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Why LSU may have best path to SEC tourney’s top seed

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UK freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley talks about the controversial loss to LSU and the game coming up against No. 1-ranked Tennessee.
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UK freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley talks about the controversial loss to LSU and the game coming up against No. 1-ranked Tennessee.

A friend suggested to me that in the race for the top seed in next month’s SEC men’s basketball tournament — Hooray Nashville! — Tennessee may be in the lead, but LSU occupies the driver’s seat.

He may be right.

Yes, Tennessee brings a perfect conference slate to Rupp Arena, but LSU appears to have the most favorable schedule between Saturday and the start of play at the Bridgestone Arena on March 13.

Let’s take a closer look at the remaining seven games for each of the league’s top three teams — Tennessee (11-0), LSU (10-1) and Kentucky (9-2).

Tennessee

  • Feb. 16 At Kentucky (9-2)
  • Feb. 19 Vanderbilt (0-11)
  • Feb. 23 At LSU (9-2)
  • Feb. 27 At Ole Miss (7-4)
  • March 2 Kentucky (9-2)
  • March 5 Miss State (5-6)
  • March 9 At Auburn (5-6)

Home: 3

Away: 4

Record of opponents: 44-33

Home games: 14-19

Road: 30-14

Average kenpom ranking: 34.29

Average NET ranking: 33.29

LSU

  • Feb. 16 At Georgia (1-10)
  • Feb. 20 Florida (5-6)
  • Feb. 23 Tennessee (11-0)
  • Feb. 26 Texas A&M (3-8)
  • March 2 At Alabama (6-5)
  • March 6 At Florida (5-6)
  • March 9 Vanderbilt (0-11)

Home: 4

Away: 3

Record of opponents: 31-46

Home: 19-25

Road: 12-21

Average kenpom ranking: 68.57

Average NET ranking: 66.57

Kentucky

  • Feb. 16 Tennessee (11-0)
  • Feb. 19 At Missouri (3-8)
  • Feb. 23 Auburn (5-6)
  • Feb. 26 Arkansas (5-6)
  • March 2 At Tennessee (11-0)
  • March 5 At Ole Miss (7-4)
  • March 9 Florida (5-6)

Home: 4

Away: 3

Record of opponents: 47-30

Home: 26-18

Away: 21-12

Average kenpom ranking: 36.14

Average NET ranking: 36.57

For reference:

Ken Pomeroy rankings

NCAA NET rankings

After hitting Kentucky with a stun-gun at Rupp Arena on Tuesday, LSU must avoid the dreaded letdown when the Tigers get back on the dance floor Saturday at Georgia. The fact that the opponent is, well, Georgia, a 1-10 Georgia, should make that task easier for Will Wade’s team.

And the Tigers do get powerhouse Tennessee at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday, Feb. 23. That could be the showdown for the No. 1 seed right then and there — depending on how the Vols fare on Saturday night in Lexington.

[John Clay’s column page]

Don’t forget, the Cats and Vols face off again March 2 on Rocky Top. After that, the Rick Barnes’ bunch has a pair of interesting games to close out the conference season, at home against a dangerous Mississippi State, then on the road at Auburn. Don’t you know ex-UT coach Bruce Pearl, now at Auburn, would love nothing more than knocking the Vols off the league throne.

You can make the case that Kentucky has the toughest row to hoe the rest of the way. (The guess here is that John Calipari will make that exact case during his Friday media opportunity.) Thanks to the home-and-home against the 11-0 Vols, the Cats’ face teams with a cumulative 47-30 record. Tennessee’s remainders are 44-33. Those left on the LSU schedule are just a combined 31-46. Yikes!

Still, if John Calipari’s club can execute a bounce-back Saturday and take down the nation’s top-ranked team in Tennessee, the outlook of the league race would make a dramatic shift.

[SEC basketball game-by-game in a Google Doc]

UK forward Reid Travis talks about the controversial ending of the Kentucky-LSU basketball game Tuesday night. LSU defeated the Cats, 73-71.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.


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