The SEC Tournament is here, and my goodness, there are storylines galore.
St. Louis will play host to the SEC — it still sounds weird — for what’s sure to be a fascinating week of hoops. I mean, an entire 4-month regular season didn’t even determine who the best SEC team was. Finally, we’ll get some answers.
These are the 10 things that I want to see in St. Louis.
1. Will the real Kentucky please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Kentucky please stand up? There are a lot of bracket-filler-outers who would really like to know if they should put all of their marbles in Kentucky’s basket, or none of their marbles there. I’m sure John Calipari would like to know, too.
Unfortunately for him, he watched his team stop an impressive 4-game winning streak in the regular-season finale in Gainesville. The Cats’ defensive woes came back in a hostile environment and the Gators ran them off the floor. Can anyone do that in St. Louis?
The possibility of facing Mizzou in Kentucky’s first game is probably a good thing for the Cats because they won’t have any excuse to play down to their competition, especially if Michael Porter Jr. does indeed return. Kentucky could look like a Final Four team or it could look like an NIT squad depending on the day of the week.
It’ll be fascinating to see if Kentucky reveals its true colors in a tournament setting.
2. While I’m at it, can the real Florida please stand up, too?
It’s been a streaky year in the SEC, to say the least. The Gators looked like they were possibly going to back into an NCAA Tournament spot a couple weeks ago and since looked like a team that could easily win the conference tournament this week. Beating Auburn and Kentucky will do that to a team.
The question is if the Gators can take their show on the road. Since that win at Kentucky roughly 6 weeks ago, Florida picked up some brutal road losses against the likes of Georgia and Vanderbilt. But that was before this recent turnaround. Defense sparked the Gators, and that’ll be huge against a potentially high-scoring Arkansas team.
Nobody would be surprised if Arkansas pulled off the quarterfinal upset, and on the flip side, nobody would be surprised if Chris Chiozza guided the Gators to a conference tournament title. Either way, some sweeping generalizations about Florida will soon follow.
3. Collin Sexton play multiple games
The SEC’s top player (but not Player of the Year) is presumably gone at season’s end, so there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see more of him, right? I’m under the impression that Alabama needs multiple wins to get into the NCAA Tournament. That’s what 5-game losing streaks late in the season usually do to a team’s tournament chances.
Having said that, this is March. This is when having the best player on the floor can give you an advantage in an all-or-nothing scenario. Sexton is that dude. He needs more help if the Tide is going to lock in an NCAA Tournament berth, but he still has to be at his best for that to happen.
Alabama did beat Auburn without Sexton when he sat out with an abdominal injury. That was thanks to a 27-point outburst from John Petty. More contributions like that would turn around the Tide’s free-falling tournament hopes.
4. Another round of TJ Starks vs. Collin Sexton
One of the great things about when teams get the rare chance to face each other in consecutive games is that wounds are still fresh. For whatever reason, Sexton got under Starks’ skin at the end of the regular-season finale and frustration boiled over. Starks got ejected after pushing Sexton’s head with his finger, which could’ve been a costly mistake for the Aggies.
No, I’m not expecting the freshmen guards to brawl Thursday. What I am expecting is a competitive battle between two guys who will lay it all on the line. Both will be fighting like their seasons are at stake, or at least they should be.
Will we see Starks press? He shot just 2-for-19 with 4 points in 2 games against Alabama. The A&M guard actually has more turnovers than points in those matchups.
The Aggies would certainly appreciate it if he kept his cool and spent his energy trying to end the Tide’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
5. A regrouped Auburn team
Did you get the feeling that the weight of this season was starting to get to Auburn? I mean, if not for erasing a 14-point deficit at home against South Carolina, the Tigers would have been looking at 4 losses in their final 5 games heading into St. Louis.
That didn’t happen, but the fact that Auburn faced that reality in the first place is telling. The question now is if Auburn can recapture some of that midseason mojo. Depth is obviously an issue, but getting that double bye could be just what the doctor ordered.
The Tigers are the top seed this week, but there should be no excuse for overconfidence after their Cinderella run to a share of the SEC regular season title. Both A&M and Alabama beat Auburn already, and a potential semifinal matchup with either Kentucky or possibly a Mizzou squad with Porter would make for a daunting road just to reach the title game.
