By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Auburn Week 10 Review
Auburn wrapped up the regular season with perhaps its best win of the year. The Tigers outlasted Tennessee, 84-80 on Senior Day at Auburn Arena, though it was sophomore Chuma Okeke that led the way with 22 points. Bryce Brown and Jared Harper added 16 points each, so the Tigers were able to survive Grant Williams’ 25 points for the Volunteers.
With the win, Auburn improved to 22-9 overall and 11-7 in the SEC and earned the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament. The Tigers enter the postseason on a four-game winning streak and almost certainly improved their seeding for the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama Week 10 Review
After a win over South Carolina two weeks ago, Alabama looked likely to make the NCAA Tournament. Even after home losses to LSU and Auburn, the Crimson Tide were projected by many to reach the Big Dance. After Saturday’s 82-70 loss at Arkansas, however, Alabama’s tournament chances are in jeopardy. Razorback center Daniel Gafford scored 29 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and UA dropped to 17-14 overall and 8-10 in the SEC. Alabama is the No. 10 seed in the conference tournament and will take on No. 7 Ole Miss in the first round.
SEC basketball rankings
1. Kentucky (26-5, 15-3)
2. Tennessee (27-4, 15-3)
3. LSU (26-5, 16-2)
4. Auburn (22-9, 11-7)
5. Mississippi State (22-9, 10-8)
6. Ole Miss (20-11, 10-8)
7. Florida (17-14, 9-9)
8. Arkansas (17-14, 8-10)
9. South Carolina (16-15, 11-7)
10. Alabama (17-14, 8-10)
11. Texas A&M (13-17, 6-12)
12. Missouri (14-16, 5-13)
13. Georgia (11-20, 2-16)
14. Vanderbilt (9-22, 0-18)
SEC Tournament Preview and Predictions
Season record: 76-29
Just a few years ago, the SEC was only sending three or four teams to the NCAA Tournament. Now, the league likely will send seven or eight teams to participate in March Madness after sending eight teams last year. The conference has drastically improved, and it all started with the addition of coaches like Bruce Pearl, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland. The league has four or five teams capable of making runs in the NCAA Tour-nament, and two teams – Kentucky and Tennessee – can win it all.
LSU won the conference in regular season, but the team’s success is being overshadowed by the suspension of head coach Will Wade. In his second year in Baton Rouge, Wade was suspended indefinitely after FBI wiretaps allegedly caught him discussing paying recruits. The Tigers are very talented and could go on a run, but the absence of Wade and the negativity surrounding the program could have an impact on the team in the postseason.
As of now, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Florida are projected to make the NCAA Tournament. Alabama is on the outside looking in, but a couple of wins in Nashville could put the Tide back in the tournament picture. The other six teams mist win the conference tournament to make the Big Dance.
While LSU is the top seed, Kentucky and Tennessee arguably are the best two teams in the conference. There’s a good chance those two will meet in the semifinals, and they split their two regular season meetings.
LSU, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina all earned double byes, so they automatically qualified for the conference quarterfinals. Auburn and Mississippi State are the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, respectively, and they await the winners of the play-in games.
No. 7 seed Ole Miss plays No. 10 seed Alabama, with the winner facing Kentucky in the quarterfinals. No. 8 Florida takes on No. 9 Arkansas, and the winner of that matchup meets No. 1 seed LSU. Tennessee plays the winner of Mississippi State’s second round game, while South Carolina draws the winner of the Auburn game.
Auburn arguably has the best draw of any team in the bracket. The Tigers have won four straight games and are playing as well as anyone in the conference outside of Kentucky. Auburn has already beaten Georgia twice and easily handled Missouri the only time those two teams met this season. Auburn lost to South Carolina in Columbia but the Tigers would have the advantage on a neutral floor. While Auburn has to potentially go through top-seeded LSU, the Tigers could have the advantage due to the Will Wade mess in Baton Rouge.
The other side of the bracket is shaping up for a showdown between Kentucky and Tennessee. The winner of that matchup will be in the conference title game, and John Calipari’s Wildcats have owned the SEC Tournament over the last decade.
SEC Tournament predictions:
Semifinals: Auburn over Florida; Kentucky over Tennessee
Finals: Kentucky 84, Auburn 77