The case for and against each team in the SEC tournament
The SEC tournament is always fun but this year it has the potential to be one of the best versions of it that we have ever seen. That's because Southeastern Conference basketball is as good as it has ever been.
Kentucky is the highest-ranked team in the league going into the postseason but several teams in the conference are widely believed to have the potential to make a deep run in March Madness.
Here's the case for and against every SEC team going into the tournament. The teams are ordered in the likelihood of winning the tournament.
3 SEED - KENTUCKY
Kentucky is the betting favorite to win the SEC tournament even as the three seed but nobody should find that a surprise. Kentucky will have the largest fan presence at the SEC tournament as it always does and no program consistently brings it to this event like UK. Throw in that this team's ceiling is probably the highest in the league when you think about the level it has achieved in some higher profile games this year (Tennessee at home, at Kansas, UNC neutral, etc) and the fact that the only real question about UK this year has been health. With UK appearing healthy it's no surprise the Cats are the Vegas favorite but with a much stronger than usual group of teams at the top of the league more people than usually might be inclined to at least take the field.
4 SEED - ARKANSAS
Although the Razorbacks' comeback bid came up short in Knoxville last time out this is a scorching hot team with 14 wins in its last 16 games. That includes victories against LSU (twice), Auburn, Tennessee, and Kentucky. It has commonly been referred to as arguably the hottest team in the country during that very long stretch of the season. We know that a hot regular season finish doesn't necessarily translate to a strong postseason, which is really a second season, but there's no reason to believe what Arkansas did recently can't carry over. In both losses Arkansas was a very tough out and you have to like tough outs in one-and-done settings. They'll probably have a chance late in whatever game they're playing in. JD Notae is one of the league's top scorers and UK fans saw what he's capable of when he's locked in and playing at his highest level. He can trade baskets with the best of opponents.
1 SEED - AUBURN
Bruce Pearl's Tigers are the SEC tournament one seed for a reason. The Tigers are No.7 according to KenPom (No. 22 offense, No. 8 defense) and 27-4 on the season. Auburn is 3-1 at neutral site venues and 8-3 on the road so it's a team that is battle tested and hardened away from home. But Auburn is 3-2 in its last five games. Both losses were on the road and the other, a win against MSU, required overtime. Pearl led Auburn to the 2019 SEC tournament championship so he has done it before, but there seems to be a bit more parity at the top of the league now than perhaps earlier in the season. Auburn's toughest path through the tournament would require wins against A&M/Florida, Arkansas, and then Kentucky or Tennessee. Auburn has eight Quadrant 1 wins and definitely has the chops to win the hardware if it plays at a high level.
2 SEED - TENNESSEE
Once again Rick Barnes has done an excellent job with the Volunteers. It's hard to imagine the team that lost to Kentucky by nearly 30 points in Rupp Arena earlier this year would rebound and finish as the two seed during one of the SEC's better years and Kentucky fans saw the level UT is capable of playing at when the Cats went on the road and lost in a Knoxville revenge game. Rick Barnes has led UT deep into a couple of recent SEC tournaments but hasn't been able to get over the Kentucky hurdle at this event. But it would be foolish to rule out one of the hottest teams in the country. Tennessee has won nine of its last ten games with victories against Kentucky, Auburn, and Arkansas during that stretch. It's not a great offensive team, just good, but KenPom's No. 3 defense will be a tough out for anybody. You have to be ready for this team's toughness.
5 SEED - LSU
LSU is an interesting team going into the tournament because it has been up and down at times but seems to be dangerous at the moment. The Tigers have wins against Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama in conference play, and nearly knocked off Arkansas in Fayetteville two games ago. No question, this team is capable of playing with any of the top four teams in the league on a good day. Vegas gives LSU the fifth-best odds of winning the SEC title, but there's a gap between 1-4 and LSU and then a gap between LSU and the teams below it. That seems about right.
6 SEED - ALABAMA
Anyone who has followed college basketball this year should be able to tell you the basics about Alabama. Nate Oats' teams certainly get plenty of attention. This is not last year's Alabama team but it still has as many excellent wins or more than any other team in the country. KenPom says this is the No. 13 offensive team in the country but it's not an elite defensive squad. Nobody should be surprised if Alabama gets hot and wins a couple of big games. If there's a team outside the top four or five that could win the tournament it's probably the Tide. But it's probably not the best sign that Alabama has lost three of five including a 16-point home loss to Texas A&M. That's a team that needs a hard reset to have a chance in this gauntlet of a bracket.
