The SEC Tournament takes place in the gateway city to the South, St. Louis. No, this isn’t another ‘why is the SEC Tournament in St. Louis’ think-piece. This is me telling you who’s going to St. Louie (Spoiler Alert: All 14 SEC teams) and what they need to do to ensure that Selection Sunday is a joyous occasion. Here’s the SEC Starting Five: SEC Tournament Preview Edition:
1. Auburn – The Tigers enter the tournament as the top seed due to the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee, defeating the Vols 94-84 in their SEC opener. Plenty has changed since that game, most notably the Tigers depth. SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year Anfernee McLemore was lost three weeks ago to a gruesome ankle injury that left Auburn with only two active scholarship players 6-7 or taller. Bruce Pearl’s sputtered down the stretch losing 3 of their last 5 but are still projected as a No. 3 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and could move up with a strong weekend in St. Louis.
2. Tennessee – The Volunteers racked up the awards on Monday with sophomore forward Grant Williams earning the league Player of the Year honors, head coach Rick Barnes being named Coach of the Year and sophomore guard Lamonte’ Turner sharing the Sixth Man of the Year award. The Vols head to St. Louis on a four-game winning streak and appear to be the SEC’s best chance at a deep run in March. The imbalance that comes with a 14 team, 18 game league schedule is the main reason UT isn’t the top seed because they’ve looked like and, for the most part, have been the SEC’s best and most consistent team. Particularly on the defensive end where they rank 4th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
3. Florida – Mike White’s team is starting to finally look like the team most expected heading into 2017. The Gators have been wildly inconsistent since blowing a 17-point lead to Duke in the finals of the PK80. That inconsistency has been seen mainly on the defensive end of the floor. Despite ranking 19th in defensive efficiency White hasn’t felt that his team has been committed on that side of the ball. One Gator that has has been senior point guard Chris Chiozza, who earned a spot on both the All-SEC first team and All-Defensive team. The Gators ride a three-game winning streak to St. Louis thanks to a recent offensive explosion by Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson, who has averaged 22.7 points per game during the three-game stretch.
4. Kentucky – The Wildcats appeared to be on their way to conjuring the mojo of the 2013-14 team that lost double-digit games in the regular season, earning a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing in the national title game to UConn. The loss to Florida again showed the vulnerability of Kentucky when they don’t share the basketball, shoot well from the perimeter or get a strong contribution from Jarred Vanderbilt. The crowd, as it always is during the SEC tournament, will be on their side, but will Kentucky be able to string three wins together and build momentum heading to the Big Dance?
5. Missouri – The Tigers may be the best story in the SEC this season. Head coach Cuonzo Martin inherited a program that averaged 9 wins over the last three seasons and upon signing the dotted line brought the No. 4 recruiting class, highlighted by top overall player Michael Porter Jr. What has turned out to be the most impressive of Martin’s signings is All-SEC first team selection and Canisius grad transfer Kassius Robertson, who led the SEC in minutes played during conference play and was among the conferences leading scorers at 17.5 points per contest. making him arguably Mizzou’s most valuable player. Despite Porter Jr. having only played two minutes this season, the Tigers should be in the NCAA field whether they win in St. Louis or not. Porter Jr.’s status remains up in the air but there is hope that Thursday will be his return.
6. Arkansas – The Razorbacks will travel to the Arch City a man down, as Mike Anderson dismissed senior forward Dustin Thomas Monday for a violation of team rules. The loss of Thomas, who started 17 games for the Razorbacks, will be felt but senior guards Daryl Macon (17.1 PPG) and Jaylen Barford (17.9 PPG) are the engines for Anderson’s up-tempo style of play. Freshman center Daniel Gafford (12.1 PPG, 2.2 BPG) has proved to be one of the conferences biggest surprises, garnering NBA Draft buzz.
7. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs may be the most desperate team heading to St. Louis they’ve been on the fringes of the bubble the past few weeks but after a 21-point loss at LSU this weekend they’ll likely need to cut the nets in order to dance. Second Team All-SEC selection Quinndary (14.7 PPG) and his younger brother Nick (11.1 PPG), an All-Freshman team pick, will need to have a big week if the Bulldogs are going to win four games in four days.
8. Texas A&M – The Aggies have been the most puzzling team in the SEC this season. Billy Kennedy’s team is capable of beating top teams, throttling West Virginia in the season opener and winning at Auburn, but also privy to extended losing streaks, one of five games another of three. A&M is trending in the right direction, having won three straight and is more than capable of winning the tournament.
9. Alabama – The Crimson Tide have played themselves into a precarious situation thanks to a five-game losing streak. At 17-14, Avery Johnson’s team is in need of quality wins to earn a spot into the NCAA Tournament. Matchups against A&M and then Auburn would give the Tide the perfect opportunity to solidify their resume. SEC co-Freshman of the Year Collin Sexton will have to continue to carry Bama if that is to happen.
10. LSU – The Tigers had a chance two weeks ago to build upon a resume that was surprisingly strong, considering their overall record, instead the Tigers lost two of their last three and will need to win four times in order to dance. All-SEC Freshman selection Tremont Waters (15.6 PPG, 35 3P%) has the capability to beat any team the Tigers will face.
11. South Carolina – Following a Final Four run, Chris Silva has had a first team All-SEC season and been one of the top defensive peformers, sharing Defensive Player of the Year with Robert Williams of Texas A&M. The Gamecocks are unlikely to win five games but they’ve proven they can beat the conferences beast owning a win over three of the top four seeds.
12. Georgia – SEC leading scorer Yante Maten (19.4 PPG) and second-leading rebounder (8.8 RPG) will give it finally shot at playing in the NCAA Tournament but will need to win five games in as many days.
13. Vanderbilt – The Commodores might be the best 13th place team in America. Seniors Jeff Roberson (17.0 PPG, 40.3 3P%)and Riley LaChance (14.0 PPG, 41.5 3P%) have made Vandy a tough out for opponents all year long.
14. Ole Miss – The coaching search has begun in Oxford! Tony Madlock will try to submit his case by stringing together five days of magic.
I don’t know. Seriously, you think I’m going to try to predict the next five days? Nah, I’m good but I’ll enjoy watching.
First & Second Round – SEC Network
Quarterfinals – ESPN (Afternoon Session), SEC Network (Evening Session)
Semifinals – ESPN
Final – ESPN
The SEC tournament odds according to Bovada. pic.twitter.com/aqE6e6xqLg
— Hugh Kellenberger (@HKellenbergerCL) March 6, 2018
For updates throughout the SEC tourney follow me on Twitter, @JulianCouncil.