The SEC Tournament begins on Wednesday Night in Nashville, below is the breakdown of the teams and predictions for the week.
2016 Champion: Kentucky
14th Seed Missouri Tigers 7-23 (2-16)
The Tigers have fired coach Kim Anderson after three poor years at the helm in Columbia. This Missouri team sustained a 13 game losing streak from December 10th to February 4th when they beat Arkansas at home. During that stretch, the Tigers lost to Eastern Illinois and Lipscomb…Mizzou is back on a 6 game skid following their win over Vandy in early February. The Tigers are not an effective or efficient offensive team but can rebound the ball well. They also struggle with turnovers and as a team post a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Missouri will open on Wednesday Night against Auburn.
13th Seed LSU Tigers 10-20 (2-16)
Finally, Johnny Jones has been shown the boot in Baton Rouge following back-to-back disappointing seasons. To be fair, he wasn’t as bad as people think, he had a 90-71 overall record and two 20-win seasons. The kicker is that he only won 19 games with Ben Simmons and missed the NCAA Tournament. But back to this year’s team. The Tigers are led by Antonio Blakeney, who averages 17.4 points per game. He is the key, big stage is the time for the best player to shine and he is LSU’s star. Get him going and you’ve got a chance to steal a game or two. LSU opens with Mississippi State.
12th Seed Mississippi State Bulldogs 15-15 (6-12)
In Ben Howland’s 2nd year in Starkville, he lost 9 (!!) players to graduation and transfer from last year’s team, highlighted by former 5* recruit Malik Newman who transferred to Kansas. Howland responded by bringing in a top 25 recruiting class and improved from the year before. While their record might be disappointing, stay patient Bulldog fans, because there is just one senior on this roster and State returns their key contributors next season. But before we worry about that, Mississippi State has a 1st round matchup with a very beatable LSU team. Aside from having an electric name, Quinndary Weatherspoon paces this Bulldog offense leading the team with 16.6 points. State struggles with turnovers and doesn’t shoot the three-ball well, but they can get after it on the glass. Stay disciplined and focus on getting into the lane and the Dawgs should advance.
11th Seed Auburn Tigers 18-13 (7-11)
Not a good year for the Tiger teams in the SEC as all three finish in the bottom four of the conference. Bruce Pearl’s third year saw him lose 10 players from last season’s squad, but he added a top 25 recruiting class highlighted by 5*’s Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley. Heron has been sensational all season long averaging 15.2 points (.440/.772/.422) and 5.8 rebounds per game. Wiley didn’t join the team until mid-December and has played pretty well in limited minutes so far this season. Auburn scores the ball very well putting up 80 points per contest, but they also give up a lot of points. If they can control the glass and score efficiently, they have a chance to make a run. The Tigers open with Missouri.
10th Seed Texas A&M Aggies 16-14 (8-10)
A young A&M team performed decently well, dropping games against the teams you would expect them to in the SEC. This Aggie squad has four players that average over 10 points per game and they rebound and pass the ball very well. Tyler Davis is their leader and scores efficiently from the field (62 percent). They will need to get him going and continue on the boards if they would like to play spoiler in their opening game against Vanderbilt.
9th Seed Tennessee Volunteers 16-15 (8-10)
The Vols looked destined for the NCAA Tournament in late January into early-February as they had just won 5 of 6 including games over Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Kansas State. Then a 3-6 stretch over their final 9 games doomed their at-large hopes and dropped Tennessee all the way down to 9th place. Tennessee, as a whole, struggles to shoot the three, hitting just (32.9 percent) from beyond the arc. Robert Hubbs is their leader and as he goes, the Vols go. Tennessee gets Georgia to open their SEC Tournament.
8th Seed Georgia Bulldogs 18-13 (9-9)
The Dawgs had one of the toughest stretches of any SEC team this season having to play: at Kentucky, at South Carolina and then host Florida all within 8 days. Unsurprisingly, Georgia dropped all three. Georgia is led by their two-headed beast of J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten. Maten did get injured in late February and has not played since, he is still uncertain for the SEC tournament, but did practice Wednesday. Georgia needs both Maten and Frazier at their best to make a run and I actually think, if healthy, they have the capability to play with any team in the SEC. The Dawgs open against Tennessee on Thursday.
