Thursday, March 12, 2009

SEC Tournament Preview

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The Southeastern Conference’s troubles this season have been well-documented, but there is no better evidence than the fact that there are just two locks for the NCAA Tournament right now – and Tennessee would serve itself well by winning a game. LSU won the league title at 13-3, then proceeded to lose its next two games. Tennessee and South Carolina tied for the SEC East title at 10-6, with Florida going 9-7 to finish in third. Auburn made a late run to finish in second in the SEC West at 10-6.

Favorite: I guess LSU would have to be considered the favorite heading into the conference tournament because it jumped out to a 13-1 start in league play and was clearly the cream of the crop during that time. Marcus Thornton is one of the best players in the league; he can score from the perimeter and rebound very well. Tasmin Mitchell is a tough match-up due to his skill set, while Bo Spencer has range and is a good defender. Garrett Temple is one of the best defensive players in the country, and Chris Johnson is a shot-blocker and inside scorer.

Contenders: Tennessee looked to be preparing itself for a postseason run when it dominated South Carolina on the road a week ago, but it then followed that with a home loss to Alabama on Sunday. The Volunteers have an assortment of options, but have been inconsistent all season long. Tyler Smith is one of the best all-around players in the country, while Wayne Chism is much improved on the interior, providing an inside-outside threat. J.P. Price and Scotty Hopson lead a deep perimeter group. South Carolina has the best backcourt in the conference in Devan Downey and Zam Frederick, but the Gamecocks’ poor rebounding and reliance on forcing turnovers has led to some bad showings over the course of the season. They do love to push the ball and play in transition, conducive to their stable of athletes. Florida knocked off Kentucky in the final game of the season to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Nick Calathes is one of the best all-around players in the country, and Walter Hodge is an experienced veteran in the backcourt. Erving Walker is exciting to watch, and sophomore Alex Tyus is a banger down low. Auburn is the hottest team in the league, having won eight of nine, and the Tigers are as good of a bet as anyone to win the automatic bid. Offensively, they have a variety of options. DeWayne Reed and Quantez Robertson give them a very solid backcourt that can handle, distribute and score. Tay Waller is a very good shooter and Rasheem Barrett can score. Plus, Korvotney Barber is one of the best big men in the league.

Sleeper: Okay, Kentucky has lost four in a row and eight of its last 11. But is there anyone in the league that would be looking forward to facing Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson? I didn’t think so. The Wildcats are going to be desperate to get to the NCAA Tournament, and they know they need to get to at least the conference title game to do that – and might need the automatic bid. Only two of their eight league losses were by double-digits; if a few bounces go their way, the Wildcats could make a run.

Prediction: Ignore the fact that LSU went 13-3 and won the conference by a full three games for a second. This conference tournament is absolutely wide-open. There a multitude of contenders from the East Division, and Auburn leads a group of non-LSU teams from the West looking to make noise. However, when looking at the entire league, I keep finding myself going to back to LSU. The Tigers play excellent defense due to their outstanding athleticism and length, and they have multiple options offensively. They can match-up with anyone, and have the balance to win the SEC tournament title. Don’t be surprised if they play Auburn in the final.

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