Anybody can win 1.
Cinderella can win 1. UMBC can win 1. But to win 2 and advance to the Sweet 16? That’s the mark of a solid season for most.
Granted, programs like Kentucky and Tennessee have greater aspirations than that, but getting to that second weekend is still a major victory for any program. Last year, Kentucky and Texas A&M were the only SEC teams who accomplished that goal. This year, I have a feeling that number rises a bit.
The SEC went 5-2 in the first round. Let’s break down which SEC teams will advance to the Sweet 16:
Auburn — In
If you could draw up polar opposites for first round victories, Auburn and Kansas would be it. One team puked on its shoes and nearly stumbled its way out of the tournament while the other put it on cruise control early in the second half.
So why won’t the latter win? Well, I’m of the impression that playing Auburn on a quick turnaround is brutal. Like, really brutal. The pace that they play at can wear down teams with more talent, especially if they’re making shots. But lost in the shuffle of this 9-game win streak the Tigers are on is that they’ve actually been defending extremely well for the most part. Granted, that wasn’t the case in the final minutes, but I don’t think Auburn repeats that.
Besides, Kansas has been average since Udoka Azubuike went down at the turn of the calendar. Just because the Jayhawks lit up Northeastern doesn’t change that. Auburn shakes off its horrific first round finish and makes it to its first Sweet 16 since 2003.
Florida — Out
I picked the Gators to take care of a disappointing Nevada team and they did just that. If Mike White doesn’t make that switch to a 1-3-1, Florida is sitting at home right now. What worries me is against a battle-tested team like Michigan, the margin for error is so much slimmer. John Beilein makes adjustments like that in his sleep.
The X-factor for Michigan is if Charles Matthews can get rolling. He came into the tournament struggling, but he had a big first round performance. I’m not sure who on Florida keeps him in check.
I also worry about Andrew Nembhard navigating through that Michigan pressure. The Wolverines are too savvy for him to make some of the decisions he made against Nevada and get away with it.
Would it surprise me if the Gators kept it close for the majority of the game? Not at all. I believe they have the ability to hang with just about anybody.
But Michigan just has too much experience and too much balance for Florida. The Wolverines get some Peach Bowl revenge.
Kentucky — In
But man, it should be a dogfight. Watching what Fletcher Magee did to close out Seton Hall should have sent a loud message to the Wildcats.
Fletcher Magee in a 84-68 win vs. #10 seed Seton Hall : 24 points on 7-12 shooting from 3 & 3-3 from the FT line in 34 minutes (509 made 3's in his career. Most in college basketball history) pic.twitter.com/69csBPgnXh
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life25) March 22, 2019
The guy can catch fire from anywhere at any time if you give him airspace. Shutting him down will be priority No. 1, but Kentucky’s length should prevent him from getting too comfortable.
We found out that it looks like P.J. Washington will likely be out again dealing with that foot injury. That didn’t matter on Thursday, but John Calipari knows that his absence will be felt more against a team that can score like Wofford.
The good news for the Cats is that if Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson shoot like they did on Thursday, there’s no way the Terriers will be able to slow them down. Having Reid Travis back is crucial for this team, and it will pay dividends against an undersized Wofford team.
This game could be reminiscent of last year’s second round matchup against Buffalo. A confident, high-pace mid-major will be a tough task early. But ultimately, give me Kentucky to pull away late and move on to next weekend.
LSU — Out
I admitted that I was wrong to assume that Yale would end LSU’s strange season. I give the Tigers a ton of credit for canceling out the noise and coming out ready to go. That was exactly the first half that LSU was hoping for.
The second half, however, was why I questioned how far LSU would really be able to go. Without Will Wade, they didn’t make the right adjustment to keep Yale out of the paint when Kavell Bigby-Williams got into foul trouble. If that happens again against Maryland’s front court, that’ll be all she wrote.
The Terps have a much better chance of slowing down Bigby-Williams and Naz Reid. Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith won’t get dominated like Yale’s bigs did. And something tells me that Maryland, which won even though leading scorer Anthony Cowan Jr. was ice cold from deep, will shoot better than the Bulldogs did.
This one stays close throughout with lead changes galore, but late-game execution gives the Terps a thrilling victory to end LSU’s season.
Tennessee — In
No, it wasn’t pretty. Colgate threatened Tennessee past the point of comfortability. The Vols needed some clutch shooting late from Admiral Schofield to get to the same place they got to last year.
So now, the Vols are trying to avoid the same letdown they had last year against Loyola. They’re going to face another team that can light it up from distance. Jordan Bohannon can do what Jordan Burns did if the Vols give him airspace. The same is true of freshman Joe Wieskamp, who was automatic down the stretch against Cincinnati.
The good news for the Vols is that instead of a de facto road game against the Bearcats, they’ll face an Iowa team that won’t take them out of their offensive style. The other good news was that Tennessee didn’t need Grant Williams to bail them out in crunch time against Colgate.
This should be a fast-paced, up-tempo battle with a pair of teams that will look extremely streaky at times. But in a game that I think will go down to the wire, I’ll go with the experienced Vols to make enough plays to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.