So how bad is the SEC?
The SEC’s answer: its actually not as bad as it looks. Yes, Kentucky steamrolled the conference, but I’m not sure that Kentucky wouldn’t have steamrolled any conference this season. The Wildcats are loaded with talent and are playing the best defense of the John Calipari era. Thank you Anthony Davis.
Then you also have to consider the fact that Alabama and Mississippi State, two of the league’s potential NCAA Tournament teams, have had all kinds of personnel issues this year. Alabama’s best player got the boot and they had four starters suspended for a handful of games. At Mississippi State, there is no leadership. Their five-game losing streak ended with in-fighting, and they have Renardo Sidney on their roster.
You can make the argument that top of this league has the potential to be as good as the top of any league in the country.
The real answer: Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
Where: New Orleans
When: March 8th-March 11th
Final: March 11th, 12:00 p.m. ESPN
Right now, Kentucky is the heavy favorite to win the national title. They aren’t going to be the favorite to win a conference tournament when they won the conference regular season by six games?
And if they lose?: Vanderbilt
Call me crazy (seriously, do it) but I have a feeling that Vanderbilt turns things around this March. Their reputation precedes them when it comes to postseason success, but they are a senior laden group playing their final games as collegians. I think that matters. On paper, this group has everything you. Scorers on the perimeter, athletes up and down their lineup, a big man in the middle, an underrated (yes, Brad Tinsley is underrated) playmaker at the point. I have been as hard as anyone on Vandy this season. But I think they turn this thing around.
Other contenders?: Florida has the talent to win this thing. They do. I swear. Patric Young is big enough and physical enough to give Kentucky problems in the middle and with the amount of shooters they have on their perimeter, if the shots are going down, the Gators are going to be scary. You’ll notice one thing about that paragraph, however: “if, if, if”. Florida needs a lot to break the right way.
Mississippi State can also win this thing if they can ever figure out their issues. They have the perfect roster make up to knock off Kentucky: big, physical bodies inside, a talented point guard and a slew of shotmakers on the wings.
I have loved the way that the Vols played since I first saw them in Maui. They are a gritty bunch with more talent on the roster than you think. They do the little things well — defend, get loose balls, rebound. When you play with effort, eventually the shots will go down.
Deeper sleepers: I think Alabama has some potential, even without Tony Mitchell in their midst. Also keep an eye on Ole Miss. They are just 18-12, but they’ve beaten everyone they are supposed to beat.
– Anthony Davis, Kentucky: As his offensive game starts to develop, he just becomes scarier and scarier.
– Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: He’s the last Kentucky player that I’ll mention, but he needs mentioning. No one in the country plays the game as hard as he does.
– Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: It’s a shame that Moultrie has to play on a team with so many issues. In any other league, he would be getting talked about as arguably the best big man in the conference.
– John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt: Jenkins doesn’t miss when he gets a good look and Taylor is one of the best athletes in the country.
– Erving Walker, Florida: Walker has been good this season. He’s limited how many dumb shots he takes and he’s become a solid playmaker at the point.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.