If there’s going to be madness in Nashville this week, it’ll catch me by surprise.
I’m not talking about a buzzer beater in the first round Wednesday to decide a matchup between double-digit seeds. If I could predict those kind of outcomes, I’d park myself in a sportsbook for 365 days a year.
What I’m talking about is the real madness. Like, a top 3 seed losing to a double-digit seed. I’m not holding my breath on a 2008 Georgia-like run from anyone, including Georgia. If this is the week for upsets in the SEC, well I’m prepared to be surprised.
Why such doubt for utter chaos? Well, despite the excitement in the conference this year with 3 legitimate contenders (Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee), it’s actually been a relatively quiet year on the madness front. Those top 3 teams went 42-4 against other SEC teams. That means if you take out the matchups in which they weren’t facing each other, they won their SEC games 91 percent of the time.
Now I know what you’re thinking. LSU is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and it has question marks galore following the fallout of the FBI wiretap reports involving Will Wade. Doesn’t that suggest more madness will ensue?
Not exactly. If Javonte Smart is still out for the SEC Tournament, LSU might only be a slight favorite against the winner of Florida-Arkansas. And if LSU did face Auburn in the semifinals, I’d guess that the No. 1 overall seed would be a slight underdog.
Auburn getting to the SEC Tournament Championship doesn’t qualify as madness. The Tigers finished tied for fourth in the SEC. Half of those 4 aforementioned losses by Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee came via Auburn. In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d put the odds on Auburn coming out of the top half of the bracket. That’s not bold. Shoot, even Vegas sees how obvious that play is:
🚨Breaking Odds to Win the 2019 SEC Tournament 🚨
— MyBookie Sportsbook (@betmybookie) March 10, 2019
Talk about top-heavy.
Until Monday, the SEC went essentially 5 weeks with just 3 ranked opponents. Auburn moved into the Top 25 after the Tennessee win and is now essentially on the same level as LSU, according to Vegas.
In a way, conference tournaments in general aren’t really set up for madness like the NCAA Tournament. With the way it works with double byes, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment just when a double-digit seed makes it to Saturday. That hasn’t happened since No. 13 Auburn made the semifinals in the 2015 SEC Tournament … only to get demolished by Kentucky. Of the 40 SEC teams that made the semifinals in the past decades, only 2 were double-digit seeds.
Since the conference expanded to 14 teams in 2012, the lowest seed to make the tournament championship was No. 4 Kentucky last year. And while the Cats certainly had to battle to get to that point, it wasn’t madness to see John Calipari win his fourth consecutive conference tournament.
What would madness look like this year? Alabama playing inspired for Avery Johnson and stunning Kentucky. Quinndary Weatherspoon taking advantage of Tennessee’s weak perimeter defense and leading an upset over the Vols. Shoot, how about Vandy just winning an SEC game in front of the hometown crowd?
Technically, all of these things can happen. You know what can also happen? Bruce Pearl can become the first coach in SEC Tournament history to actually have a blood vessel in his forehead pop after a bad call. I’d say the latter is more likely.
Would it be the worst thing if it was a chalk-y SEC Tournament? Not necessarily. As a neutral observer, who wouldn’t want to see Kentucky-Tennessee Part III? And as someone who loves a good storyline, you bet it’d be interesting to see a Wade/Smart-less LSU team make a run to the SEC Championship.
That’s the good news for the SEC. Barring a dominant Kentucky run through the field, there are those storylines that’ll make for an entertaining week of festivities in the Music City (I just realized how corny the latter half of that sentence was).
Either way, we’re still looking at a scenario in which the SEC could have 7-8 teams in the NCAA Tournament, a couple of which have legitimate aspirations to win the whole thing. That’s not bad for a conference that had 3 teams make the field a short 3 years ago.
Before we turn the page to that madness, though, our attention will be on Nashville, where madness should be hard to come by.
Expect the unexpected? Not exactly.
And if we get madness this week, well I suppose it’ll come via a blindsided smack to the face.