For the last four seasons, the Bulldogs have reached the SEC semis, reaching the finals in the last two years and winning the automatic bid two years ago.
John Jenkins, the leading scorer in the SEC this season, will lead the Commodores' charge into the semifinals in a rematch of a semifinals from a year ago. Mississippi State won that game by 10.
March 12, 1:00 p.m.
Still feeling nervous about the bubble and watching teams that do not belong in the tournament win automatic bids, the Tide do not let Kentucky scare them in the semifinals. Alabama rolls into the SEC final by defeating the Wildcats for the second time this season.
It was JaMycal Green's 18 points and 11 rebounds that gave 'Bama the 68-66 upset over then-No. 12 Kentucky back in January, and Green will likely be a big part of Alabama's victory over Kentucky once again. When it comes down to it, Alabama just needs the victory that much more.
March 12, 3:30 p.m.
In the only SEC tournament matchup among teams from the same division, the Commodores advance to the finals after taking down the Gators. Florida has accounted for two of Vanderbilt's nine losses this season, including a 10-point loss on Saturday. However, Vandy has seen a lot of Florida, and there isn't much more to be surprised about. Vanderbilt had just come off a two-point loss and fell behind Florida in the first half. The Commodores never recovered, and it cost them a first-round bye in this tournament.
However, the extra game gives Vanderbilt the momentum into the semifinals. The opening round helped the kinks get worked out and let the Commodores on a roll that will lead them over the hump and into that next level of college basketball teams.
March 13, 1:00 p.m.
These teams have not forgotten what happened when they faced earlier this season. On February 10, Vanderbilt took down then-SEC leader Alabama 81-77. Since then, Alabama has gone from major SEC contender to NCAA bubble team. It also helped keep Vanderbilt's place among the at-large teams from the conference.
However, I see the two teams facing off to crown a new SEC champion. Alabama can lock into a good situation in its bracket and look forward to a nice road into a potential Sweet Sixteen appearance and beyond. As for the Commodores, an automatic bid could give them a top-four seed in their region and make them a dark horse for the Final Four.
I think that Vanderbilt has shown great strides into making a statement and, while Alabama will arrive and show why nobody should have ever doubted its seeding in the tournament, this is the time for the Commodores.