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2011 SEC Basketball Tournament Preview

We have reached the pinnacle of the SEC basketball season. The 12 members of the SEC have played two months worth of basketball in the conference that has lead them to the SEC Tournament.

For some teams this is a chance to improve their seeding for the NCAA Tournament that begins next week. For other teams this is their last chance to get into the “Big Dance” by getting the automatic bid for wining the tournament. Regardless fans from all schools will flood Atlanta this weekend to support their team this weekend.

Looking at the SEC Tournament three days before starts, there appear to only three teams that have a good shot to win the tournament. There are a few that should be considered dark horses to win it all. Then there are teams that are long shots and teams that really have no shot. Then there is a team that we have no idea what to expect.

Let’s take a look at them all.

No Shots

As bad as it is to say, there are some teams that really have no shot at winning this weekend. The first of those teams would be the LSU Tigers.

The Tigers finished with the worst record in conference play this year at 3-13. They only averaged 62.6 points a game this year, but gave up 66.7 to their opponents. They finished near the bottom of almost every offensive category. The one thing that I can take from Trent Johnson’s team is that while they are wrong, they play hard. So while Johnson is still in the rebuilding process, it will be over this year on Thursday night when they play Vanderbilt at 10:00pm.

The next team that I consider to have no shot is the Auburn Tigers. The Tigers struggled at times during SEC play this year. They suffered through a six game and a four game losing streak in conference play. They do come into the SEC Tournament on a two game winning streak, over Ole Miss and LSU. Again this Tigers team is young, but from what I have seen of them this year they play for first year head coach Tony Barbee. They will open the 2011 SEC Tournament against Georgia at 1:00pm Thursday afternoon.

Auburn's Josh Langford, Chris Denson, and Georgia's Travis Leslie.
05 February 2011: Auburn's Josh Langford (0), Chris Denson (3), and Georgia's Travis Leslie in Georgia Bulldogs 81-72 victory over the Auburn Tigers at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens GA.

The South Carolina Gamecocks started out SEC play 3-1 and in first place in the SEC East. After that, things went down hill for Darrin Horn and the Gamecocks. They lost 10 of their next 12 games and finished the season on a three game losing streak. The Gamecocks are the only one of these teams that have a shot at winning a game in the Tournament, they play Ole Miss in the second game of the afternoon session at 3:30pm. If Bruce Ellington has a big game in his first SEC Tournament appearance, the Gamecocks might pull out a win.

Long Shots

Every year you see teams that have no business winning their conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. Just like Georgia a few years ago, these teams may make a wild run in the SEC.

The coaching seat is getting hot for John Pelphrey in Fayetteville. The Arkansas Razorbacks struggled this year and fans are starting to grow tired of Pelphrey as coach. A win over Kentucky a couple of weeks ago settled them down a little bit, but a two game losing streak that cost them a bye in the SEC Tournament got the head coach seat hot again. The Razorbacks open up against Tennessee in the first game of the nigh session on Thursday night, if they can win a couple of games this year it might be enough to keep Pelphrey on the job another year.

For my pick to win the West, Mississippi Rebels, the start to SEC play put them in a hole they could not overcome. Andy Kennedy’s squad started 0-4 in the league and finished 7-9. The Rebels do have a strong backcourt to lean on for a tournament run. Seniors Chris Warren and Zach Graham will look to finish their careers on a winning note this weekend. They open against South Carolina, and will be looking for revenge after losing 73-79 in Columbia a couple of weeks ago.

Mississippi guard Chris Warren
University of Mississippi guard Chris Warren (12) dribbles against the University of Miami at BankUnited Center, November 2010.

No Idea What to Expect

There is only one team that I have no idea what they will do in the Tournament. I picked the Tennessee Volunteers to finish second in the East and then to play in the Tournament Championship game. The Volunteers started the year winning the Preseason NIT Tournament and were 7-0 after winning at Pittsburgh in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Then the wheels fell off. They finished 11-12 the rest of the way and 7-9 in the SEC. The fate of Bruce Pearl is still in the air. No one knows what to expect from the Vols as when they take the floor against Arkansas Thursday night. They seem to be a lock for the NCAA, but the really need to win to secure it.

