2010 SEC Tournament preview


Site: Bridgestone Arena (19,395) -- Nashville, Tennessee.

Dates: Thursday, March 11th through Sunday, March 14th. Television: SEC

Network, ABC (Semifinals, Championship Game). Annual: 51st. Defending

Champion: Mississippi State


The competition level will be through the roof in Nashville this

week, as all 12 SEC teams will compete in the 51st annual conference

tournament. On the line is an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the

majority of the teams in the league are well aware that their hopes of earning

a ticket to the "Big Dance" depend solely on winning this event.

Kentucky has won more SEC Tournament titles than all of the other conference

members combined, and the Wildcats enter this year's field as the top seed

from the East Division. The Wildcats will attempt to capture their first crown

since 2004, but they figure to be a top seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless

of their finish in this event. The East Division is considerably stronger than

the West, as it can be argued that the best four teams in the SEC all come

from the East. Vanderbilt (E-2), Tennessee (E-3) and Florida (E-4) are all

capable of knocking off Kentucky and winning this tournament. Vanderbilt and

Tennessee have the necessary records to reach the NCAA Tournament without

winning this league tourney. In regard to the West, even top-seeded

Mississippi State has a shaky resume' and needs to cut down the nets in

Nashville. The lone team in the field that has never won the SEC Tournament is

South Carolina. The first round of this event begins on Thursday, as the third

through sixth seeds in both divisions will be in action. The top two seeds in

both divisions will open play on Friday, March 12th, in the quarterfinal

round, and after semifinal action on Saturday, the championship game will be

played on "Selection Sunday".

The first of four first-round games pits the Alabama Crimson Tide (W-4)

against the South Carolina Gamecocks (E-5). Alabama has won this tournament

six times, the second most in the league, but the last crown was captured way

back in 1991. Still, the Tide is 57-43 in this event. South Carolina, as

mentioned, is still in search of its first title, and the Gamecocks are 16-18

in SEC Tournament affairs. Alabama beat South Carolina by nine points in the

only regular-season meeting between the teams. The Crimson Tide depend heavily

on their defense to win games, as they are second in the conference in scoring

defense (64.6 ppg). Mikhail Torrance (15.4 ppg, 5.3 apg) and JaMychal Green

(14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) are clearly the two best players on the roster for 'Bama.

As for South Carolina, it possess the league's leading scorer in Devan Downey

(22.6 ppg), and the senior is also handing out 3.5 apg. Unfortunately, the

Gamecocks are last in the league in free-throw percentage, assists and

rebounding margin.

Tennessee (E-3) and LSU (W-6) are slated to do battle on Thursday afternoon in

what may be the most lopsided matchup of the first round. The Vols have won

the SEC Tournament four times, but it has been 31 years since their last

title. Last season, Tennessee reached the championship game, only to fall to

Mississippi State in a 64-61 final. As for LSU, it captured its lone SEC crown

back in 1980, so it can certainly relate to Tennessee's long wait for a

championship. The Vols and Tigers played just once during the regular season,

and Tennessee escaped Baton Rouge with a five-point win. The Vols own the

second-best scoring margin in the SEC (+9.8 ppg), surprising considering the

fact that they don't possess a single player ranked in the top 20 in the

league in scoring. Tennessee is the top team in the conference when it comes

to defending the three-point shot. As for LSU, it finished 2-14 versus SEC

opponents during the regular season, but the team did close out the campaign

with a victory and may enter this tournament with some confidence.

Unfortunately, the Tigers completely lack depth and are the lowest-scoring

team in the SEC (61.9 ppg) despite boasting two of the league's top 13

scorers, including Tasmin Mitchell (17.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg).

The Florida Gators (E-4), will do battle with Auburn (W-5) in the first round.

A 20-win season used to assure teams from major conferences a berth in the

NCAA Tournament, but teams are playing more games than ever, so Florida needs

to play well in this event to punch its ticket to the "Big Dance". The Gators

own a 32-41 all-time record in this event, but they captured three straight

titles from 2005 through 2007, so the majority of their success has been

recent. As for Auburn, it has struggled in the SEC Tournament, posting a 27-46

record, and the program's lone championship came back in 1985. The Gators beat

the Tigers by eight points in the only meeting between the teams during the

regular season. The fact that Florida is able to field a starting lineup with

five double-digit scorers is impressive. The Gators are last in the league in

blocked shots but tops in assist/turnover ratio. Auburn is the worst defensive

team in the SEC, allowing 74.0 ppg on 45.5 percent shooting by opponents. The

Tigers possess the sixth and seventh ranked scorers in the league in DeWayne

Reed (16.1 ppg) and Tay Waller (15.9 ppg).