8 SEED - TEXAS A&M
Don't sleep on the Aggies. Buzz Williams has A&M playing some of its best basketball of the season with four straight wins going into Tampa. One interesting thing about the Aggies is they were 5-5 on the road and 2-2 at neutral sites so this team can win away from College Station. Think about it like this. Texas A&M lost eight straight games at one point this year. They have otherwise been a 20-3 team. That losing streak is a part of what this team has been, but how relevant is it right now the way Texas A&M is playing? It just highlights the difficulty of this year's bracket. A&M has also been a bit better offensively of late and that makes them even more interesting.
9 SEED - FLORIDA
This is not one of Mike White's best teams at Florida but John Calipari was correct earlier this year when he spoke about the Gators still being dangerous. It's still a team with a win against Auburn. It's not impossible to imagine this team getting hot and gutting its way through the bracket but you could also see the Gators losing to A&M on Thursday. Getting through A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, and Kentucky does seem like more than this team has been capable of for much of the season although Castleton has to be accounted for.
10 SEED - MISSISSIPPI STATE
Mississippi State will go as far as Iverson Molinar can take them. He's not an All-American but is an underappreciated player and anybody who watches SEC basketball has to admire his toughness. In a very strong year for SEC basketball it's going to be a tall order for this team to make it all the way through to the final day but it's not crazy to imagine MSU knocking off South Carolina and Tennessee to get to Kentucky. In that sense it could be a dark horse possibility to make noise. MSU isn't very good at much of anything but it's a characteristically tough Ben Howland squad that can cause some problems if you don't bring it. This is also a team that is 1-9 on the road (2-2 neutral) so winning away from home has proven difficult. But even when MSU loses they typically make you work for it and you can expect it's going to be a close game that you have to gut out late.
11 SEED - VANDERBILT
Are the Commodores finally showing some progress in Jerry Stackhouse's third year? Vandy was 11-1 in his first year, right in line with how the Bryce Drew era went, and was 9-16 just like Kentucky in Year Two. Now they're only .500 but 7-11 in arguably the strongest conference is nothing to sneeze at. What's interesting about Vanderbilt is that even as an 11 seed this team has been competitive away from home (5-7 road, 1-0 neutral). At times even in losses recently it has seemed like VU is right on the cusp of becoming a really competitive team and Scottie Pippen Jr., is the kind of player who could conceivably get hot and shoot a couple of other teams out of the tournament.
7 SEED - SOUTH CAROLINA
Frank Martin has quietly done one of the better jobs coaching in the SEC this year. On paper South Carolina isn't an upper echelon SEC team but the Gamecocks have been very competitive this year and it's no small achievement to earn the seventh seed in this year's group of SEC basketball teams. But there does seem to be a big gap between the top six teams and those below it including USC. KenPom ranks this the No. 96 team in the country with the No. 187 offense. It's a top-30 defensive team so any chance USC has will hinge on its ability to make games very ugly. You could see that happening in its first two games but it's extremely difficult to see this team winning four straight games against the national contenders it will face. They do play fast so it should be fun to watch them.
12 SEED - MISSOURI
Missouri won its last game but it was Georgia and only by 10 points at home. Prior to that the Tigers lost six straight games. The Tigers have played a very difficult schedule, top-10 in the country if you go by KenPom. But it's not a good team offensively or defensively and just doesn't seem to have enough of anything to hang its hat on to justify confidence going into the tournament. If Mizzou can get past Ole Miss in the Tuesday game it would draw LSU. Mizzou lost to LSU by 20 points in the only regular season meeting between these teams. Game One against the Rebels may be tough to call but after that the deck is stacked against this team.
13 SEED - OLE MISS
Ole Miss is under .500 for the third time in the last five years so these are not the glory days for a program that won 20+ games in seven of the eight years preceding that. Ole Miss has lost four games in a row but has been fairly competitive at least. The Rebels get fairly balanced scoring but may not have a guy who can put the team on his back.
14 SEED - GEORGIA
This is the 14 seed for a reason. Georgia's only conference win was a six-point home victory against up-and-down Alabama and that was a dozen games ago on the schedule. The good news for Georgia is they get another shot at Alabama on Thursday if it can get past Vanderbilt so that's a matchup it has handled before. UGA has shown itself to be a capable team offensively at times but the defense has been just atrocious. Six of its last seven losses have been by double digits so the safe bet is to call for the Dawgs to be bounced quickly.