What makes the SEC Tournament so great? Because Kentucky usually wins. There’s really nothing more to add. All the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to associate with the SEC Tournament would be moot if Kentucky had opted to give Bear Bryant the Cadillac and Adolph Rupp a watch. Everything tastes sweet when you’re winning. Thus, UK not only holds a significant historical talent edge, but the homecourt feel of thousands of UK fans flock, or at least detour on their way to the Florida panhandle, is something to behold. This influx of allies makes for a very unapologetic air of safeguarded self-confidence, and otherwise drunken smugness. It is also a time to appreciate the geography, tradition, and genetics of this, the greatest athletic conference in all of amateur sports.
The SEC Tournament is like a Magic Kingdom Southeastern sports icons: Imagine sitting in a spinning teacup with Dave Baker, Tom Hammond, Barry Booker, Joe Dean Jr., and Dr. Pepper. That’s pretty much what it’s like. This year’s version comes at the heals of what many would consider a very weak conference season. Tennessee is a national player with Final 4 aspirations, but could very likely be one of only 4 teams playing past Atlanta.
Part II later this afternoon
Tennessee, E1 (28-3, 14-2)
How they got here: Superior talent, plain and simple. Winning the SEC was a tremendous accomplishment and even though the league was far from spectacular, the Vols proved they were more than just a lessee of Pat Summit’s Court when they took care of Memphis. With a surplus of shooters and their constant green light the Vols can certainly be an offensive juggernaut, and their depth certainly bodes well for the tournament format…it’s just their history does not.
Motivation: With a tournament championship, the Vols are assured a #1 seed in the dance. Also, you have to think UT is hungry to conquer that mountain littered with the skeletons of Houston, Yarbrough, Harris, probably a Colquit, and Dane Bradshaw.
Outlook: Nothing short of winning this thing will be acceptable for the Vols, otherwise Tyler Smith will have another tear drop to etch unto his face. Win or lose, there will be a lot of Bruce Pearl smirking, referee berating, and plenty of 3’s.
Arkansas , W2 (20-10, 9-7)
How they got here: Beat some bad teams. Pelphrey was fortunate to inherit a rather experienced team from Stan Heath, but the inconsistency from their stars (Beverly, Weems, Townes) shows the mediocre stall-out in Fayetteville may not have been completely Heath’s fault. Fortunately, they play in the SEC West.
Motivation: Arkansas has a shiny 20-10 record, with a 9-7 conference mark, and wins over Vandy and Miss St. to boot. But you have to think they’ll need at least a first round win to lock up a tourney bid.
Outlook: The potential Friday matchup with Vandy could be huge. Should the committee decide to take 5 SEC teams, it will come down to Ark, Ole Miss, and Florida. They have the talent to beat anyone here, but way too inconsistent this season to expect much.
Vanderbilt E3 (25-6, 10-6)
How they got here: A special blend of Shan Foster’s cold blood, Ogilvy’s foreign blood, and a dash of Memorial Magic. Like they always do, these overachievers—I call them that because Vandy is academically a cut above its SEC counterparts, thus, they are nerds (see: Logic 101)—hit the ground running to the stringed tune of 16-0. But the Dores were a touch spotty in conference play, with each of their six losses coming on the road. Still, with wins over UT, Miss. St., and a ritualistic slaughtering of UK, Vandy is still a legitimate top 25 team.
Motivation: Let’s face it, until they win another championship, Vandy will forever be cast as a home court hot flash. At least show us this isn’t a one horse league.
Outlook: Shan Foster is on the team, so that certainly bodes well. The guy is ruthless behind the arc, though like Lofton, can sometimes be slowed by more athletic foes, but cannot be stopped when ticklish. Ogilvy is the real deal and they have some solid athletes. They at least need to get past Arkansas, and I think they can.
LSU, W5 (13-17, 6-10)
How they got here: They fired John Brady…but first, they hired him.
Motivation: What are you waiting for LSU, give Butch Pierre the job. He inhereted a team that had lost 10 of 11 games (and in my opinion revolted against JB), and has since guided the Tigers to 4 wins in their last 5. Plus, his name is Butch Pierre. It’s just too right. When you see a man with a wife beater on under their shirt, you know they’re going to bring their lunch pail and hard hat to the office every day. I would assume the players like winning, so I can guess that they like Pierre and want him to stay around, which equates to prime spoiler candidate.
Outlook: Although Brady couldn’t tell a playbook from a game of tic-tac-toe, he did manage to reel in some prime in-state talent over the years. Young Anthony Randolph could very well be playing in his first/last SEC-T, and he along with guard Marcus Thornton are capable of getting 50 points between them. I think they can take the Cocks, and maybe even give UT a 10 minute scare, but a 10 point first round loss would surprise nobody…since it will pretty much go completely unnoticed, even in the dome.
South Carolina, E5 (13-17, 5-11)
How they got here: Have they ever left?
Motivation: Rumor out of Columbia is, if SC wins the tourney, Dave Odom will Hulk his shirt at midcourt, then use it as a crotch floss. Anyone else chomping at the bit?
Outlook: Forward Evaldas Banilius played 479 minutes this season and shot only 2 free throws. That might join Ripken’s consecutive starts streak as the most unlikely to be duplicated feat in all of sport. Luckily, Devan Downey is capable of keeping the Cocks in reach on his own, and freshman Mike Holmes has looked like a stud of late. Still, no chance.
Auburn W6 (14-15, 4-12)
How they got here: Nobody seems to know. My guess is another team asked Auburn if they were excited about the SEC Tournament coming up, and they acted like they were totally gung-ho but felt rather anxious since they had not actually received an invitation from the SEC, but the other team told them is was perfectly ok if Auburn just rode with them. So that really put the SEC in a tight spot, as they now had to either call and tell Auburn personally that they’re not actually invited, or just fight a smile and tell them you lost their address, but grateful they made it anyway. I think they pretty much had to.
Motivation: Club One Tweezy
Outlook: That $92 million state-of-the-art practice facility could not come at a better time, as Auburn looks to be on the up and up, having won 4 of their last 14 to polish off another invisible season.