The Southeastern Conference completed the first two games of its tournament on Wednesday evening in Bridgestone Arena, and four more games are on the horizon for Thursday. Here’s a look at what happened, what it means and what’s ahead.
13) Auburn 74, 12) Mississippi State 68
Auburn survived a late Mississippi State comeback behind 19 points from second-team All-SEC guard K.T. Harrell, and 16 points out of nowhere for sophomore Alex Thompson, who hadn’t scored more than seven in a game all season. It was the Tigers’ first SEC Tournament win since 2009. Craig Sword added a game-high 21 for the losing Bulldogs.
11) South Carolina 63, 14) Missouri 54
South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell had 18 points on his best shooting game of the season, as Carolina led the entire way excepting Mizzou’s 2-0 lead to begin the game. The Tigers made a charge midway through the second half, but the Gamecocks’ stingy zone held Missouri without a field goal for approximately eight minutes until the Tigers hit a meaningless 3 with seconds left.
What it means
While Auburn and Carolina move on to Thursday, the season is now over for both Mississippi State and Missouri.
While it’s never good to finish 13-18 overall and 13th in your league, the Bulldogs were far and away the last-place pick in the preseason and actually beat expectations by one spot even though Sword, their best player, missed part of the season with injury (and played another stretch while hurt). MSU will have a nice trio of seniors next year in Sword, Gavin Ware and Fred Thomas, and junior-to-be I.J. Ready developed into a competent full-time point guard. An NCAA Tournament would probably be a stretch for MSU in 2015-16, but a winning season—something the Bulldogs haven’t had since 2011-122—wouldn’t be.
The Tigers may just be glad that a miserable season—1966-67 was the last time Missouri won fewer than 10 games in a season until this year’s 9-23 campaign. It was a disastrous debut for coach Kim Anderson and while some Tiger fans are hoping there’s not a second year, the Tigers were composed mostly of freshmen and sophomores, and had to do without Wes Clark, their most talented player, for their last month of the season. Only two seniors who played meaningful minutes are gone, so perhaps things improve for Anderson next year.
What’s at stake on Thursday
9) Alabama vs. 8) Florida
The biggest story here may be whether Alabama’s Anthony Grant is coaching his last game in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide have probably earned an NIT bid no matter what happens in Nashville, which isn’t a bad season considering ‘Bama lost a couple starters for the year a few weeks back. But it looks like Grant will miss the NCAA’s for the fifth time in six years, and that’s not sitting well with the UA faithful. Florida, a preseason top-10 pick, has perhaps had the most disappointing season of any team in the country, but the Gators have Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith back from injury, so the hope is they’ll pick up a second wind this week.
5) Texas A&M vs. 13) Auburn
No team in the SEC Tournament needs a win worse than the Aggies, who are the fourth team on the outside looking in for an NCAA Tournament bid according to Joe Lunardi, but the last team in Jerry Palm’s bracket. Beating Auburn may not help the cause a lot, but losing would almost certainly kill A&M’s chances. Watch to see if Alex Caruso and the A&M guards can stop Harrell; if they can do that, they’ve got a good shot to win even though first-team All-SEC pick Danuel House appears to be out with a foot injury.
10) Tennessee vs. 7) Vanderbilt
The Vols (15-15) need a win to keep faint NIT hopes alive. The good news: the game’s not in Knoxville, where UT went 2-7 in the league vs. 5-4 everywhere else. The bad news: Tennessee draws the hottest team in the conference outside of Kentucky in Vanderbilt, which won its last five and came within two eyelashes of winning its last 10 in a row to close the conference season. The worse news: the Commodores, with young guns Wade Baldwin, Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Luke Kornet, are a remarkable 55-of-109 behind the 3-point line in their last five games. If that continues, Kentucky might be the only team that can beat the Commodores.
11) South Carolina vs. 6) Ole Miss
Most think Ole Miss is in the NCAA Tournament right now, but it’s kind of in the same boat with the Aggies in that a win on Thursday probably won’t help, but a loss could be fatal in that regard. Carolina presents a bit of a threat in that it can defend really well, while Rebel guards Stefan Moody and Jarvis Summers, though quite talented, have been streaky. Ole Miss easily won the regular-season matchup between the teams in Columbia just over two months ago.