Tomorrow, the opening round of the 2010 SEC Tournament gets underway down in Nashville, Tennessee with four games. It has been four years since Nashville last played host. Games will be played at the recently renamed Bridgestone Arena, the home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
Most years, the Southeastern Conference heads to Atlanta and UK fans overrun the town. Kentucky fans love turning the town into “Cat-lanta” and they love calling it “Cat-lanta” even more. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any witty nickname for Nashville that incorporates UK, because Nashville is about to get a HEAVY dose of blue. Thousands of ‘Cats fans will flock, many of whom have no guarantees for tickets to the games. It’s going to be a big ole reunion, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
I will be driving down to witness the festivities on Friday morning and I have absolutely no idea what I’m in for, but I know I’m excited. I’ll be posting recaps of UK games as usual and I will try to stop by with occasional reports letting you know about the action on and off the court, so keep an eye for that.
For now, let’s take a look some of the important things you need to know before you bear witness to the 2010 edition of the SEC Tournament.
The Favorite – Kentucky
Duh. UK dominated the conference on the floor and in the headlines all year long. They boast the most talent in the league and it’s not close. Plus, they will possess a homecourt advantage even though the tourney is being played in Nashville, the home of the Vanderbilt Commodores.
However, if you are pencilling the ‘Cats in for the title, slow down. Winning the SEC is not a priority for UK. They have a one seed locked up and are playing for a bigger goal. Other teams have more to gain from winning big in Nashville. With that said, this UK team is a competitive bunch and if a team comes at them, I think they’ll respond.
Darkhorse – South Carolina
I really think there are only four teams that can’t win the thing (Alabama, LSU, and Auburn). Teams like Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida would surprise me by winning, but not shock me. However, the underdog that is most likely to duplicate Georgia’s run from a couple years ago is South Carolina.
This is Devan Downey’s last shot to take his team to the NCAA Tournament, and he needs to win four in a row to pull it off. If South Carolina holds serve against Alabama, then can duplicate their win over UK in the second round, I think momentum could take them all the way through.
Best Player – John Wall
It will be interesting, though, to see how Wall responds to playing games in back to back and potentially back to back to back days.
Most Likely to Have a Coming Out Party – Trey Thompkins
The sophomore was recognized on the All SEC team, but he still doesn’t get the publicity I think he deserves. In SEC play, he was the second leading scorer behind Devan Downey and the fourth leading rebounder. He can score in a variety of ways, play some defense, and rebound the ball. If Georgia makes a run, he will be the biggest reason why.
Best First Round Matchup – Georgia (E6) vs. Arkansas (W3)
Other than the fact that the top four teams in the SEC East were 24-0 against the West, the fact that the East’s six seed will be favored to beat the three seed in the West may be the most compelling evidence of the dominance of the East.
UGA and Arkansas both finished the season much worse than they would have liked. Arkansas was 7-4 and positioned for a first round bye in the SEC Tournament before dropping five in a row to close it out. Arkansas, had a respectable loss to UK before a terrible loss against LSU in their finale. Both will want to wipe that taste out of their mouths. I think both will be hungry to play and there will not be a shortage of talent on the floor. Courtney Fortson, Marshawn Powell, Michael Washington, Rotnei Clarke, Trey Thompkins, and Travis Leslie should provide reason enough to tune in.
Dream Matchup – UK-Vandy in the finals
Vandy and UK have been the best two teams in the conference all year. UK swept the season series and will be invading the Commodores hometown. Vandy will be playing for an historically high seed in the NCAA for their program (maybe even a two seed if things fall right) and UK could be playing for the overall number one seed if Kansas falters early. There would be lots of intrigue if this matchup happened.
South Carolina (E5) over Alabama (W4)
Tennessee (E3) over LSU (W6)
Auburn (W5) over Florida (E4)
Georgia (E6) over Arkansas (W3)
Over the past few years, Florida has played worst when it matters the most. I think that continues this season and Auburn will capitalize. The Tigers have no business beating the Gators, but I have a feeling. Other than that upset, the East will pull off a clean sweep of the West.
Kentucky (E1) over South Carolina (E5)
Ole Miss (W2) over Tennessee (E3)
Mississippi State (W1) over Auburn (W5)
Vanderbilt (E2) over Georgia (E6)
The teams most desperate for wins this week are Florida and the two Mississippi schools. In the secound round, I think we will get to see two of those teams face off in Florida and Mississippi State. This matchup will be very interesting, but I just don’t think Florida is very good. Also, I think Ole Miss will pull off a mini-upset of Tennessee here. Ole Miss comes in with a four game winning streak and I think they will catch the Vols looking forward to a semi-final matchup with UK.
Kentucky (E1) over Ole Miss (W2)
Vanderbilt (E2) over Mississippi State (W1)
When it comes down to it, I think the two best teams in the conference are going to show themselves to be just that to set up the matchup I mentioned earlier. Mississippi State could easily duplicate last year’s run in Tampa, but I don’t think they’ll have enough in the tank to take down Vandy.
Kentucky (E1) over Vanderbilt (E2)
Prepare yourselves for the “it’s hard to beat a team three times” cliches to be bandied about left and right. However, John Wall doesn’t know anything about that. He’s going to lead UK to a SEC Tournament title in his one shot.