The SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament begins Wednesday night. Here’s what you need to know:
When: Wednesday through Sunday (March 8-12).
Where: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. This is the third straight year and fourth in the past five that the tournament has been in Nashville. It moves to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for 2018. Then it’s back to Nashville for three more years before going to Tampa in 2022.
Championship Game: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT at Bridgestone Arena.
Television coverage: The first three rounds are all on the SEC Network. Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s final are on ESPN.
Seeds: 1-Kentucky; 2-Florida; 3-Arkansas; 4-South Carolina; 5-Alabama; 6-Ole Miss; 7-Vanderbilt; 8-Georgia; 9-Tennessee; 10-Texas A&M; 11-Auburn; 12-Mississippi State; 13-LSU; 14-Missouri.
History: Kentucky has won the last two league tournaments, going to overtime to beat Texas A&M last season. It was the third consecutive final and sixth in the past seven years for the Cats. UK beat Arkansas 78-63 in the 2015 tourney final. Florida beat Kentucky in the 2014 title game. The Cats lost to Vanderbilt in the 2013 quarterfinals. Vanderbilt beat Kentucky in the 2012 finals after UK beat Florida in the 2011 final and Mississippi State in the 2010 final.
Titles by school: Kentucky (29), Alabama (6), Florida (4), Tennessee (4), Mississippi State (3), Ole Miss (2), Vanderbilt (2), Georgia (2), Arkansas (1), Auburn (1), LSU (1), Georgia Tech (1).
Fun fact: The SEC did not hold a post-season tournament from 1953 until 1989. For 12 straight years, from 1941 to 1952, the tournament was held at Louisville Gardens.
Calipari era: The UK coach is 16-3 in the tournament, with titles in 2010, 2011, 2015 and 2016. Kentucky beat Mississippi State 75-74 in overtime in the 2010 finals. UK beat Florida 70-54 to win the 2011 tournament. It lost to Vanderbilt 71-64 in the 2012 final before going on to win the national title. It lost to Vanderbilt 64-48 in the 2013 quarterfinals. It lost to Florida 61-60 in the 2014 final. It beat Arkansas 78-63 to win the 2015 tourney in Nashville. Last season, it beat Alabama 85-59, Georgia 93-80 and Texas A&M 82-77 in overtime on the way to cutting down the nets.
League’s strength this year: Jeff Sagarin’s computer ranks the SEC as the fifth-toughest league behind the Big 12, ACC, Big East and Big 10. Sagarin puts the SEC ahead of the Pac-12 and the American Athletic.
Computer rankings: Here’s how Sagarin ranks the 14 teams: 5-Kentucky; 9-Florida; 29-South Carolina; 39-Arkansas; 49-Vanderbilt; 53-Georgia; 58-Texas A&M; 64-Alabama; 65-Tennessee; 73-Ole Miss; 76-Auburn; 94-Mississippi State; 143-LSU; 154-Missouri.
Poll rankings: Kentucky and Florida are the only two SEC teams in the latest AP college basketball poll. UK is ranked 8th. Florida has slipped to 17th. South Carolina is the only other league team to appear in the poll this season. The Gamecocks climbed as high as No. 16 before falling out of the rankings after week 15.
AP college basketball poll week-by-week in a Google doc
Ken Pomeroy: Here’s the way Pomeroy’s advanced analytics rank the league’s teams -- 6-Florida; 7-Kentucky; 29-South Carolina; 39-Arkansas; 40-Vanderbilt; 56-Georgia; 60-Texas A&M; 62-Tennessee; 65-Alabama; 77-Ole Miss; 79-Auburn; 95-Miss State; 157-LSU; 168-Missouri.
Hot teams heading into the tournament: Kentucky has won eight straight games. Arkansas has won six of its last seven. Vanderbilt has won five of its last six. Ole Miss has won three of its last four.
Cold teams heading into the tournament: Missouri has lost six straight games. LSU has lost 16 of its last 17. Mississippi State has lost seven of its last eight. Alabama has lost three of its last four. Tennessee has lost five of its last seven.
Record to remember: It was not that long ago that Arkansas could not buy a road win under Mike Anderson. The Razorbacks went 6-3 in league road games this season, which was one reason they rallied to steal the No. 3 seed from South Carolina.