Dark Horses

There are not many teams that can compare to the roller coaster season that Tennessee has had, but the Mississippi State Bulldogs is one team that can. There have been fights, player tweeting, suspensions, and a coach on the hot seat. The Bulldogs have been through a lot, but they were able to finish second place in the West and get the first round bye. Rick Stansbury, needs a solid run to secure his job, but the only way the Bulldogs get to the NCAA Tournament is to get the auto bid for wining it all. The Bulldogs have Ravern Johnson, Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, and Kodi Augustus to look to make a run, but they will have to improve their defense. They were dead last in the SEC in points allowed at 69.7 points a game.

The Georgia Bulldogs are another team that appears to be headed to the NCAA Tournament, but needs wins to help lock up a bid. Coach Mark Fox has done a great job with this team. They finished 20-10 (9-7) this year after they went 14-17(5-11) last season. The Bulldogs will look to Try Thompkins, Travis Leslie, and Gerald Robinson to lead them when they open up the SEC Tournament against Auburn.

Anthony Grant and JaMychal Green
Alabama coach Anthony Grant and JaMychal Green in Alabama Crimson Tide 68-63 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bridgestone Arena, March 2010.

As crazy as it sounds, a division winner and a team that was one game out from the regular season conference title might not make it to the NCAA Tournament. But that is what faces the Alabama Crimson Tide. Coach Anthony Grant only way to get into the “Big Dance” is to win the SEC Tournament. If the Tide want to win, they will have to do it by playing defense. They held teams to 58.8 points a game, which was good enough to rank seventh in the nation and first in the SEC. JaMychal Green is Mr. Everything for the Tide, leading them in points, rebounds, and blocks per game. If they want to make a run to get into the NCAA, Green will have to have an outstanding tournament.

Teams that can Win the Tournament

Now we get to the big dogs in this years tournament. These teams are considered the only teams with a legit shot to win this year’s tournament.

We start with the Vanderbilt Commodores. Kevin Stallings squad was one of the best offensive teams in the SEC. They were second in the league averaging 76.7 points a game. The were the best shooting team in the league with a field goal percentage of 49.2% a game and second in the three point shooting at 38.4%. Lead by John Jenkins 19.4 points per game and Jeffery Taylor 14.5 ppg. The only problem with Vanderbilt is they play little defense, giving up 67.5 points. If they could play a little defense, they can win the SEC Tournament. They open Thursday night against LSU. They don’t really need any help to get into the NCAA Tournament, they should be in.

The Kentucky Wildcats just wish they could play every game at Rupp Arena. Well with the way the Wildcats faithful travel, the Georgia Dome will feel like Rupp Arena South and Atlanta will turn into “CATlanta.” Coach John Calipari’s team might have struggled on the road in the SEC going 2-6, but you could not tell by the stats. They finished 10-6 in the SEC and averaged a SEC best 76.8 points a game. They shot 46% for third in the league and a league best 39.9% from behind the arch. Kentucky was lead by three freshman in Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb, but the key to this team is Darius Miller. The better he plays, the better this team is. Kentucky does not need help to make the NCAA, but the more they win, the better their seed will be.

Kentucky Wildcats Fans
Kentucky Wildcats Fans.

The team with the best chance to win the SEC Tournament is the SEC regular season champions Florida Gators. This is by far Billy Donovan’s best team since the back-to-back NCAA title teams. Once Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton stopped taking bad three point shots and began to incorporate their teammates into the offense, the Gators started to play their best ball. Chandler Parsons made a case for SEC Player of the Year in SEC with his play and Veron Macklin and Alex Tyus controlled the paint. They have eight players average over 15 minutes a game, so they are deep and poised to make a case for at least a two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida's Chandler Parsons
Florida's Chandler Parsons in Georgia Bulldogs 104-91 loss to the Florida Gators at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens GA, January 2011.

The SEC Tournament should be an exciting end to the SEC basketball season. Although I and most believe that Florida is the team to beat this weekend, it means nothing until the games are played. It’s March, you never know what can happen in a basketball tournament.

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

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