John Clay

SEC Tournament preview: Who’s hot and who’s not

Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) was guarded by Texas A&M guard Admon Gilder (3) in the first half of the Kentucky at Texas A&M at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, on March 4, 2017.
Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) was guarded by Texas A&M guard Admon Gilder (3) in the first half of the Kentucky at Texas A&M at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, on March 4, 2017. palcala@herald-leader.com

With the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament tipping off Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, here’s a look at who’s hot and who’s not heading into the Music City:

Hot: Kentucky. It is true that lately it has taken the Cats some time to get the engine to turn over, but once it does, they have the most horsepower in a league they won by two games in the regular season. We local pickers of nit are so busy focusing on the flaws, we fail to appreciate that this team has won eight straight games.

Not: Johnny Jones. His coaching tenure at LSU is likely to end Wednesday night, when the Tigers play Mississippi State in the tournament. When Jones couldn’t get to the NCAA Tournament even with Ben Simmons last season, we should have known that this season would be a disaster. After a 2-16 SEC record and a 15-game losing streak, Jones’ pink slip is surely all but stamped. Middle Tennessee’s Kermit Davis Jr. is considered the front-runner.

Hot: Vanderbilt. The Commodores finished the regular season with a flourish, winning five of their last six games, the lone loss coming at Rupp, when Vandy gave Kentucky everything it wanted and more. On Saturday, in a matchup of fresh-faced coaches with impressive blood lines, Vandy’s Bryce Drew (son of ex-Valpo coach Homer; brother of Baylor coach Scott) beat Florida’s Mike White (son of Duke AD Kevin) for the second time by two points. If Vandy doesn’t cut down the nets this week, can a 15-loss team make the NCAA Tournament?

Not: Kim Anderson. The Missouri coach seems like a nice guy in a bottom-line business. Cleaning up Frank Haith’s mess was never going to be easy, but the Tigers have been terrible in Anderson’s three years, failing to win a single road game. They travel to Nashville on a six-game losing streak — Mizzou trailed Auburn by 20 in Saturday’s loss — in what will be Anderson’s last stand. The school announced Sunday that Anderson will step down after the tournament.

Hot: J.J. Frazier. My colleague Jerry Tipton tabbed the Georgia guard as his SEC player of the year, and though I lean toward the best-player-on-the-best-team argument (Malik Monk), I can see his reasoning. After Georgia lost Yante Maten to injury, Frazier scored 36 points against Kentucky, 28 at Alabama, 29 against LSU, 31 against Auburn and 24 in Saturday’s loss at Arkansas.

Not: Florida. The Gators ended the regular season losing two of their last three. To cut some Florida slack, both were on the road against good teams, Kentucky and then Vanderbilt. It looks, however, as though the loss of starting center John Egbunu to a torn ACL is taking its toll.

Hot: Sebastian Saiz. The Ole Miss forward is the best player in the league no one talks about. Saiz had 21 points and 15 rebounds Saturday in the Rebels’ win over South Carolina. He led the league in rebounding and is tied for fifth nationally in double-doubles with 19.

Not: South Carolina. After an 8-0 start in league play, the Gamecocks limped home with a 12-6 record. Three weeks ago, they were in a three-way tie with Kentucky and Florida for first. They head to Nashville as the tournament’s No. 4 seed. “We had no life,” Coach Frank Martin said after Saturday’s loss in Oxford. Maybe he’s hoping for a postseason reincarnation.

Hot: Arkansas. It was the Razorbacks who stole the No. 3 seed from South Carolina, thanks to six victories in their past seven games. The lone loss in that stretch came at Florida. And Saturday, Mike Anderson’s team nailed down its second NCAA berth in the past three years by ripping Georgia 85-67. The Hogs might be the sleeper pick to leave Music City singing a happy tune.

Not: Rick Barnes. Last season, the Vols finished the regular season with six losses in their past nine games. This year, despite beating Alabama on Saturday, the Vols finished with five losses in their past seven games. The Vols play Georgia at 1 p.m. Thursday. The winner gets Kentucky on Friday.

SEC Tournament schedule

All times ET. Seeds in parentheses. First three rounds on SEC Network. Semifinals and finals on ESPN.

Wednesday

Game 1, 7 p.m.: Mississippi State (12) vs. LSU (13)

Game 2, 9:25 p.m.: Auburn (11) vs. Missouri (14)

Thursday

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

Friday

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

Saturday

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

Sunday

Finals, 1 p.m.: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

SEC

Overall

Kentucky

16-2

26-5

Florida

14-4

24-7

Arkansas

12-6

23-8

South Carolina

12-6

22-9

Ole Miss

10-8

19-12

Alabama

10-8

17-13

Vanderbilt

10-8

17-14

Georgia

9-9

18-13

Tennessee

8-10

16-15

Texas A&M

8-10

16-14

Auburn

7-11

18-13

Miss State

6-12

15-15

LSU

2-16

10-20

Missouri

2-16

7-23

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