As usual, it took the outcome of the final game of the regular season to finally determine the brackets for the SEC Tournament, starting on Thursday in Atlanta. With only four teams estimated to be dancing right now, there's some serious work left on the table. The general consensus finds Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky already in, even if they should be one-and-done in Atlanta. The nearest bubble teams were thought to be Georgia and Alabama, but the Dawgs have now lost two straight, and Alabama was just throttled in Starkville with their season potentially on the line. You could make a case for Mississippi State or Ole Miss simply on the basis that they split the SEC West title, but both did so at 8-8 and neither have anything impressive on the non-conference resume.
Championship Week usually steals an at-large bid or two when someone who wasn't supposed to go dancing puts on their glass slipper and wins their respective tournament (see Syracuse last year). But none of the SEC teams in contention will likely go dancing by winning just one game. Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will all likely need to win twice in Atlanta to get back inside the bubble. Of course, any team that wins the conference tournament gets an automatic bid, and with 11 teams over .500 and South Carolina only one game under, there are no bad teams in the SEC this year, and you never know what can happen...
Thursday - First Round
E4 Kentucky vs. W5 Alabama - 1:00 PM
W3 Arkansas vs. E6 South Carolina - 3:15 PM
W4 Auburn vs. E5 Georgia - 7:30 PM
E3 Tennessee vs. W6 LSU - 9:45 PM
Friday - Quarterfinals
W1 Mississippi State vs. Kentucky/Alabama winner - 1:00 PM
E2 Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas/South Carolina winner - 3:15 PM
E1 Florida vs. Auburn/Georgia winner - 7:30 PM
W2 Ole Miss vs. Tennessee/LSU winner - 9:45 PM
Saturday - Semifinals
1:00 & 3:15 PM
Sunday - Championship Game
(all tournament games can be seen locally on LF Sports, with the Championship Game shown nationally on CBS)
The Eastern Division supremacy, combined with the upside down Western Division, makes for what one would've thought to be must-see matchups on the first day between Kentucky-Alabama and Tennessee-LSU. The two teams picked to win the SEC West finished in the cellar, and the two teams picked to finish in the cellar won't be playing til Friday.
On paper, it looks like a good draw for both the Vols and the Cats if they can get past Friday, but the state of Mississippi isn't to be overlooked. If you were picking favorites, you'd have to talk about Florida just on principle, but the hottest team in the SEC right now is...Tennessee, who started 3-5 (including 1-3 without Chris Lofton) and finished 7-1 in SEC play. It's too hard to pick a dark horse, because they all are. Jobs are on the line in Fayetteville (and Lexington?), and the major awards - coach of the year and player of the year - can easily be influenced by four days in the ATL. This is one of the most exciting set of four days of the sports year.
For my money - literally - let's hope the Vols stay through the weekend.