Dates: March 10-13
Site: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Championship game: Sunday, 1 p.m. on CBS
Outlook: It’s supposed to be a two-team race between Kentucky and Florida, but this is the SEC tournament we’re talking about here. Weird stuff happens.
The Gators (24-6, 13-3) won the regular-season crown outright for the first time since ’07, and feature the player of the year in Chandler Parsons. They’ve got size, explosive guards and a do-everything type of player in Parsons. So why be skeptical? Outside shooting. And they don’t have any consistent post scorers. They’re good, but vulnerable.
Especially when it comes to they’re likely quarterfinal opponent: Tennessee (18-13). The Vols have underperformed this season, but their physical defense and athletic players make them a match for the Gators, who swept the season series, but needed OT and a 1-point win to do so. Also in the Gators’ half of the bracket are Vandy (21-9) – the SEC’s most underrated team – and Miss State (17-13), which has made the last two title games.
Kentucky (22-8) finished behind Florida in the East standings, but has the best players. Only an unlucky SEC road run prevented the Wildcats from an SEC title. Still, both Alabama (20-10) and Georgia (20-10) – likely quarterfinal opponents – have beaten Kentucky this season. And the Bulldogs get to play at home.
Players to watch: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt and Brandon Knight, Kentucky
Jenkins, a sophomore guard, is fabulous to watch. He’s a pure shooter, good with and without the ball and stretches defenses because of his ability. If anyone’s likely to go off for a 40-point game, it’s Jenkins.
Knight, the freshman point guard, isn’t a natural shooter, but he’s a fantastic scorer. He’s difficult to stop off the dribble and an underrated outside shooter. On a team with two other NBA talents in Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, Knight’s the guy who makes the Wildcats go.
Call me a sucker for talent. And log5 odds. John Calipari’s team won the tournament last year and got the better half of the draw this season by avoiding Florida, Tennessee and Vandy unless one of those three reaches the title game.
And those road woes? Let’s just say I was convinced after the Wildcats closed their regular season with a win at Tennessee, their fifth in their last six games. This team’s ready.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.