TAMPA, Fla. — Southeastern Conference officials cite economic woes when noting a decline in ticket sales and media staffing the league's tournament this week.
As of Wednesday, about 17,000 tickets had been sold for the SEC Tournament, which runs Thursday through Sunday.
There's also been a 15-percent decline in media covering the event.
"Basketball fans are like everyone else: concerned," SEC associate commissioner Mark Womack said.
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A more centrally located site for the SEC Tournament assures more fans are able to drive to the event, Womack said. Balancing the need for attendance is the league's wish to showcase its basketball showcase event throughout the southeast.
Even with a disappointing 8-8 record and fourth-place finish in the Eastern Division, Kentucky was the only SEC school to sell out its allotment of 1,100 tickets. UK also sold an additional 500 or so tickets, Womack said.
Tennessee and Florida came "really close" to selling out their tickets, Womack said.
More than one coach whose team plays in Thursday's first round wondered aloud about how well attended the games will be.
If there are many empty seats, Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey suggested a sure-fire way to fill them: Kentucky's advancement to the weekend's semifinals and finals.
"They get to the semifinals this year — and don't think that won't happen again — it's going to get crowded," said Pelphrey, a UK standout in the early 1990s. "... They win one or two games, it's going to be very blue."
Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury went as far as saying the tournament had no business being held in Tampa.
Stansbury made it clear Wednesday that he felt the SEC Tournament would be better off about 400 miles north in Atlanta.
"I think Atlanta has really been good for all 12 teams," Stansbury said. "I don't know if there's another spot that consistently is centrally located that's any better for all 12 teams or all 12 fan bases. I think our fans have gotten accustomed to being there. Atlanta is a good city. ... Once you get used to doing something, your fans look forward to being in one place."
Nine of the 12 conference teams are within a five-hour drive of Atlanta. Only Kentucky, LSU and Arkansas are farther away.
Against teams in the top bracket (Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina), Kentucky had a 1-6 record. All five teams beat UK at least once.
Against teams in the bottom bracket (Vandy, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Auburn), Kentucky had a 7-2 record. The Cats beat all five at least once.
Expected to start three freshmen and two sophomores, Ole Miss is the youngest team among the 344 in Division I (according to KenPom.com).
So Kentucky's relative inexperience should not be a factor.
However, Ole Miss has the weapons to exploit a UK rebounding weakness. The Rebels ranked first among SEC teams in offensive rebounds (13.8) and third in rebound margin (plus 3.9).
Huertas to play?
Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy made it seem injured guard David Huertas, his team's leading scorer, will play despite a bone bruise in his left foot. How effective Huertas will be remains in doubt.
"I feel better than the past three or four days," Huertas said after participating in some of the public shootaround on Wednesday. "Hopefully I can do well tomorrow."
Huertas tied Terrico White for the team lead in scoring with 21 points when the Rebels beat UK in January.
A question stumped Terrico White. He was asked who besides Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson constituted a major scoring threat for UK.
"Hmmm," he said as a thin smile crossed his lips. "Well, they've got some other players that can really step up, like (Darius) Miller and their point guard. What is his name? (Michael) Porter. Porter, he can step up and make shots. I mean, the whole team can step up at any time."
UK 13-0 against Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament. ... Kennedy noted that Ole Miss celebrated 100 years of basketball this season. In that time, the Rebels have never beaten Kentucky twice in a season. ... Of the Rebels' 16 victories, 12 came at home. The Rebels have a 4-10 record elsewhere.