Let’s see what kind of tricks Bruce Pearl still has up his sleeve.
6. A Bryce Brown takeover
One of the ways that Auburn can get on track is if Brown wills the Tigers to a win like he did against South Carolina. That’s not to say that Auburn needs him to drop 29 points in all 3 games to win the conference tournament, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if he caught fire in St. Louis.
Here’s an interesting stat to show just how directly related Auburn’s success is to Brown’s performance. When he scored 16 points in SEC play (his average), Auburn was 9-0. When he didn’t hit 16 points, Auburn was 3-5.
I don’t care if technically Mustapha Heron was the Tigers’ leading scorer. When Brown goes, Auburn goes.
7. Frank Martin press conferences
Remember when this quote went viral last year?
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) March 26, 2017
If that’s not a reason to love the South Carolina coach, I don’t know what is.
We saw Martin shine on the national stage last year when South Carolina shocked the world and earned a Final Four berth as a No. 7 seed. His press conferences are honest and from the heart. You get the feeling that he believes every word that comes out of his mouth.
You’ll notice that I wrote “Frank Martin press conferences” and not “Frank Martin press conference.” That’s my way of saying it’d be a joy to watch his team make another postseason tournament run, albeit with almost a completely different cast of characters.
If Martin got to stay a few days in St. Louis and maybe a kid reporter fired off another good question, we’d all be better for it:
8. St. Louis complaints
Ah, yes it’s #MarchMadnessSZN, but it also feels like it’s #ComplainingAboutConferenceTournamentLocationsSZN. Having the conference tournament in St. Louis makes a whole lot more sense for the Missouri Valley than it does for the SEC. You’re sure to hear about that a whole lot.
Whether it’s journalists or fans, there is sure to be a lot of whining about the conference tournament not taking place smack dab in the middle of SEC territory. And SEC fans aren’t alone. Big Ten fans complained about the conference tournament in New York, and ACC fans will likely do the same thing when they have to travel to the Big Apple this week.
Unfortunately, this is all about capturing new TV markets. That’s why the SEC migrated to its somewhat-recently acquired market of St. Louis to host this thing.
But a hot take will be when a non-Mizzou fan compliments the 2018 location of the conference tournament.
9. All the preseason graphics about Auburn and Tennessee being underdogs
You know what I’m talking about:
So about that SEC Men's 🏀 preseason poll…
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 4, 2018
– Projected to finish 9th
– 12% chance to win the SEC
– Projected to finish 13th
– 4% chance to win the SEC
Look at 'em now. pic.twitter.com/Q6Xag5oH50
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 4, 2018
Get ready to see those in every game that Auburn and Tennessee play this week. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a tremendous story and there absolutely should be talk about it.
Just expect it to be a constant topic of conversation all week. And actually, it’ll probably be the first thing talked about when other games are in blowout mode, especially early in the week. The announcers will turn to that subject and talk about why the SEC is really wide open.
Meanwhile, guys like Brown and Admiral Schofield will try and show everyone that Auburn and Tennessee are more than just nice underdog stories.
10. Michael Porter Jr. play in a college basketball game
You knew I would get here. I think we’re all a little fatigued about hearing whether Porter is going to actually play. He’s, for the time being, still considered day-to-day as he works his way back from his, um, back injury. But college basketball fans are ready to see this guy finally suit up.
If the ESPN report is true, then we will see the 5-star freshman in action in St. Louis. It remains to be seen if that would be in the Tigers’ first game, or if that would be in a potential matchup against Kentucky. Either way, the hometown fans will be in a frenzy if and when that time comes.
I thought Calipari had a great quote when asked about the possibility of facing Porter. He said that “you can’t underestimate the Missouri crowd and what Michael Porter Jr. returning could do for the crowds there” and that a Mizzou team that’s playing well would suddenly be “very, very dangerous” with Porter back (via Kansas City Star).
Agreed. It’d be fun to see just how dangerous Mizzou could be not only for the SEC, but for all of college basketball.