Championship Week.

There’s simply nothing in sports like college basketball in March.

Hoops from noon until past midnight. Every game matters. Win or go home.

Sure, the media timeouts take longer, but it’s worth it.  The air feels cleaner. The beverage of choice tastes better. There’s a buzz at the office and a bounce in your step.

For SEC fans, the fun begins Wednesday in Nashville. The SEC might not be the nation’s best league, but it certainly is the nation’s most competitive, with just 3 games separating the league’s top 6 teams, all of whom are locks to hear their names called on Selection Sunday, now only a handful of hoops-filled days away.

With 7 teams projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field and an 8th team, preseason league favorite Texas A&M still lingering on the bubble, there’s plenty to play for in Nashville. There’s also a tournament champion to be crowned. Will Tennessee become the third team in the last 4 seasons to capture both the SEC regular-season and the SEC Tournament crown? Or will another squad step up and steal a trophy?

Here’s how SDS thinks it all goes down at Bridgestone Arena this week.

First round (Wednesday)

Arkansas 83, Vanderbilt 80: The Hogs lost at Bud Walton Arena to the Commodores on Feb. 27, but Eric Musselman’s team has played its best basketball of the year since, leading NCAA Tournament locks Kentucky and Alabama for long stretches before falling late and manhandling a hot LSU team. Vanderbilt did close the year with a 1 point win over Florida, who had blasted Alabama earlier in the week, but SDS likes the way Makhi Mitchell (16.6 ppg over his past 3) has played lately as a complement to Khalif Battle, who has been the best player in the SEC not named Dalton Knecht over his past 5 games, averaging an absurd 33 points per game in that stretch. Call the Hogs, because Arkansas moves on and potentially ends the Jerry Stackhouse era in Nashville.

Missouri 75, Georgia 72: Mike White’s team started 14-5, the best start for a Georgia hoops team since the heart of the Jim Harrick era in 2003. Georgia finished with just 2 wins in its final 12, thanks largely to being inconsistent offensively, a problem that has plagued White teams since his Florida days. Missouri, meanwhile, became just the 2nd SEC team to go 0-18 in league play, joining an injury-riddled Vanderbilt team from 2018-2019. The Tigers lost 9 SEC games by 7 points or less, though, largely due to a complete inability to rebound (a Power 6 worst 359th in defensive rebounding percentage). If you’re looking for a long-shot, Mizzou’s odds to win the SEC Tournament are +100,000, via DraftKings.

Georgia, however, rebounds poorly too (214th in offensive rebounding) and may not exploit Missouri’s big weakness. SDS thinks better futures are ahead for both teams, who are recruiting at a high level, but a gut feeling tells me Missouri is due to win a game.

Second round (Thursday)

Mississippi State 75, LSU 64: The Bulldogs are playing for their NCAA Tournament life. According to, a website that creates an average seed for a team based on a a composite of all bracketology sites and ranks bracketologists based on accuracy — the Bulldogs are a “Last Four Bye” 10 seed entering the SEC Tournament. Beat LSU, and they are likely safe on Selection Sunday.

Matt McMahon did a nice job at LSU in Year 2, all things considered. The Tigers finished 9-9 in the league and picked up wins over preseason SEC favorite Texas A&M,  Kentucky and South Carolina. Will Baker is a quality big who can create mismatches for a defense with his ability to face up, and Trae Hannibal is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.

Tournament play is about matchups, though, and Miss State is a terrible one for the Tigers. Tolu Smith (19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) feasted against LSU in Miss State’s rout of the Tigers at the PMAC last month, and when the Tigers started to double Smith, Josh Hubbard made them pay. That formula will work again, and Miss State will march on to the quarterfinals.

South Carolina 76, Arkansas 69: South Carolina’s rout of Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena in January was the first sign, at least to anyone outside of the basketball facility in Columbia, that Lamont Paris had built a roster that was going to compete for a NCAA Tournament berth. The game also dropped Arkansas, a preseason top-15 team, to 10-8 and was the final of a long series of early season warning signs that Eric Musselman’s earned reputation as a masterful portal roster builder did not apply to this group. This is a bad matchup for the Hogs, who lack the physicality of the Gamecocks BJ Mack, Collin-Murray Boyles and Zachary Davis. The Gamecocks march on comfortably.

