By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
SEC Tournament review
Kentucky won its 31st SEC Tournament champion-ship in a thrilling 77-72 win over Tennessee in last Sunday (Mar. 11), and the Wildcats have now won four straight conference tournament titles under John Calipari. UK has won six SEC tournament champion-ships in nine seasons under Calipari and is peaking at the right time entering the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn was the top overall seed of the tournament but the Tigers were dominated in the second half in an 81-63 quarterfinal loss to Alabama. Kentucky breezed past Georgia, 62-49, and Tennessee snuck past Mississippi State, 62-59, to reach the semifinals. Arkansas outlasted Florida, 80-72, in the final quarter-final matchup.
In the semifinals, Kentu-cky cruised past Alabama, 86-63. The Crimson Tide had defeated Auburn and Texas A&M in the two previous days thanks to impressive performances from star point guard Collin Sexton but ran out of gas against a fresh Kentucky team. Tennessee easily handled Arkansas in the other semifinal, 84-66, to set up a championship game between The Vols and Wild-cats. Kentucky already was a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but the win over Tennessee gave the Wildcats an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
1. Auburn (25-7, 13-5)
2. Tennessee (25-7, 13-5)
3. Kentucky (24-10, 10-8)
4. Florida (20-12, 11-7)
5. Arkansas (23-11, 11-7)
6. Alabama (19-15, 8-10)
7. Texas A&M (20-12, 9-9)
8. Missouri (20-12, 10-8)
9. Mississippi State (22-11, 9-9)
10. South Carolina (17-16, 7-11)
11. Georgia (18-15, 7-11)
12. LSU (17-14, 8-10)
13. Vanderbilt (12-20, 6-12)
14. Ole Miss (12-20, 5-13)
NCAA Tournament preview and predictions
A record eight teams from the Southeastern Conference made the NCAA Tournament, and the lowest seed of any SEC team in the field was No. 9. Tennessee and Auburn were co-champions of the league in the regular season, and the two squads received the highest bids for the conference.
Tennessee is a No. 3 seed in the South bracket and matches up with No. 14 seed Wright State in Dallas. If they win, the Volunteers meet the winner of Miami and Loyola-Chicago. The top seeds in the Vols’ region are Virginia and Cincinnati, and it’s possible Tennessee could have a rematch in the Elite Eight with Kentucky. The Wildcats are the No. 5 seed in the South and have a first round matchup with No. 12 Davidson in Boise. If either team makes it to the second round, they will play in Atlanta for the right to make it to the Final Four.
Auburn struggled a bit in the latter part of the season but still ended up with a No. 4 seed in the Midwest region. The Tigers square off with No. 13 Charleston in the Round of 64 in San Diego. If they win, they will meet either No. 5 Clemson or No. 12 New Mexico State in the second round. The top seeds in Auburn’s bracket are Kansas, Duke and Michigan State, so the Tigers have a difficult path to the Final Four.
Missouri and Texas A&M made the NCAA Tour-nament comfortably, but both face difficult matchups in the opening round. The Aggies earned a No. 7 seed in the West regional and face No. 10 Providence in Charlotte. Missouri, a No. 8 seed, will play No. 9 Florida State in Nashville but will be without starting forward Jordan Barnett, who was suspended after a DWI arrest. His absence will give Michael Porter, Jr., a chance for more playing time, but it could be a short stay in the tournament for the Tigers. The top seeds in the West are Xavier, North Carolina and Michigan.
Three SEC teams are in the East regional, including No. 9 seed Alabama. The Crimson Tide tied the re-cord for most losses for an at-large team to reach the tournament with 15, but they’ve proven they’re capable of beating anyone in the country. Alabama meets No. 8 seed Virginia Tech in Pittsburgh, and the winner will likely face No. 1 seed Villanova.
Florida is the No. 6 seed in the region and will play No. 11 seed St. Bonaventure in Dallas. The Gators must be more consistent if they want to make another run to the Elite Eight, but they possess the talent to win a few games if they’re shooting at a high level.
Arkansas finished the regular season on a strong note, and the Hogs earned a No. 7 seed and will play No. 10 Butler in Detroit. Daniel Gafford has emerged as a potential lottery pick at center for the Razorbacks, who could be a dangerous team if they can get past the Bulldogs. If they win, the Hogs likely will meet Purdue in the second round.
First weekend predictions
* Tennessee advances to the Sweet 16 with wins over Wright State and Loyola-Chicago.
* Kentucky defeats Da-vidson but loses to Arizona in the Round of 32.
* Missouri loses to Florida State in the Round of 64.
* Texas A&M defeats Providence in the first round and loses to North Carolina in the second round.
* Auburn advances to its first Sweet 16 in 15 years with wins over Charleston and New Mexico State – the latter of which will upset Clemson in the first round.
* Alabama defeats Virginia Tech and loses to Villa-nova in the second round.
* St. Bonaventure upsets Florida in the first round.
* Arkansas knocks off Butler in the first round but narrowly loses to Purdue in the Round of 32.