In a tournament filled with early upsets, the Southeastern Conference Tournament will now have a title matchup between the league’s two best teams. Chris Lee writes about that, and what it means.
WHAT HAPPENED ON SATURDAY
1) Kentucky 91, 13) Auburn 67
Auburn, playing for the fourth time in four days, faced slim odds of beating Kentucky even without being exhausted. Throw in the suspension of one starting forward, Jordon Granger, for throwing a punch in the Tigers’ upset of LSU on Friday, and then a suspension to its other forward, Cinmenon Bowers—the conference’s leading rebounder—and this one was basically over before it started. It was a balanced scoring effort for UK, which placed five players in double-digit scoring, led by Willie Cauley-Stein (18). Coach John Calipari, his team leading by 18 at half, took advantage of the cushion and cleared his bench for much of the second half.
2) Arkansas 60, Georgia 49
The Bulldogs, too, had to overcome adversity—an injury to starting guard Kenny Gaines, which he suffered late on Friday night—and couldn’t, even though league Player of the Year Bobby Portis had a shockingly bad 1-for-14 shooting afternoon. But the Razorbacks have plenty of other weapons, including Michael Qualls, who scored a game-high 15 and added six rebounds. The Razorbacks have slipped defensively at times, but today, it was the effort on that end of the floor—UGA shot 32.7 percent—that got the job done.
WHAT IT MEANS
Kentucky (33-0) continues its quest to become college basketball’s first unbeaten team since the 1975-76 Indiana squad; even with a loss tomorrow, the Wildcats will be the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.
Arkansas (26-7) will also be a lock, a six-seed at worse, and probably a five.
An NCAA Tournament that excludes Georgia (21-10) would be a major surprise. The Bulldogs could have used some better top-end wins—their best ones came against Ole Miss (twice) and Texas A&M—but with an RPI of 35 entering today and bubble teams like Purdue losing today, combined with Boise and UCLA falling last night, there’s little danger of UGA falling out.
LSU and Ole Miss will both be biting their nails as the field of 68 is unveiled tomorrow. Both will be praying that UConn won’t steal a bid by winning the American Conference Tournament, especially after Wyoming took an at-large spot away when it won the Mountain West on Saturday night.
- Kentucky vs. 2) Arkansas
When the teams played earlier in Lexington, UK emerged an 84-67 winner, and though this one’s on a “neutral” site, it’ll be the same as a home game for the Wildcats. Ports will certainly play better on Sunday; the question is who’ll win the battle between one of the nation’s best interior scorers and the nation’s best interior defense. UK is also vulnerable to the 3-point shot in spots, and with Qualls and shooters like Rashard Madden and Anthlon Bell, that could be the Razorbacks’ best chance at an upset.