The SEC Tournament begins on Wednesday in Tampa. This conference has long been known as the biggest and baddest in football, but it’s starting to garner the same reputation in basketball. The SEC is now among the best conferences in the nation on the hardwood. That growth will culminate this week in what could be a wild few days of basketball. The top four teams in the SEC are all expected to make nice runs in the Big Dance, and anyone out of Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, or Arkansas can cut down the nets in Tampa this weekend.
SEC Tournament Preview
After those top four teams, who have separated themselves from the pack, the conference has a log jam of 9-9 squads. That will make for some entertaining drama on Thursday, as all the teams with a single bye are capable of beating each other. The SEC tournament beings of course on Wednesday with Vanderbilt playing Georgia and Ole Miss battling Missouri. The title winner will not come from the first round of games, but they could give some teams trouble in the second round. It is not likely that anyone playing before Friday will win the title because the teams with the double-bye have proven to be clearly better than the rest of the league. It is basically a toss-up between the top four, as they have each shown they can beat anyone on a given night.
If a team outside the top four was to surprise in the SEC tournament, Alabama and LSU are the most suited to do so. The Crimson Tide have shown they can beat the best teams in the country when they are at their best. They have wins over Gonzaga, Baylor, Arkansas, Houston, and Tennessee this season. Nate Oats’ squad can get white-hot from three and that allows them to compete with anyone. The flip side to that is that this team has bad losses as well, so they could fizzle out to a lower-seeded opponent.
The LSU Tigers are 21-10 on the season, but only four of those losses have come when they have their full roster. Xavier Pinson missed a chunk of SEC games and this team struggled as a result. Since he has returned the Tigers are back to playing like the team that was once 15-1 to start the season. They have the size, depth, and athleticism to match up with anyone they might face this week.
Players to Watch
JD Notae – Arkansas Razorbacks
The SEC’s leading scorer can take over a game at any moment with his wide array of offensive skills. He has scored in double figures every game this season and has 20 or more points in three of the last four contests. Notae can be the best player on the floor on any given night, and in a tournament setting, he is the kind of guy that can carry a team.
Tari Eason – LSU Tigers
The SEC’s 6th Man of the Year is a huge component of LSU’s success. The Tigers have been an excellent defensive team all year, especially when Pinson is playing. They have struggled at times on the offensive end and that is why Eason is so important. He has scored 16 or more points in 12 of the last 14 games. He also has the ability to score at all three levels, which in turn opens things up for his teammates. If the sophomore forward can get hot, he can carry this team to a few wins in Tampa.
Jermaine Cousinard – South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks are in the five-team pile up at 9-9 in Sec play. They will likely need to win the SEC Tournament if they hope to get to the big dance the following week. For them to do that, Couisnard will need to continue his recent level of play. He is averaging 21.4 points and over four assists in the last five games. South Carolina is 10-4 when the junior guard scores in double figures.
Jabari Smith – Auburn Tigers
The Tigers won the SEC regular-season title with a 15-3 conference record. The freshman forward has been on a tear as of late, averaging just under 25 points a night in the last six contests. Auburn can get stagnant on offense at times, and that usually happens when they veer away from getting their best player the ball. He is projected to be a top 3 NBA draft pick and is a match-up nightmare on the college level. If the Tigers focus on running the offense through Smith, they can double up on their SEC title haul this weekend.
Embed from Getty Images