Texas A&M 72, Ole Miss 61: The Aggies have been one of the most disappointing teams in the country in 2023-24, and Buzz Williams roster construction around first-team All-SEC guard and SEC Preseason Player of the Year Wade Taylor IV deserves criticism. But the Aggies played better over their final 3 games, and they just pounded the Rebels in Oxford over the weekend. Bracket Matrix lists the Aggies as “First Four Out,” which means the preseason SEC favorite needs multiple wins in the SEC Tournament to make the field. They’ll get off to a good start on Thursday and at least give themselves a chance over a banged up Ole Miss team that looks like it can’t wait for the season to end.

Florida 85, Missouri 74: The Gators started 1-3 in SEC play but hit their stride in winning 9 of their next 11 to give themselves a chance at a high NCAA Tournament seed and a double bye in the SEC Tournament. A hard-fought loss at then-No. 17 South Carolina all but ended their double bye hopes, but the Gators routed then-No. 16 Alabama last week and seemed poised to enter the SEC Tournament with momentum. A head scratching loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday, however, is 1 of 2 things: a wake-up call that they have to guard consistently to win in March or the beginning of a limp to the finish after a promising February. Missouri pestered Florida with junk zone defenses in both meetings this season, but first-team All-SEC guard Zyon Pullin, the national leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, will be too much for Dennis Gates and the Tigers. Look for the Gators to move on to the quarterfinals and likely lock up at least a NCAA Tournament 7 seed in the process.

Quarterfinals (Friday)

Tennessee 74, Miss State 67: SEC regular-season champion Tennessee is +130 to win the SEC Tournament, via DraftKings. The Vols are fighting for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a 2nd loss this season to Miss State would likely end those conversations.

The Bulldogs won the first meeting with balance — Tolu Smith scored 23 points and drew 9 fouls inside and Josh Hubbard buried 5 3-pointers to keep Tennessee honest defensively. Dalton Knecht had 28 points and Zakai Ziegler had 26 points and 7 assists– but no other Vol was in double figures and Jonas Aidoo was overwhelmed by Smith, a first-team All-SEC selection for the second year in a row. Chris Jans team matches up about as well with Tennessee as anyone in the SEC, but if you are betting against this veteran Vols team in a revenge game in Nashville, you are being foolish. The Vols pull away late and advance to the semifinals.

Auburn 70, South Carolina 65: This one will be much closer than the 40-point beatdown Auburn administered to South Carolina at Neville Arena last month. Auburn won’t shoot 12-for-20 from distance again, and the Gamecocks, who rank 33rd nationally in 2 point defense, per KenPom, should handle Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome better in Round 2.

Nonetheless, styles make fights, and Auburn’s defense, which ranks 6th in the country, will disrupt South Carolina’s guards again with its length and its ability to switch and offset South Carolina’s offensive formula, which is to patiently wait to attack mismatches. The Tigers, who are comfortable playing slowly or fast, will also have the benefit of fresh legs, and that will make the difference late in what should be one of the best games of the week.

Kentucky 89, Texas A&M 82: DraftKings likes Kentucky’s chances to win the whole thing. The Wildcats’ odds are +400. Obviously, winning the tournament means winning the opener.

One of the best games in the SEC this season was Texas A&M’s overtime win over Kentucky in College Station. The Aggies’ veteran backcourt of Wade Taylor IV and Boots Radford outshined and outplayed the Wildcats’ star backcourt, with Taylor IV and Radford combining for 59 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists. Playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, expect the Aggies’ backcourt to play beautifully in Nashville as well, but to fall just short in the end, thanks to a Kentucky team that is much improved since that cold Texas night in January. SEC Sixth Man of the year Rob Dillingham had 15 points in the first meeting, and he could be the difference in the second, especially as the Aggies, playing their second game in as many nights, tire down the stretch. Kentucky marches on, and Buzz Williams and the Aggies march to the NIT.