Rounding out the pairings in the first round will be the Arkansas Razorbacks

(W-3) and the Georgia Bulldogs (E-6). Arkansas is 20-17 all-time in this event

and won its lone title back in 2000. As for Georgia, it has two championships

to its credit, the most recent of which was earned in 2008. The Razorbacks

beat the Bulldogs by four points on the road in the only regular-season

meeting between the clubs. Arkansas is ranked 11th out of 12 SEC teams in

scoring defense, and the team is last in three-point percentage defense.

Rotnei Clarke leads the Razorbacks with 15.5 ppg, and Marshawn Powell is close

behind with 15.1 ppg. Georgia's top performer is Trey Thompkins (17.7 ppg, 8.2

rpg), who ranks second in the SEC in scoring and fourth in rebounding. His

Bulldogs are 11th in scoring margin among conference teams, however, and they

are last in turnover margin.

The winner of the South Carolina/Alabama matchup will advance to the

quarterfinal round to face Kentucky. The Wildcats have won this event 25 times

and own a 111-22 record in SEC Tournament games. Still, they haven't cut down

the nets since 2004 and haven't reached the title game since 2005. Kentucky

leads the conference in many statistical categories, including scoring offense

(79.9 ppg), scoring margin (+14.4 ppg), field goal percentage (.478), field

goal percentage defense (.382), rebounding margin (+9.1 rpg) and assists (14.9

apg). Freshman sensation John Wall is averaging 17.0 ppg to go along with a

league-best 6.2 apg, and fellow rookie star DeMarcus Cousins checks in with

15.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 1.8 bpg. Don't forget about Patrick Patterson and his

15.0 ppg and 7.6 rpg.

The second quarterfinal game to be played on Friday pits the Ole Miss Rebels

(W-2) against either LSU or Tennessee. Ole Miss won its only SEC championship

in 1981, and the team's 23-46 conference record is far from impressive.

Rebels' standout guard Chris Warren ranks third in the SEC in scoring with

17.2 ppg and ninth in assists (3.4 apg). Ole Miss is second in the league in

scoring with 78.4 ppg, and the team shoots the ball efficiently from three-

point range. The Rebels are second in assist/turnover ratio and have the

talent in place to make a run in this event.

Mississippi State (W-1) awaits the winner of the Auburn/Florida matchup, and

that quarterfinal matchup figures to be competitive regardless of the pairing.

MSU is the defending champion of this event as mentioned, and the program has

three titles to its credit. Still, its 25-46 record at this event all-time is

poor. The man to watch for the Bulldogs is star forward/center Jarvis Varnado,

who recently became the NCAA's all-time leader in blocked shots. In addition

to his 4.8 rejections per outing, Varnado also paces the conference in

rebounding (10.6 ppg) and is scoring 13.5 ppg as well. Mississippi State is

the best defensive team in the league in regard to scoring defense (64.4 ppg),

and the club is limiting opponents to 38.4 percent shooting from the field.

Dee Bost is a tremendous distributor at point guard who ranks second in the

SEC in assists (5.4 apg).

The Vanderbilt Commodores (E-2) will play either Georgia or Arkansas in the

quarterfinals. Vandy's lone SEC Tournament title was earned way back in 1951,

by far the longest drought of any of the teams that have won the crown. The

Commodores are 29-47 in the event, but this year's team is one of the best in

recent memory. Vanderbilt is the best free-throw shooting team in the

conference, and that asset could certainly prove critical in close tournament

games. While the Commodores do lack the type of player capable of taking a

game over at the offensive end, there are three double-digit scorers in the

fold. Jermaine Beal (14.7 ppg), A.J. Ogilvy (13.9 ppg) and Jeffery Taylor

(13.9 ppg) provide plenty of balance to the lineup.

If Kentucky plays up to its vast potential, it will win this tournament rather

easily. The Wildcats are far more talented than any other squad in the

conference. With Wall and Cousins, youth and the inherent lack of experience

is a concern, but the ability of both rookies is staggering.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Kentucky