A crazy Southeastern Conference Tournament got even crazier on Friday afternoon. Chris Lee has the latest as the field narrowed from 14 to four after the night’s action.
WHAT HAPPENED ON FRIDAY
1) Kentucky 64, 8) Florida 49
You’d better have good play from your big men, and though Florida’s Jon Horford (15 points) had one of his best games of the season, it wasn’t nearly enough. It didn’t necessarily show up in every area of the stat sheet—UK had six blocks, which for the Wildcats is nothing—but the Gators had a devil of a time trying to get off simple shots anywhere near the hoop. That, and the fact that UF couldn’t contain Kentucky inside—the ‘Cats shot 23 free throws to UF’s five—was the difference on Friday afternoon. Karl-Anthony Towns, who’s debatably becoming the Wildcats’ best player, led the way with 13 points and 12 boards.
13) Auburn 73, 4) LSU 70, in overtime
If you named a Most Valuable Player of the tournament so far, it would have to be Auburn’s K.T. Harrell. On Friday afternoon, Harrell scored 29 points, including the Tigers’ biggest shot of the season, which came when the senior hit a contested 3 from the top of the key with 0.7 seconds left, sending the game to overtime. The crazy thing is that Auburn didn’t even have its first lead until overtime, but AU, a rag-tag collection of Harrell and a bunch of spare parts, were able to stay close in part due to LSU stars Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman fouling out. LSU’s Keith Hornsby (24) blistered the nets early and often, but it wasn’t enough.
2) Arkansas 80, 10) Tennessee 72
After coming back from a double-digit deficit last night, UT senior Josh Richardson darn-near led another miracle comeback after the Vols fell behind by 20. But Tennessee’s lack of depth and talent in the post caught up on Friday night, as SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis scored 26 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Rashad Madden hit nine straight free throws to keep the Razorbacks safe from upset.
3) Georgia 74, 11) South Carolina 62
This one was closer than the scoreboard indicated; the 12-point margin was UGA’s biggest margin of victory, and there was some mid-game drama, too, when Georgia starters Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines both went out with apparent injuries; both returned, though Bulldog coach Mark Fox said later that Gaines might not be available the rest of the week. Marcus Thornton (15 points, eight rebounds) was terrific for the Bulldogs, while Carolina guard Duane Notice (20 points) had one of his best games of the season.
WHAT IT MEANS
There are probably ways in which it could have been a worse three days for the SEC as a whole, but if you eliminate bus crashes and natural disasters, I can’t think of any.
With Texas A&M almost certainly now missing the NCAA Tournament and Ole Miss adding a bad loss last night, LSU could also see itself in bubble trouble. The Rebels might a little safer than the Tigers, who’ve now lost five games against teams with RPIs worse than 100. If LSU makes the field of 68, the Tigers would be the only team to make the tournament as an at-large selection despite that many bad losses. Wins from Purdue, Temple and Tulsa today certainly didn’t help either.
Florida won’t go to the NCAAs or the NIT for the first time in forever. The Gators were a preseason top-10 team but in this case, it was more of a case of the voters overrating UF than it was Billy Donovan’s club underachieving. Tennessee also is likely not heading to the NIT; with 16 wins and eight in the conference regular season, the Vols certainly overachieved. South Carolina, one game over .500, could potentially head to the CBI if it wishes, as could the Vols.
An update on Vanderbilt: last night, I said the Commodores still had a shot at the NIT. Today, VU’s RPI stood at 98; in the last two years, the NIT has not given an at-large bid to a team with an RPI below 92.
Kentucky is locked in as a one-seed. Arkansas is in the NCAAs, likely as a five-seed. Georgia is almost without a doubt in the field of 68.
13) Auburn vs. 1) Kentucky
There may have been a bigger mis-match in the SEC semifinals than this game tomorrow, but I doubt anybody alive remembers it. It’s been a nice story for Auburn, but the Tigers, running on fumes (four games in four days) against a fresher Kentucky team with one of the best defensive front lines ever assembled in collegiate hoops history, have an almost zero shot of pulling an upset.
2) Arkansas vs. 3) Georgia
The Razorbacks won the earlier matchup in Athens in the conference opener for both teams, and the two haven’t played since. Georgia’s big men are good defensively but weren’t able to slow Portis the first time; they’ll have to do that on Saturday to win. With Gaines potentially out, UGA will need terrific outings from Mann and J.J. Frazier, both of whom are capable of doing that.