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2011 NCAA Tournament: SEC Team Predictions

The brackets have been announced and the 2011 NCAA Tournament is all set to begin on Tuesday night. This year the tournament expanded to 68 teams. The one thing that does not seem to change is the controversy over the NCAA selection committee choices and seeding.

For the SEC, five teams made it into the Big Dance. The Florida Gators picked up a 2 seed in the Southeast region. The Kentucky Wildcats were selected as a 4 seed in the East region. The Vanderbilt Commodores were selected as a 5 seed in the Southwest region. The Tennessee Volunteers were selected as a 9 seed in the West region. Finally, the Georgia Bulldogs are a 10 seed in the East region.

The Florida/Kentucky seeding is one that might raise some eyesbrows, since Kentucky has won the last two meetings between the two schools, including a 70-54 win in the SEC Tournament final. Florida did have a better record in conference play and overall, but it appears odd that there is two seeding levels between the them.

Vanderbilt will be making its fourth NCAA tournament appearance since 2004 and will be looking to do better than last year, when they lost in the first round to Murray State. The Tennessee slump from the middle of the season and on did not keep them from making their sixth straight NCAA tournament. Georgia will be making its first trip to the NCAA since 2008.

Florida Gators guard Kenny Boynton
13 March 2011: Florida Gators guard Kenny Boynton (1) in second half action during the Kentucky Wildcats v Florida Gators in the SEC Tournament at The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.

The one glaring team left out of the field of 68 was the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tide finished with a record of 21-11 and won the SEC West with a 12-4 record. In the end, the selection committee did not feel Alabama had done enough in the non-conference to deserve a bid.

So now let’s take a look at the all five SEC teams and their first round as well as their potential second round match ups.

The Florida Gators are the highest seed in the tournament and have the easiest second round match up. They will play the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (18-13, 8-8) who finished in fourth place in the Big West during the regular season, but got the automatic bid for winning the Big West Tournament.

This is a match up that Florida should dominate. Florida should just hammer the ball into the post where the Gauchos will have no match up for Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin, and Alex Tyus. Gators are best when they run their offense from the inside out and against UCSB, they should have no problem scoring.

The second round is where the Gators will have to step their game up, where they face a match up against either UCLA from the Pac 10 or Michigan State out of the Big 10. If I had to give an edge, I would pick Michigan State to play Florida in the third round. Michigan is a much more battle tested team and Tom Izzo always has his team ready for the tournament. Florida-Michigan State would be a match up of two of the more experienced teams in the NCAA and would be a a hard game to pick. But I believe Florida will make it to at least the Sweet 16.

Kentucky and John Calipari will face the Princeton Tigers in their first game of the tournament. This will be a match up of style vs. athleticism. Kentucky not only showed in the SEC Tournament that they are not only a good offensive team, but they are also a good defensive team. Clapping on Florida and holding it to only 54 points proves this statement. Princeton will probably be able to give the Wildcats some fits with their offense, but Kentucky should move on.

The next round, Kentucky could play any one of three teams. They will get either Clemson out of the ACC, University of Alabama-Birmingham of Conference USA, or West Virginia of the Big East.

I don’t see the Clemson or UAB being able to match up or defeat Kentucky if they make it that far. Of course if West Virginia advances, it would be a rematch of last year's Elite Eight game that WVU won in Syracuse. The problem for last years' Wildcats is that they could not handle the Mountaineers 1-3-1 zone. This catch is a much better shooting team and has shown it can handle any defense thrown at it. I see Kentucky making it to the Sweet 16.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Josh Harrellson
13 March 2011: Kentucky Wildcats forward Josh Harrellson (55) holds the 2011 SEC Championship trophy in the Kentucky Wildcats 70-54 victory over the Florida Gators in the SEC Tournament at The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.

Vanderbilt will be playing for the first time as a 5 seed in the tournament. They draw the Richmond Spiders out of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Spiders went 27-7 (13-3) and are already looked at as a the team to pull the 12 over 5 upset. They will bring an experienced team with eight guys that average over 12 minutes a game. Kevin Stallings has a great offense and is lead by what is the best scoring duo in the SEC this year. John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor can score at any moment in the Commodores half court offense. People might like Vanderbilt to get upset, but I like them to move on.

The next round they will likely match them up with the Louisville Cardinals out of the Big East. The Cardinals are one of the best shooting teams in the country and if they are hitting, they are tough to beat. The one area that Vanderbilt could over-match the Cardinals is in the post. I like Vanderbilt, but I think Louisville will be able to move on against Vanderbilt.

They 8-9 match up is about as even as you can get in the NCAA Tournament and that is where you will find Tennessee going against the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten. I honestly don’t know what to expect from Bruce Pearl's Volunteers, but something tells me that they will be able to find some of that early season magic. Michigan is just as up-and-down as Tennessee. I do not like Michigan in this match up as Tennessee has more experience in the NCAA and I think will be able to knock out the Wolverines.

The next round will provide the Volunteers a match up against the 1 seed Duke Blue Devils out of the ACC. The Blue Devils will be too much for Tennessee to handle. This team has been here before just like Tennessee, but Tennessee is not as consistent as Duke. The Blue Devils play as a team and have too many weapons on the outside for Tennessee to try and stop.

The final match up involving a SEC team is a 7-10 match up between the Washington Huskies out of the Pac 10 and the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia was a bubble team by many, but considering they are a 10 seed, means that they were in before the SEC Tournament. Mark Fox has done a great job this year in rebuilding the Bulldogs.

They have a tough match up with Washington, who won the Pac 10 Tournament over Arizona. It looks like it will be a one and done tournament for Georgia. The main match up problem for Georgia in this game will be point guard Isaiah Thomas. An NCAA Tournament game can come down to guard play and Georgia has no match up for Thomas. I see the Huskies moving on in this game over the Bulldogs.

Of course no one knows what will happen in the NCAA Tournament. I could get all this picks right, or they could all be wrong. The great thing about the NCAA basketball is that, unlike football, the true champions will be settled on the court.

Thanks to Dennis Berry for writing this article for SEC Sports Fan.

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