Thursday, March 9, 2006

SEC Tournament Preview

Click here for a complete index of all the conference tournament previews.

The SEC was much-maligned for a large part of the season as people were saying that they didn't have any title contenders and were one of the worst major conferences. However, they are likely to get six bids to the NCAA Tournament and have several candidates to make it to the second weekend in the Big Dance. LSU won the overall league title by two games over Tennessee at 14-2. The Volunteers won the East division at 12-4, while the Tigers were four games ahead of both Alabama and Arkansas in the West division. Florida and Kentucky finished two and three games back of Tennessee, respectively.


LSU is one of the teams to beat heading into the conference tournament. However, they are likely to be without star freshman Tyrus Thomas, who is resting a sprained ankle. He should be ready for the NCAA Tournament, though. Even without Thomas, the Tigers have an excellent frontcourt duo in Glen Davis and Tasmin Mitchell. Davis is the best and most dominant player in the SEC, while Mitchell is an athletic forward who can score inside and outside. Darrell Mitchell is the main on the perimeter, and might be the best guard in the conference. Garrett Temple and Darnell Lazare are two more solid players in the lineup.

Tennessee struggled a bit down the stretch, losing three of their final five, including two home games. They have the best backcourt duo in the conference in C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton. Watson is an excellent all-around player, while Lofton is an oustanding long-range shooter. Dane Bradshaw is an undersized forward, but he is scrappy and can do a variety of things on the court. Jajuan Smith is a good perimeter scorer. Inside, Major Wingate is a solid player who scores and plays decent defense. Andre Patterson is the best rebounder on the team and is capable of big games.


Florida might be the most balanced team in the conference even though they have lost four of their final eight games. The Gators have depth and talent in the post that few teams in the country can match. Joakim Noah is a terrific athlete who can score, rebound, and block shots with the best of them. Fellow future pro Al Horford is a very good rebounder and defender who uses his athleticism to get putbacks. Off the bench is Chris Richard, who could start for most teams in the nation. Corey Brewer rounds out one of the best frontcourts in the country. He is very athletic and can do nearly everything on the court. Taurean Green is one of the most improved players in the country at the point guard position. He is a good scorer and a very solid distributor. Lee Humphrey is an outstanding three-point shooter.

Arkansas is one of the hottest teams in the conference, if not the country. They have won five in a row, including wins over Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama. The Razorbacks have one of the best all-around players in the country in Ronnie Brewer, who can score, rebound, distribute, and play defense well. Jonathon Modica is an excellent complement to Brewer on the wing with his scoring ability. Dontell Jefferson and Eric Ferguson form a solid point guard tandem with their ability to pass the ball. Up front, Darian Townes and Charles Thomas are the main players in the faint. Townes is a talented big man who can block shots and score, while Thomas is solid forward who has the ability to have breakout games. Steven Hill gives Arkansas a big body and solid defense at the center spot.

Teams that will be competitive:

Alabama is on the bubble in some people's eyes, but I think they are in. They are coming off of a bad loss to Mississippi State, but should bounce back and be a tough out in both tournaments. Ronald Steele is one of the most underrated point guards in the country. He can score, play defense, and is a solid distributor. Jermareo Davidson combines with him to make up one of the better inside-outside duos in the conference. Davidson is a threat to get a double-double every night. Richard Hendrix improved as the season went on, and is a beast down low. He is a very good rebounder and is also a solid point producer. Alonzo Gee and Jean Felix are the wing scorers for the Tide.

Kentucky has been inconsistent throughout the season, but has the ability to win some games. They have excellent perimeter depth, and can use a variety of combinations. Rajon Rondo is a very good all-around performer who contributes across the board, while Joe Crawford is an athletic wing with a lot of scoring potential. Patrick Sparks and Ravi Moss are good long-range shooters that also pitch in in other aspects of the game. Ramel Bradley is a quick player off the bench. Randolph Morris has been a much-improved player and is capable of taking over down low in the paint. Bobby Perry, Rekalin Sims, and Sheray Thomas are all solid role players in the frontcourt and they add depth.


South Carolina was on the NCAA Tournament bubble for a week or so, and then they lost a couple of games they needed to win and fell off the map. With that said, I can definitely envision this team being a pain in the you-know-what in the SEC Tournament. They are athletic, can shoot the ball, and are excellent at crashing the glass. In addition, they have defeated Florida twice (USC is the only team to win at Florida), and they also have a win over Alabama. Carolina also beat Vanderbilt on the road. Tarence Kinsey and Tre Kelley are an excellent backcourt duo, and Renaldo Balkman is playing the best basketball of his career. Several athletic role players round out the rotation. A hot, athletic team coached by Dave Odom is not a team I would want to face in the SEC Tournament. They were hot late last season too, and what happened? The Gamecocks are your defending NIT champions.

Prediction: The Southeastern Conference Tournament is wide-open this season. There is absolutely no team that could be considered the favorite, especially with Tyrus Thomas out for LSU. LSU has the best inside-outside combo, Tennessee has the best backcourt, Florida is the most balanced, and Arkansas is the hottest. How do you sort through it all? Look at the bracket. I think Florida has too much inside play for Arkansas in the quarterfinals, and also I think they are going to beat LSU because the Tigers don't have Thomas. On the other side of the bracket, Tennessee is going to struggle with Alabama's big guys, but their pressure defense and backcourt play are going to push them to the finals. In the title game, Florida is too good in both the backcourt and frontcourt to lose to Tennessee three times in a season. In other words, the Gators are going to get the automatic bid from the SEC.

Game-by-game predictions:
#5 South Carolina 65, #4 Mississippi State 53
#3 Kentucky 69, #6 Mississippi 58
#4 Vanderbilt 73, #5 Auburn 62
#3 Arkansas 76, #6 Georgia 66

#1 Tennessee 75, #5 South Carolina 68
#2 Alabama 68, #3 Kentucky 61
#1 LSU 72, #4 Vanderbilt 67
#2 Florida 77, #3 Arkansas 75

#1 Tennessee 73, #2 Alabama 69
#2 Florida 74, #1 LSU 71

#2 Florida 76, #1 Tennessee 74

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