When the SEC Tournament shifts into high gear Thursday in St. Louis, I am thoroughly convinced the Auburn Tigers will climb the ladder and clip the nets come Sunday.
After all, the Tigers own the one-two punch of being the No. 1 seed and having a considerable chip on their shoulder after the league’s coaches snubbed Bruce Pearl in Coach of the Year voting and any of Pearl’s players for all-league honors.
What’s that, you say, the Tigers staggered to the finish line, dropping three of their final five games after shot-blocking center Anfernee McLemore went down with a broken leg? OK, scratch the Tigers.
I’m going with Tennessee. After all, the Vols were conference co-champs, winning 13 of 16 after an 0-2 start. Rick Barnes was named Coach of the Year. Grant Williams was named Player of the Year. The Vols are tougher than the rest.
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But wait, as the No. 2 seed, would not UT have to beat No. 3 seed Florida in the semifinals? And after the Gators’ 13-point domination of Kentucky on Saturday, Mike White said his team is playing its best basketball of the season. That’s good enough for me. I’m going with the Gators.
Then again, Florida has no inside game, relies heavily on three-point shooting and went 7-7 after a 4-0 start. These are the same Gators who lost by 18 at home to Alabama.
So I’m picking Alabama. No team needs this tournament more than the Tide, which boasts the media’s pick for Freshman of the Year in point guard Collin Sexton. And March is all about guard play.
Going back over the results, however, it has been nearly a month since Avery Johnson’s team actually won a game. Alabama limps into St. Louis on a five-game losing streak. A total turnaround may be too much to ask.
So I’m picking Texas A&M, who looked much the best when the Aggies were chewing their way through a tough non-conference schedule. After some SEC highs and lows, Billy Kennedy’s club closed with a flourish, winning its final three games.
Wait a minute, I just remembered, Texas A&M started league play 0-5. Yes, 0-5. And just last month the Aggies lost by 19 at Arkansas and by 12 at home to Mississippi State. Can they be trusted?
So I’m picking Arkansas. The Razorbacks boast the potent trio of Jaylen Barford, Darryl Macon and freshman center Daniel Gafford. Mike Anderson guided Arkansas to the championship game last year before losing to Kentucky. The Razorbacks know the way.
Then again, Arkansas finished the regular season with a resounding thud, losing by 10 points at Missouri just when it needed a victory to clinch that all-important double-bye.
That reminds me, I’m picking Missouri. The tourney is but a 90-minute drive from Columbia. The Tigers may actually have Michael Porter Jr. available for the first time since the super freshman played all of two minutes in the season opener before injuring his back.
Hold the phone, Ralph, did not Missouri lose at home — yes, at home — to Ole Miss, which had already shoved its coach (Andy Kennedy) to the sideline and finished the year in the conference cellar? Never mind Mizzou.
So, yes, I’m picking Kentucky, same as it ever was, the program that has won the tournament the last three seasons, the team that, top to bottom, probably has the most talent in the league.
Now comes that voice in my head: After you lauded their comeback win at West Virginia, didn’t the Cats need overtime to beat Vanderbilt before going on a four-game losing streak? And when you wrote that UK had turned the corner with a four-game late February win streak, didn’t the Cats promptly get their clocks cleaned in Gainesville?
Well, yeah. So bottom line, when it comes to this SEC Tournament, there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty: I have no idea who will win it, and no one else does either.