The bracket is finally set and Bridgestone Arena is ready: the SEC Basketball Tournament begins on Wednesday.
There was of course no tournament last year due to the pandemic. Seeing as it’s been two years since the last SEC Tournament, I’m here to break down what the 2021 edition will look like.
So the 14 teams are going to Music City?
No actually! This year the field will only consist of 13 teams with Auburn self-imposing a one-year postseason ban. Auburn removed itself from postseason play in light of former assistant Chuck Person was arrested in the FBI’s 2017 investigation into college hoops. Auburn’s season ended Saturday with a 78-71 win over Mississippi State.
Okay so 13 teams then. Who’s the favorite?
Alabama’s the regular season champion and the tournament’s No. 1 seed at 21-6 overall and 16-2 in league play. The Tide’s having one of their best seasons in program history and if they can win the tournament they may very well end up a one-seed for the big dance.
But beware those Hogs of Arkansas! The Razorbacks are arguably the hottest team in the country, winners of eight straight games overall and 11 straight SEC games if you discount the four-point loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. Arkansas has surged up the seeding line and is currently thought of as three-seed for the NCAA Tournament. They, too, could move up with a strong showing in Nashville.
What about LSU?
What about them?
But seriously, the SEC Tournament hasn’t been kind to LSU historically speaking. LSU has only won the tournament once (1980) and the Tigers have yet to win a game in Nashville under Will Wade’s tenure (0-2). This despite LSU leading the conference in SEC wins over the last three years with 39.
“We hadn’t played in the championship in forever so just winning a game here is a big deal for us,” Will Wade said. “Something that we’re going to prepare for. When we get ready to go at 8, 8:30 on Friday night, we’ll be one of five teams left in this thing. We’re going to give it our all and do what we can to try to reverse some of the bad history in this deal.”
LSU is the three-seed and has won five of its last seven games including its last two. Bama, Arkansas, LSU and Tennessee are the top-four teams and won’t have to play until Friday’s quarterfinal round.
LSU will be the last team to play on Friday, tipping off 25 minutes after Arkansas plays the winner of Thursday’s Missouri/Georgia game. LSU will play the winner of Ole Miss and South Carolina and has already beaten the Rebels and Gamecocks earlier this year.
Does LSU need to win the tournament to make the NCAAs?
No but LSU would really be doing itself a favor if they win a game or two (or the whole thing don’t be afraid to dream big kids!)
Aside from a lower seeded team getting hot, winning the tournament and claiming the league’s automatic bid, no team could stand to benefit more from a strong showing in Nashville than LSU. The Tigers appear to be a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament but are looking like a nine-seed per bracket matrix.
The good news is yes, LSU seems to have clinched an at large bid regardless if they’re one-and-done in Music City. The bad news is LSU’s hovering around the dreaded 8/9 line so if LSU does make the NCAA Tournament and win its first game, they’d most likely have to play a 1-seed like Gonzaga, Baylor or one of Michigan/Illinois/Ohio State.
If LSU wants to make it to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend like the last time there was one, they’ll need to work their way up to at least a seven and maybe a six seed. But to climb that high they’d most likely have to win the SEC Tournament, which would most likely involve beating Arkansas—who LSU is 1-1 against— and Alabama who has thoroughly beaten down LSU on two separate occasions.
Wait a second how have we gone this long and not mentioned Kentucky?
Ah yes well you see about that...Kentucky kind of stinks this year. Granted they beat LSU by 13 in Rupp so who am I to judge. But still, Kentucky is an inconceivable 9-15 overall and finished eighth in the SEC this year. Forget not making the NCAA Tournament, Big Blue may not make the NIT. The only chance Coach Cal and company have of keeping their season alive is by winning the SEC Tournament and that’s something they’re used to. Kentucky had won four straight conference tournaments until Auburn snapped the streak in 2019.
So who’s winning this thing?
Okay well who’s an underdog that can win this thing?
If any of the lower seeded teams is going to win the SEC Tournament I’d bet on Missouri. The Tigers struggled overall in SEC play but they have some truly impressive wins: Oregon on a neutral court, at Wichita State and Arkansas, and home wins over Illinois and Alabama.
What about LSU?
Pencil them in for a win on Friday and a loss to the Razorbacks in the semifinals on Saturday.