Three players to watch: Kentucky’s Malik Monk became the first freshman to win the league’s scoring title since LSU’s Chris Jackson in 1989. South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell might be the league’s most valuable player in terms of value to his team. Thornwell finished second in the league in scoring, losing out to Monk by percentage points. He led the league in steals and was sixth in rebounding and 10th in free throw percentage. Georgia’s J.J. Frazier starred down the stretch for the Bulldogs, including a 36-point game against Kentucky.
Three players who don’t get enough attention: Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz ranked fourth nationally in double-doubles with 19 and led the league in rebounding. LSU guard Antonio Blakeney was a bright light on a terrible team. The sophomore averaged 17.4 points per game. Vanderbilt’s Luke Kornet led the Commodores’ strong finish and wound up averaging 13.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots per game.
Coach of the year: John Calipari guided Kentucky to the regular season title by two full games, so he gets the nod. Vanderbilt’s Bryce Drew gets special consideration after bringing the Commodores back from a 20-point loss at hapless Missouri to close strong with wins over South Carolina and Florida plus a valiant effort at Kentucky.
Most improved: Florida went from 9-9 in league play during Mike White’s first season as Gators coach to 14-4 this year. Florida whipped league champ Kentucky by 22 in Gainesville, and three of their four SEC losses were by a total of eight points -- 57-53 at South Carolina; 68-66 at home to Vanderbilt and 73-71 at Vanderbilt.
Biggest drop: LSU went from 11-7 in SEC play in 2015-16 to 2-16 in conference play and a 15-game losing streak this year. Nashville might be head coach Johnny Jones’ swan song.
Most overlooked: Not much talk about Arkansas, which appears to be headed to its second NCAA Tournament in the past three seasons.
Coach who could use a tournament run: There are reports that Georgia is looking to see who might be available if it decides to move on from Mark Fox. The Bulldogs finished 18-13 overall and 9-9 in the league. In Fox’s favor, he has won 20 or more games three straight years and lost Yante Maten to injury on Feb. 18 this year. Not in Fox’s favor, he has been to just two NCAA Tournaments in seven years, and without a trophy in Nashville this week, the Dawgs aren’t going this year. Georgia AD Greg McGarity released a statement Tuesday backing Fox.
SEC teams probably already in the NCAA Tournament: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Kentucky (No. 2 seed), Florida (4), South Carolina (7), Arkansas (9) and Vanderbilt (11) in his field. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has Kentucky (2), Florida (4), South Carolina (8) and Arkansas (10) in his field. He has Vanderbilt in his “first four out” list.
On the NCAA bubble: A quarterfinal loss by Vanderbilt could put the Commodores on the bubble or maybe off it. No at-large team has made the tournament with 15 losses. The Commodores are 17-14. Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama probably would have to do more than get to the championship game to earn an invitation to the Big Dance.
Favorite: Kentucky. Who else? Despite some struggles, the Cats went 16-2 in league play. They have the most talent. Thanks to Big Blue Nation, they’ll have a home-crowd advantage. It’s an upset if Kentucky doesn’t cut down the nets on Sunday.
Sleeper: Vanderbilt. Not sure the Commodores are a sleeper, but the they are playing as well as if not better than any team right now. They enter tourney play a confident group, having survived arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. And with the games being played just down Broadway from campus, they get to sleep in their own beds.
Longshot with a shot: Auburn won’t win the tournament, but Bruce Pearl has shown in the past that he can get his team emotionally ready for a run.
Quote to remember: “This tournament is about our seed in the NCAA tournament,” Calipari says. “We are playing to get ourselves right for the NCAA tournament.”
SEC TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
All times ET. Seeds in parentheses. First three rounds on SEC Network. Semifinals and finals on ESPN.
Game 1, 7 p.m.: Mississippi State (12) vs. LSU (13)
Game 2, 9:25 p.m.: Auburn (11) vs. Missouri (14)
Game 3, 1 p.m.: Georgia (8) vs. Tennessee (9)
Game 4, 3:25 p.m.: Alabama (5) vs. Game 1 winner
Game 5, 7 p.m.: Vanderbilt (7) vs. Texas A&M (10)
Game 6, 9:25 p.m.: Ole Miss (6) vs. Game 2 winner
Game 7, 1 p.m.: Kentucky (1) vs. Game 3 winner
Game 8, 3:25 p.m.: South Carolina (4) vs. Game 4 winner
Game 9, 7 p.m.: Florida (2) vs. Game 5 winner
Game 10, 9:25 p.m.: Arkansas (3) vs. Game 6 winner
Game 11, 1 p.m.: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner
Game 12, 3:25 p.m.: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner
Finals, 1 p.m.: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner