After a week of widespread public opinion that SEC basketball (yes, I said basketball) is Alabama and the 7 dwarves, all the SEC did was put up a 5-1 opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. Six of the remaining 48 teams in the NCAA’s Big Dance are SEC squads, and on a day when several favorites struggled or saw their season end early (ahem, Arizona, Virginia), the SEC had a pretty good day.

The good

Perhaps the most compelling part of the SEC’s day is that a couple of squads that were riding the struggle bus into the NCAA Tournament got things right in a significant way. Auburn and Arkansas met in the 7 vs. 10 game of the SEC Tournament in Nashville … and yet both won comfortably Thursday to advance to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament.

Auburn was cooking offensively, with a 52-point second half en route to an 83-75 win over Iowa. Six Auburn players scored in double digits. Auburn will get top seed Houston on Saturday, but the Cougars struggled mightily with No. 16 seed Northern Kentucky.

Arkansas did much of its work on defense, holding Illinois to 39% shooting and forcing 17 turnovers. Arkansas advanced despite a 2-for-10 shooting game from Nick Smith. Maybe that’s why the Hogs are just a 4-point underdog to top seed Kansas on Saturday.

Missouri was quietly impressive in a 76-65 with over Utah State. Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge combined for 42 points, which is pretty much a recipe for Mizzou success. The Tigers held the Aggies to 4-for-24 3-point shooting while knocking down 10-of-25 (5 by Hodge, 3 by Brown, who has now hit more 3s in his senior year than in his first 3 years combined). Even better news for the Tigers was the defeat of No. 2 seed Arizona, leaving only Princeton standing between Mizzou and the Sweet 16.

The solid

Tennessee refused to make it pretty but held on for a fairly meh 58-55 win over Louisiana. UT looked like a team without its offensive leader with 18 turnovers and 57% free-throw shooting. The Vols played well defensively, but they’ll have to be sharper against surging Duke on Saturday.

Alabama won by 21 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Tide nailed 15 3-pointers and generally looked ready for anything their bracket can throw at them, particularly after No. 2 seed Arizona flopped in an upset win by Princeton. The bad news for Bama has to be Brandon Miller’s 0 points in 19 minutes. Could it be that the constant off-court negativity is impacting Miller’s game? Thursday was filled with more drama. It may not matter until the Final Four.

The ugly

This spot is reserved for the SEC’s only defeat. After a year of carping about being left out of the NCAA field, Texas A&M made the field this time … and mostly carped about being seeded too low at No. 7. The Aggies played like a No. 7 NIT seed, getting drubbed by Penn State 76-59 in a game that wasn’t that close. A&M shot 34%, with Wade Taylor finishing his season with a 2-for-15 shooting day. But hey, offensive slumps happen with this A&M team. Allowing the opponent to shoot 59% (13-for-22) from 3 doesn’t. No, really, 50% was the worst A&M had allowed all year. Not the way to finish the season that Buzz Williams had in mind.

Previewing Friday

The league has a short slate Friday, consisting entirely of Kentucky against Providence.

The No. 6 seed Wildcats can ruin plenty of brackets, either by flopping to Providence in the first round or by making a fairly deep run in a deep East Region. Providence is a favorable matchup for UK. Start with the fact that the Friars’ best player, Bryce Hopkins, played for Kentucky a year ago and left town because he couldn’t get enough playing time. The Friars’ strengths are rebounding and getting to the foul line, neither of which is a particularly problematic area for Kentucky. Providence isn’t a great perimeter shooting team or a high scoring pressure dynamo.

That said, Kentucky’s entire season seems to have consisted of getting into position to make a positive run and immediately frittering that run away.

Prediction: Wildcats by 5, but don’t expect it to look pretty.