Florida 95, No. 19 Alabama 91: Two teams that are nearly mirror images, the Gators and Tide played an instant classic won by Alabama in overtime in Tuscaloosa in late February, only for the Gators to rout the Crimson Tide in Gainesville last week. Round 3, on a neutral floor, features 2 of the nation’s best backcourts, with Alabama’s Wooden Award finalist Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Latrell Wrightsell and Rylan Griffin matching up against first-team All-SEC guard Zyon Pullin, second-team All-SEC guard Walter Clayton Jr., and preseason All-SEC selection Riley Kugel.

The difference in both games has been the frontcourt. In Tuscaloosa, Grant Nelson went off, scoring 22 points, grabbing 8 boards and blocking a staggering 6 shots. Florida went right at Nelson in the rematch, as Tyrese Samuel feasted with 19 points, fouling out Nelson in the process. Both teams rebound their misses at a high rate, but the Gators have better frontcourt depth with Samuel, 7-footer Micah Handlogten, and All-SEC freshman big Alex Condon to rotate at the Crimson Tide. Florida needs a win to avoid a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and led 60 minutes of the first 2 meetings between the teams.

The Gators will upset the Crimson Tide to advance to the SEC semifinals for the first time since 2019.

Semifinals (Saturday)

Tennessee 81, Auburn 77: Two of the top 5 teams in the country, per KenPom, these two teams played perhaps the best game of the year in the SEC regular season in Knoxville on February 28, with Tennessee rallying from an 8 point second half deficit with 12 minutes to play to win, 92-84.  The “Dalton Knecht locks up SEC Player of the Year” game saw Knecht score not only score 39 points, but outscore Auburn 25-21 over the final 12 minutes of the game.

This will be must see TV, but look for the Volunteers to march on thanks to not only their superstar, but their big advantage on the perimeter with Ziegler and Vescovi brutal matchups for Auburn’s more limited guards.

Kentucky 90, Florida 83: Kentucky won in Gainesville. Florida won in Lexington. The games were decided by a collective 5 points. This will be high-paced, fun hoops if you love good offense and want to watch two of the best backcourts in the sport. The difference will come on the defensive end, where Kentucky has improved significantly from their February loss to the Gators. Ugonna Onyenso started his first game against the Gators in the loss at Rupp, and was marvelous (13 points, 16 rebounds, 8 blocks). His insertion to the starting lineup solidified Kentucky’s interior defense, and the Wildcats have defended 2 pointers significantly better (a 7.5% FG against improvement) since Onyenso became a starter. Even when Onyenso doesn’t score, his ability to alter shots at the rim has prevented Kentucky from overhelping, a huge problem for the Wildcats through the end of January. The result has been a Kentucky defense that was in the 100s in efficiency through February has now been a top 75 defense since February 1st, per Bart Torvik.  That is plenty good enough when your guards are as prolific as Kentucky’s– and it will be good enough to win the rubber match over a good, but not great, Florida team.

Championship (Sunday)

Tennessee 89, Kentucky 85: A championship round rubber match, fans should hope this game is as entertaining as Kentucky’s win on Senior Day in Knoxville was last week. The other wrinkle here is that while Kentucky always plays “semi-home” games in the SEC Tournament, the Vols are the lone school, at least when playing in Nashville, that can count on heavy fan support. In other words, this game will have a second weekend of the NCAA Tournament neutral court feel.

Kentucky ranks 6th nationally in transition scoring, and when the Wildcats rebound and guard, they are among the fastest teams in the country, and they can light you up off misses. We saw that in Knoxville, where the Wildcats had more fast break points than the Volunteers and did a better job protecting the rim, with 9 blocked shots. But Kentucky’s ball screen defense and attention to detail on the defensive end are still weaknesses, and it’s tough to see Kentucky beating Tennessee two times in one week, especially with the Volunteers playing for a 1 seed. Rick Barnes and the Vols will pull the double, winning a SEC Championship and SEC Tournament crown, but Kentucky will prove it is Final Four-good in a classic.

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