Eric Musselman, Arkansas, SEC Tournament

CBB Review highlights the ins and outs of every conference tournament leading up to Selection Sunday. Up next: The SEC Tournament.

The SEC has put together one of its stronger seasons in recent memory, with six teams currently sitting on the right side of the bubble regardless of what happens in Tampa this week, and three teams looking to use the tourney to sneak into the dance with good performances in the SEC Tournament.

After a postseason ban last year, Auburn ended up in the driver’s seat at the end of the regular season, finishing first in the league with a 15-3 record. Kentucky and Tennessee finished right behind at 14-4, and Arkansas managed to finish 4th with a 13-5 record despite losing its first three conference games. 

Behind the top four seeds, however, no team managed above a .500 record in conference play. A five-way tie for fifth place (9-9) resulted in LSU earning the 5 seed, Alabama earning the 6, South Carolina coming in at 7, Texas A&M at 8, and Florida at 9.

Players To Watch

  • Jabari Smith, Auburn
  • TyTy Washington, Kentucky
  • JD Notae, Arkansas
  • Colin Castleton, Florida
  • Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee

While these five players may not lead their respective teams in points, all are the most crucial to their team’s hopes of winning the tournament. 

Jabari Smith, the star freshman some analysts are comparing to Kevin Durant, is one of, if not the most dangerous player on offense in the country. Able to create separation, knock down mid-range shots with ease, and hit threes consistently, Smith has the ability to carry the Tigers past either Florida or Texas A&M, both of which they’ve already defeated. There is a high likelihood Smith goes number one in next year’s NBA draft.

Oscar Tshiebwe leads the Wildcats in points and rebounds, but TyTy Washington is the glue holding the team together. The freshman guard manages the floor for Kentucky, along with Sahvir Wheeler. Without Washington on the floor, Kentucky is a much different team. 

JD Notae is a special basketball player. Averaging almost 19 points a game and leading the Razorbacks in assists, if not for Oscar Tshiebwe he would be SEC Player of the Year. He is the key for Eric Musselman’s squad and could lead the Hogs to the tournament title in Tampa.

Colin Castleton needs to have at least two career days for the Florida Gators to reach the big dance. The big man has shown up in wins over Auburn and Ohio State, but also has been slowed in games against inferior competition like Texas Southern and Maryland. Having him playing at his best is a must for Mike White’s squad.

Kennedy Chandler is completely deserving of his spot on the All-SEC team. Leading the Vols in points, Chandler runs the court for Tennessee and helps the offense flow exponentially better than when he’s not on the court. 

Team To Watch: Texas A&M

Texas A&M started 4-0 in league play, with a 15-2 overall record. That, however, is when the wheels fell off. An eight-game skid led to a 15-10, 4-8 record with NCAA hopes all but erased. However, since then the Aggies have gone 4-1 including a road win over Alabama. Look for Buzz Williams’ team to make some noise in the SEC Tournament.

SEC Tournament Simulation

Opening Round – Wednesday, March 9

12. Missouri vs. 13. Ole Miss – 6 p.m., SECN

Despite only 5 conference wins on the season, 2 of those for Missouri were courtesy of Ole Miss. Look for Kobe Brown to make that 3 for the Tigers.

11. Vanderbilt vs. 14. Georgia – 8 p.m., SECN

Reports out of Georgia are claiming Tom Crean’s tenure could be over after this season. Even Kario Oquendo’s emergence shouldn’t be enough to beat a Vanderbilt team that is better than their record suggests. 

Second Round – Thursday, March 10

8. Texas A&M vs. 9. Florida – Noon, SECN

While both are fighting for a tournament bid, Texas A&M has been playing better ball recently and defeated Florida by a point on February 15. A Florida loss likely sends them to the NIT while Texas A&M keeps their hopes for another day.

5. LSU vs. 12. Missouri – 2 p.m., SECN

This Tiger matchup should be closer than many expect. LSU is 6-9 in their last 15 games, and this game could be second on Will Wade’s mind behind a recent notice of allegations from the NCAA against the program. LSU should still get by Missouri, however, especially given the recent 20 point victory against them.

7. South Carolina vs. 10. Mississippi State – 6 p.m., SECN

The Gamecocks and Bulldogs meet for the third time this season, with the season series being split 1-1. The Gamecocks enter with momentum, having gone 8-5 in the last 13 games, while the Bulldogs are 4-8 in their last 12. Despite Iverson Molinar and Garrison Brooks’ impressive stats this season, the Gamecocks are in better form than the Bulldogs and should win a defensive battle. 

6. Alabama vs. 11. Vanderbilt – 8 p.m., SECN

Alabama and Vanderbilt battled on February 22, with Alabama emerging victorious, 74-72. Scotty Pippen Jr. is a hard out in March, and Alabama has been very streaky this season. Consider this a mild upset as Jerry Stackhouse’s team lives on for another day.

Quarterfinals – Friday, March 11

1. Auburn vs. 8. Texas A&M – Noon, ESPN

Auburn has not been playing its best basketball recently, playing Georgia and Mississippi State close and losing to Florida, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Meanwhile, Texas A&M has been playing its best basketball of the season. Quenton Jackson should lead the Aggies to an SEC Tournament quarterfinal win.

4. Arkansas vs. 5. LSU – 2 p.m., ESPN

Arkansas beat LSU in overtime in Fayetteville just a week ago, but the coaching and talent of Arkansas will prevent the same result from occurring. Look for a convincing win from Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.

2. Tennessee vs. 7. South Carolina – 6 p.m., SECN

Tennessee has already swept South Carolina in the season series. Neither game was close, and this game shouldn’t be any different. The depth of Tennessee is simply too much for Frank Martin’s squad. This could be the start of a championship run for Tennessee.  

3. Kentucky vs. 11. Vanderbilt – 8 p.m., SECN

Vanderbilt has played Kentucky close twice already this season. However, the ‘Dores have no answer for Oscar Tshiebwe and the Wildcats’ frontcourt. A tight game in the first half should turn into a blowout in the second as Kentucky advances. 

Semifinals – Saturday, March 12

8. Texas A&M vs. 4. Arkansas – 1 p.m., ESPN

Despite Texas A&M’s solid form coming into this game, this Arkansas team is simply too talented. Better than their record suggests, Arkansas is much improved than the last time these two teams met. Stanley Umude and Jaylin Williams should control this game early as Arkansas cruises. 

2. Tennessee vs. 3. Kentucky – 3 p.m., ESPN

A 107-79 drubbing of Tennessee by Kentucky in January seemed not to matter when Tennessee took care of business against the ‘Cats just a month later. In what should be a close game, look for a late shot by Zakai Ziegler to put the Vols into the title game.

Championship – Sunday, March 13

4. Arkansas vs. 2. Tennessee – 1 p.m., ESPN

Last time these teams met, a first-half offensive outpour resulted in a 78-74 win for the Vols, despite Tennessee trying their hardest to throw the game away. The first meeting, a 58-48 defensive struggle got the Razorbacks their 10th SEC win. In the final, another close game is inevitable. The matchup between the two deepest teams in the SEC could go either way, but Arkansas should grab the automatic bid in the SEC Tournament championship game.