The College Basketball season is another week old, and the SEC consistently provides the sport with several talented players and teams. Here are the major storylines from the previous week of conference play. (AP Rankings accurate up until March 10, 2019.)
1. The Situation in Baton Rouge
Thanks to the actions of Head Coach Will Wade, the amazingly successful season for the LSU Tigers has been completely tainted. News broke on Thursday from Yahoo! Sports that Wade had been caught on an FBI wiretap discussing payments to potential recruits.
LSU issues a statement on Javonte Smart. pic.twitter.com/vwb2wZ41ml
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 9, 2019
The school has since suspended their head coach indefinitely, and freshman guard Javonte Smart (who is also linked to FBI wiretaps) sat out Saturday night’s game against Vanderbilt. The Tigers just won their first SEC Regular Season Championship, but this season could not have ended any worse than it has for LSU.
Look, I have zero time nor patience for this situation. Quite frankly, every fan of college basketball is sick and tired of recruiting scandal after recruiting scandal. What’s even more aggravating is that schools are continuing to somehow mishandle these situations
LSU, your coach is on an FBI wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit. HOW IS HE STILL EMPLOYED BY YOUR UNIVERSITY??? I get that Wade is a great coach and that you are having your best season in years, but at least have a little integrity about this.
I get that I’m writing for a pro-Kentucky site, and that I might look spiteful considering that LSU defeated the Wildcats earlier this season. But just imagine for one second that this was John Calipari instead of Will Wade. How would you feel about the situation then, LSU?
Cut the cord now while you still have time to recuperate in time for the NCAA Tournament. As a fan of college basketball, get rid of this cheater and let the players focus on the postseason. Those student athletes deserve better.
2. Auburn’s Big Win
Now, on to more positive things.
Auburn finally got that huge win they have been searching for all season long on Saturday. They managed to defeat the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers on Senior Day in an amazing college basketball environment.
"Can't thank our fan base and our students enough. They were treated to something special. I'm very grateful for the support. We don't win without the building being like it is." – @coachbrucepearl
— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) March 9, 2019
The win is even more important considering that it gave the Tigers the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament where they will have to play the winner of Missouri-Georgia. We will get more into the bracket later, but obviously it seems like Auburn will be advancing past that round with ease.
This was previously a very disappointing season for the Tigers. On February 23rd, Auburn had just gotten embarrassed by Kentucky as they fell to 18-9 overall and 7-7 in SEC play. Since then, they have reeled have four straight conference victories which includes wins over Tennessee, Miss. State, and Alabama.
Don’t forget how dangerous the Tigers can be when they are hitting their jump shots. Plus, this is still a very talented basketball club that was picked as a top-10 team in the preseason. Keep an eye on Auburn in the SEC Tournament. They may be getting ready for a huge run.
3. Wildcats Overcome Adversity
Since the injury to Reid Travis, Kentucky has taken a small step back. Without his physical presence inside on both ends of the floor, the Wildcats are simply not as dangerous. But that not does not mean Kentucky is not still a good basketball team.
Despite an absolute no-show against Tennessee on March 2, the Wildcats managed to close out the regular season with gutsy wins over two teams (Ole Miss and Florida) who were badly in need of victories.
How did UK fill the void left by Travis? Well, Tyler Herro playing the best basketball of his life is a pretty solid start. The freshman notched 20 points against Ole Miss, and against the Gators he led the Wildcats in scoring with 16 points. Sorry to say this everyone, but I don’t think he is coming back for another season.
Tyler Herro left hander off the wrong foot. Yowza! pic.twitter.com/UUeyaQlpkL
— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) March 9, 2019
Overall, Kentucky closes out their regular season 26-5 overall and 15-3 in SEC Play. Remember when the Wildcats were 10-3 and still reeling off that national embarrassment to Duke? This has pretty much been the best possible season you could have asked for at that point. Now, UK goes into the SEC Tournament looking for three more wins and a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
You could not possibly ask for any more than that.
4. Will Alabama and Florida Go Dancing?
The Crimson Tide and the Gators have been squarely on Bubble Watch for the past few weeks now, and this week featured some of their last chances to make an impression on the committee.
Sadly, they completely wasted some prime opportunities. Both Alabama and Georgia dropped each of their games this week as they fell to 17-14 on the season. On March 8th, Joe Lunardi of ESPN’s Bracketology had Florida just in the tournament as an 11 seed, and Alabama was among his “last four in” group.
This. Is. ALABAMA BASKETBALL. pic.twitter.com/xo1Tor26lS
— Dorm Squad Sports (@DormSquadSports) March 10, 2019
Bubble winners thus far today … Seton Hall, TCU, Clemson, NC State, Georgetown. Bubble losers thus far: Texas, Florida
— Bracketville (@BracketguyDave) March 9, 2019
I think it’s safe to say that both squad’s NCAA Tournament hopes are in serious jeopardy now. Their performance in the SEC Tournament will surely dictate if they make it into the big dance. Florida has a pretty easy draw against Arkansas in the 8 vs. 9 game. Then they will have to play LSU. Alabama on the other hand plays a talented Ole Miss team in the 7-10 matchup, and then the winner will play Kentucky.
Personally, neither team can afford to lose their first game. A loss would put them at 17-15 which is just plain bad. Its even worse once you consider that Belmont losing the OVC Championship means that the bubble is getting that much smaller. My prediction is that Florida will make the tournament, and that there will be a lot of sad Alabama fans come selection Sunday.
5. SEC Tournament Preview
This year’s SEC Tournament is shaping up to be a classic. It’s a field that features three teams currently ranked in the top 10 and another 5-6 very talented ball clubs.
Your full 2019 SEC Tournament field is set. pic.twitter.com/n7REzZj4gD
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 10, 2019
I believe that the best chance for upsets will be in the top half of the bracket. Considering that the Gators recently lost to LSU by one point, they for sure have the firepower to pull off an upset in the quarterfinals if they meet each other. Also, Auburn will be a pretty big favorite against South Carolina if the Tigers beat the winner of Missouri-Georgia (which they will).
I see all chalk in the bottom half of the bracket. A potential Mississippi State-Tennessee matchup in the quarterfinals would be interesting, but the Volunteers should take care of business. Also, I think that Kentucky should be fine against the winner of Ole Miss-Alabama.
That gives us the final four of Florida/LSU, Auburn, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Personally, I like how hot Auburn is right now, and I like their path to the championship. Then I think the winner of Kentucky-Tennessee will be defeat Auburn and be your SEC Tournament Champion.
But as we all know, nothing in college basketball is that predictable.