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John Calipari and Kentucky are still looking for a true challenger at the SEC Tournament

There’s no hiding from the fact that Kentucky runs the Southeastern Conference on the hardwood. The Wildcats own 49 regular season conference titles and the next closest school is LSU with 11. Take out Kentucky and the current SEC schools have won or shared 53 conference titles. This is a run of domination for nearly a century. However, it does not match the absolute ownership Kentucky has over the SEC Tournament.

Beginning on Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, the SEC will hold its 6oth conference tournament and Kentucky currently owns the title for 31 of those meetings. UK has won 52.5 percent of the tournaments all-time. It originated with Catlanta and now we’ve seen the Big Blue Nation take over the biggest city in Tennessee since it became the primary home of the postseason tournament this decade. However, we’ve never seen a coach dominate this tournament like John Calipari.

Kentucky’s 10th year head coach is 22-3 overall in SEC Tournament and has reached the finals eight times in nine tries. In those championship games, Coach Cal is 6-2 and his only loss outside of Championship Sunday occurred with the 2013 NIT team. This has been flat out domination.

No other coach in the league owns an SEC Tournament title and only two have a career winning record in the event. There are only three current coaches who have even made it to the championship game.

Avery Johnson5-3
Rick Barnes4-3
Bryce Drew 2-2
Bruce Pearl9-10
Mike Anderson6-7
Frank Martin5-6
Ben Howland2-3
Billy Kennedy3-6
Cuonzo Martin2-4
Mike White1-3

It’s been an impressive run, but there have been a few teams that have perked up and attempted to challenge Kentucky.

Avery Johnson excels at the SEC Tournament

The former San Antonio Spurs point guard and NBA head coach took over the basketball program in Tuscaloosa from Anthony Grant in 2015-2016 and for the most part the Crimson Tide have been disappointing. Johnson has reeled in two top 25 recruiting classes, but has just one NCAA Tournament appearance and four sub-50 KenPom finishes.

It’s been a rough run and some in Alabama would like the coach put on the hot seat. Bama is about to find itself in the NIT for the third time in four years under Johnson without a big win in Nashville this weekend. Most everywhere he has disappointed except in the SEC Tournament.

Under Johnson, the Tide have won a game in every SEC Tournament they’ve participated in and have twice made it to the semifinals as a 5-seed or worse. Each year, however, their run has been ended by Kentucky.

In 2017, a win over the Wildcats likely would’ve gotten Bama into the NCAA Tournament. Somehow, someway these two clubs keep meeting in March.

Alabama has six tournament titles and this ranks No. 2 overall in the SEC. However, Alabama has not brought home the hardware since 1991 when Tennessee’s Allan Houston was named the MVP in a losing effort. It was former Alabama head coach Wimp Sanderson’s fourth SEC Tournament title and was one UK did not participate in due to NCAA probation.

These two programs have met an astounding 18 times in this tournament and it could very well happen again on Friday night.

History with Tennessee

Tennessee is fresh off a record year where they collected 27 victories in the regular season and saw junior forward Grant Williams receive All-America honors. The Vols have spent the entire season in the top 10 and those around the program feel that this is the squad to break the program’s somewhat embarrassing Final Four drought.

The Vols have had a lot of great regular seasons, but have historically fallen short in March. This group will look to see if they can buck that trend. Under Rick Barnes, it has been hit or miss in the SEC Tournament.

In his first season, the Vols pulled off a huge upset against Vanderbilt on Thursday afternoon before falling to LSU in the quarterfinals the following the day. The next year would see the Vols go one-and-done before making a run in 2018.

Last season, Tennessee claimed their first regular season SEC title since 2008 and they made it to the SEC title game for the first time since 2009. There the Vols were knocked off by Kentucky and left program searching for their fifth SEC Tournament crown and first since 1979. However, it appears that this could be the program to most likely challenge Kentucky.

Everyone will know what is on the line if the programs meet in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon. Both Kentucky and Tennessee could be playing for the right to a No. 1 seed in the Louisville regional which would turn into a pseudo home regional for both squads. It would kickoff a monster day in college hoops with the ACC, Big East, and Big XII all having their conference title games airing that night. It would be the biggest semifinal game in SEC Tournament history.

Rick Barnes has had some previous success in conference tournaments at his previous stops. The 64-year-old head coach won a conference tournament at Providence in the old Big East in 1994. However, he could never bring one home at Clemson and went 0-5 in Big XII championship games at Texas.

We’ll see if the Vols and the Wildcats can meet in the postseason for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1949-1950.

Bruce Pearl’s Time

It’s been somewhat of a strange season on The Plains for the former Tennessee head coach with Tigers entering the year with Final Four aspirations and finishing just 22-9 despite a No. 14 overall ranking in KenPom. Auburn has lost a ton of close games this season, but after winning four consecutive games by two possessions or less to end the season, they are back in the top 25 and may have found some mojo to carry into postseason play.

Auburn will be playing from the 5-hole starting on Thursday afternoon and it appears the Tigers have a very generous draw. After facing the winner of Georgia/Mizzou in the first game, Auburn would then get a 16-15 South Carolina team on Friday. Get by them and it’s either an LSU squad without their head coach or a bubble team in Florida or Arkansas in the semifinals. The road is there for Auburn to reach the SEC title game for the first time since 2000.

Overall, Bruce Pearl has a losing record in the SEC Tournament but he also has the most wins outside of John Calipari per the current coaching roster in the conference. Pearl went one-and-done out of the top spot last season, but also won three games in three days as the 12-seed in 2015. You never really know what you’re going to get from Pearl’s teams in this tournament, but sooner or later you have to think they are going to breakthrough.

Get us to Lower Broadway.



Article written by Adam Luckett

4 responses to “John Calipari and Kentucky are still looking for a true challenger at the SEC Tournament”

  1. kentuckybackupplayer

    Pretty sure at least LSU and Tennessee will be challengers. Plus a couple other desperate teams could knock anyone off on any given night.

  2. plumloopy

    Crap – this is a big year. If we lose, we can’t say “won more tournaments than all other schools combined” anymore.

    1. ClutchCargo

      ^ Ha! First world college basketball problems!

    2. Ched17

      Yes we would. We’d have 31, the rest would have 29. 31+29= 60. So they got a couple years but lets keep building that gap