The regular season has ended, and the bracket for the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament, hosted by our fair city, is set. I’m no oddsmaker, but if I were, here’s how I’d handicap the tournament field.
Florida, 2.5:1 — The Gators slumped late, losing three of their last six games. The Gators were also getting back to full health late in the season, and those three (Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky all came on the road by six points or less. A potential semifinal matchup with a hot Tennessee team could be an issue, but if I had to bet on one team to win the tournament, there’s no doubt it’s Florida.
Kentucky, 6:1 — In case you forgot that the Wildcats have some talent, they managed a much-needed win over Florida this past Saturday… and in just case you missed that, UK will bring thousands of fans to Nashville who’ll be happy to remind you. The ‘Cats also play in the easier side of the bracket (no Florida until the title game) and coach John Calipari has won the event in three of four tries. Calipari has had a devil of a time motivating and coaching this bunch, but he only needs to do it for three straight days this time. Yes, UK lost 10 times, but the talent is there.
Missouri, 8:1 — At first blush, the Tigers can’t seem to win on the road, with nine losses in 14 tries. Upon a second look, it was a brutal road slate, and five of those defeats came by three points or less. So, maybe a run could be in the cards here; the Tigers are super-talented, and were a preseason top-20 team, even though that was with Michael Dixon, who got kicked off the team. The Tigers are in the right side of the bracket, but the problem is that Mizzouri got the 6-seed and has to play four times.
Tennessee, 8:1 — From a picking-the-Vols-to-win-the-whole-thing standpoint, I don’t like that fact that Tennessee would have to get by the Gators in a semifinal game. UT would also have to get by an Alabama team that beat it once, and nearly twice. But the Vols should get by either Mississippi State or South Carolina without much problem on Wednesday, and I think it will be a narrow victor against Alabama on Thursday. There are no guarantees, but if that happens, a tilt with the Gators on Saturday could be the game of the tournament.
Alabama, 12:1 — Anthony Grant’s team has two things going for it: terrific defense, and a double-bye. However, Alabama didn’t have a lot of great wins, and it may have to beat three NCAA Tournament teams (including likely the Gators on Saturday) to take the whole event.
Ole Miss, 15:1 — I still can’t explain how the Rebels, despite a near-NCAA Tournament resume, managed to lose to South Carolina and Mississippi State in the season’s last month. However, the fact that the Rebels are still in the discussion tells you how well they played most of the rest of the season. Marshall Henderson shot the Rebels out of a bunch of games, but crazier things have happened than a scenario in which Henderson could shoot them to a title with three wins in three days.
Vanderbilt, 30:1 — Kevin Stallings’ club played better down the stretch of the season, gets the better end of the bracket, and gets an Arkansas club that did absolutely nothing to speak of away from home. And, VU plays in Nashville, so it could attract a home-court advantage if it can advance a couple of games. So, the Commodores have that going for them. What’s going against them: an 0-8 record against the top six seeds in this tournament.
Georgia, 30:1 — The Bulldogs played quite well from February on, as Mark Fox did quite a job with one superstar (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and a bunch of nobodies; winning nine games with that roster has to go down as one of the best coaching jobs in the league. I expect Georgia to narrowly edge LSU on Thursday, but having to get by Florida — which beat UGA by an average of 30 points in two match-ups — is too much to pull off.
Arkansas, 35:1 — The 19-12 Razorbacks have great talents in B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell and a bunch of guys on the bench who can give them minutes. The talent should allow them better odds than this, but in 13 games away from home, why is it that the Razorbacks managed wins only against lowly Auburn and Alabama A&M?
LSU, 35:1 — The Tigers have the same problem as Georgia: a potential second-round tilt with the Gators, who beat them by 22 (in Baton Rouge, no less) in the teams’ only meeting this season.
Texas A&M: 35:1 — The Aggies have a star who could carry them for a couple of games, and the ability to play well at times (they beat Kentucky and Missouri). They also play in the easier side of the bracket, but five wins in five days would be tough to pull off.
South Carolina, 150:1 — Coach Frank Martin’s team can do one thing well: hit the offensive glass. That’ll, and the team’s incessant motor, will be good enough for the Gamecocks to beat Mississippi State on Wednesday, but the season will come to a screeching halt against Tennessee on Thursday.
Auburn, 250:1 — See note on Mississippi State below, and then remind yourself that the Tigers managed to finish behind them by losing 15 of their last 16 games, including one to MSU on Saturday. Auburn has no real chance to win the tournament, but I’ll give it better odds than MSU due to better depth.
Mississippi State, 500:1 — I know, I know… Auburn wound up in the cellar, and I also know that MSU won two of its last three games. I also realize that within the last decade, there have been four SEC teams that won fewer games that MSU’s three in the league. But I’m hard-pressed to remember any of them being as bad as MSU, and I’m not so sure I remember any worse if I re-wound another decade or two. Add in the fact that MSU has little depth, and it would have to win five games in five days, and that’s a recipe for disaster.