Believe it or not, three weeks from tonight, the SEC Tournament begins in Nashville, which means yours truly will be among the thousands — okay, probably hundreds — of fans in Bridgestone Arena to watch the four worst teams in the conference face off on opening night. While it’s almost certain that Missouri and LSU will be two of those teams, nothing else is really set in stone in the league right now, particularly at the top.
Here are the SEC standings with five-six games left (four teams play tonight):
|#21 South Carolina||10-2||0.5||20-5|
And the bracket:
Three teams are in contention for the #1 seed: Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina. South Carolina plays Arkansas tonight, so they’re a half game back, but assuming they take care of the Razorbacks at home, they’ll be right in the thick of it with the Cats and the Gators. In fact, if South Carolina beats Arkansas tonight, the three-way tie for first can’t even be determined via the normal tiebreaker rules. Because each team currently has a 1-1 record vs. the others (Florida beat Kentucky, but lost to South Carolina, who lost to the Cats), SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey would literally have to draw one of their names out of a hat to determine who gets the 1-seed. Yes, in the end, that’s really what it comes down to.
Thankfully, the remaining schedule pretty much ensures that three-way tie won’t last long, with Florida and South Carolina facing off next Tuesday and the Gators coming to Rupp Arena the following Saturday. With all these moving parts in the air, let’s break down each team’s case for being the 1-seed, which would mean playing early Friday afternoon and partying on Broadway Friday night, the most ideal of scenarios.
The Cats have arguably the easiest schedule left, the two most difficult games being at Georgia this weekend and vs. Florida next Saturday. According to KenPom’s Predictor, Kentucky should win out:
|at Georgia||W 79-73|
|at Missouri||W 84-67|
|vs. #15 Florida||W 80-77|
|vs. Vanderbilt||W 84-70|
|at Texas A&M||W 78-70|
That Florida game is still tricky, but I refuse to believe Kentucky’s as bad as they were when the Gators won by 22 in Gainesville. Plus, Florida just got news today that John Egbunu — who had 8 points and 7 rebounds vs. Kentucky — is out for the season with a torn ACL. Add in what will hopefully be a rowdy Rupp and the good ole fashioned revenge factor and Kentucky should be able to wrap up the #1-seed next Saturday.
Kentucky’s likelihood of getting the #1 seed: 60%
Do yourself a favor and plan on arriving in Nashville Thursday night or early Friday morning for Friday’s noon central time tip.
As mentioned earlier, the Gators were dealt a huge loss last night when John Egbunu tore his ACL vs. Auburn. The redshirt junior center averaged 7.8 points and a team-best 6.6 rebounds for the Gators this season, and will be out 10-12 months to recover. One of his backups, freshman center Gorjaok Gak, is also out 10-14 days with a left foot sprain, making the Gators vulnerable on the inside. That’s not good when you look at the rest of their schedule, which includes three road trips, one to Rupp, and a date with #21 South Carolina next Tuesday. Florida’s been one of the hottest teams in country the past month, but given the injury news, I’d be surprised if they emerged from a tough three-week stretch unscathed.
|at Mississippi State||W 79-68|
|vs. #21 South Carolina||W 71-61|
|at #13 Kentucky||L 80-77|
|vs. Arkansas||W 84-69|
|at Vanderbilt||W 74-67|
Florida’s likelihood of getting the #1 seed: 30%
Something tells me we’ll see them in the SEC Championship that Sunday.
Even with the injury to Egbunu, I can’t see South Carolina knocking off Florida in Gainesville. Those trips to Vandy and Ole Miss are pretty tricky too. Frank Martin’s team has been impressive, but if they’re tied with Kentucky in the standings at the end of the regular season, Kentucky will have the tiebreaker thanks to last month’s win in Rupp.
|vs. Arkansas||W 74-65|
|at Vanderbilt||W 65-64|
|at #15 Florida||L 71-61|
|vs. Tennessee||W 70-63|
|vs. Mississippi State||W 73-61|
|at Ole Miss||W 70-67|
South Carolina’s likelihood of getting the #1 seed: 10%
It’ll most likely be a late Thursday night start for Frank Martin’s squad, and a rematch with Florida in the semis.
It may not seem like it with the three-way tie at first, but with five games left, the 1-seed in the SEC Tournament really is Kentucky’s to lose. (Confidence level: Booking a free dinner reservation on Open Table for Friday night.)