7th Seed Vanderbilt Commodores 17-14 (10-8)
Vanderbilt finds themselves squarely on the bubble heading into the SEC Tournament and needs at least one win to improve their case for an at-large bid. Vandy plays a tight rotation and has four guys averaging 10+ points per game. In my mind, Riley LaChance is the key to their offense, he shoots the ball very efficiently and passes well, stepping in admirably for Wade Baldwin. They also have two guys in Luke Kornet and Jeff Roberson who are double-double threats everytime they step on the floor. Vandy’s mid-January to March run has led them back to the bubble and they need to win their opening game against Texas A&M if they want any chance at getting a bid.
6th Seed Ole Miss Rebels 19-12 (10-8)
Ole Miss has quietly locked up a 6 seed in the SEC tourney with a 19-12 record overall. The Rebels just lack those key wins to generate the buzz around their team. They do have a trio of players who are some of the most intriguing in the conference. Senior Sebastian Saiz is averaging a double-double this season (15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds), Junior Deandre Burnett is their most gifted scorer and Soph Terence Davis is a stat-stuffer. The problem, turnovers. Ole Miss averages 15 turnovers per contest and that will doom even the best and most talented teams. Control the ball, get it to your playmakers and let them go to work. That is what Ole Miss needs to do to make a run. They will play the winner of Auburn-Missouri.
5th Seed Alabama Crimson Tide 17-13 (10-8)
Avery Johnson is continuing the rebuild in Tuscaloosa and there is a lot to be excited about. This team is a 5 seed in just his second year in charge. Add in a top 10, maybe even top 5 recruiting class next season and this is a very competitive team in the conference. Braxton Key, the Freshman is the guy who makes this team go. He leads them in scoring, but does struggle with turnovers, it is permissible because he is young, but he needs to control the ball and take over the game in order to move his team through the tournament. This is a deep rotation for Avery and he needs production from his bench. Alabama opens Thursday against the winner of Mississippi State and LSU.
4th Seed South Carolina Gamecocks 22-9 (12-6)
The work Frank Martin has done at South Carolina is phenomenal. This program has completely turned around and will be a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament next week. The Cocks went through a 3 game skid in late February but that isn’t much to worry about. Sindarius Thornwell is one of the best scorers in the country and averages over 20 points per game. What really keeps this team going is their defense. South Carolina is one of, if not, the best defensive team in the country and after seeing them at MSG, they live up to the billing. They are long, athletic and get into the passing lanes well. Their issue is finding a complimentary scorer for Thornwell. Figure that out and “the roof is the ceiling” for this Gamecock team. South Carolina opens Friday against the winner of Alabama-Mississippi State/LSU.
3rd Seed Arkansas Razorbacks 23-8 (12-6)
Arkansas has been quite the surprise this season winning 23 games and placing 3rd in the SEC. The Hogs are one of the best scoring teams in the country and will need to keep that going if they want to bring the title home in Nashville. Defense, any bit of it, would be huge for Arkansas to make a run. Dusty Hannahs (great name) is their leading scorer and will need to be more efficient from the floor. Arkansas will open against the winner of Ole Miss-Auburn/Missouri.
2nd Seed Florida Gators 24-7 (14-4)
I love this Florida team, they get after it on defense and have two great leaders in KeVaughn Allen and Devin Robinson. These two guys stuff the stat sheet for the Gators and get solid help off the bench from Canyon Barry. There is depth, there is speed, there is shooting, what’s not to love about this team? Their ball-handling. The Gators turn the ball over 12 times per game and average just 13 assists, not a great number for such a talented team. Florida will play the winner of Vanderbilt-Texas A&M.
1st Seed Kentucky Wildcats 26-5 (16-2)
Kentucky has won another regular season SEC title, but it wasn’t as easy as people had expected. Since a February 4th loss to Florida, Kentucky has rattled off 8 wins in-a-row. The Cats have depth, size, and scoring ability, but they really struggle on defense and shooting the three. Kentucky allows 72 points per game, which usually isn’t an issue, but on an off shooting night for Malik Monk, this can spell all sorts of trouble for the Wildcats. Kentucky needs to get to the rim and play good defense to win the SEC tournament.
Mississippi State over LSU
Auburn over Missouri
Georgia over Tennessee
Alabama over Mississippi State
Vanderbilt over Texas A&M
Auburn over Ole Miss
Kentucky over Georgia
South Carolina over Alabama
Florida over Vanderbilt
Arkansas over Auburn
Kentucky over South Carolina
Florida over Arkansas
Florida over Kentucky