The SEC tournament will descend on Nashville, Tennessee this week. The regular season is over, the LSU Tigers are league champions, and there is only one thing left before selection Sunday. This league is as deep as it has been in a very long time, so the SEC tournament promises to be very entertaining. The depth of this league means that the good basketball won’t be relegated to the weekend. There will be players and match-ups worth watching throughout the week.
SEC Tournament Preview
The Kentucky Wildcats are the likely favorite, despite finishing second to the Tigers. LSU has some off-court distractions, with the indefinite suspension of head coach Will Wade and the question of whether freshman Ja’vonte Smart will play. Also, the SEC tournament is regarded by some as the Kentucky Invitational, because of the Wildcats long-standing dominance at this annual event. The Tennessee Volunteers tied for second in the conference with a 15-3 league record. All three of the teams at the top are hoping to make a lot of noise in March.
Players to Watch
Quinndary Weatherspoon – Guard – Mississippi State Bulldogs
The senior guard has been excellent this season. He is tied for second in the league in scoring with 18.5 points a game. Weatherspoon could carry the Bulldogs from Thursday through the weekend if he gets hot. In five career SEC tournament games, he is averaging 13.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. Mississippi State is securely into the NCAA tournament field, but a big weekend from their star could boost their seeding.
A.J. Lawson – Guard – South Carolina Gamecocks
Coach Frank Martin‘s team is a surprise to many at fourth in the standings. Their good league record is due in large part to this freshman from Toronto. Lawson is second on the team with 13.9 points per game and leads the team in assists and steals. He has missed the last three games but should return from an ankle sprain to be ready for Friday’s game. His return could boost the Gamecocks hopes of making it to the final on Sunday.
Daniel Gafford – Center – Arkansas Razorbacks
The big man from El Dorado, Arkansas has carried the Razorbacks all season. He is averaging 17.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal per game as a sophomore. The 6-foot-11 pogo stick does most of his damage in the paint, and he’s shooting 66 percent from the field this season. He is relentless on the boards, especially attacking the offensive glass. Gafford has ten double-doubles this season, Arkansas is 8-2 in those games.
Jordan Bone – Guard – Tennessee Volunteers
The Nashville native will hope to leave this homecoming trip with a trophy to take back to Knoxville. Bone has raised his game to a very high level this season, coinciding with the Volunteers raising their level as a team. He averages 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game but his impact goes beyond the numbers. His ability to break down a defense off the dribble makes things easier for everyone. Bone is the conductor for Tennessee, and they can be a well-oiled machine on offense at times. He also spearheads their defense with his on-ball pressure.
Early Round Game to Watch
Ole Miss Rebels vs Alabama Crimson Tide (Thursday 6pm)
The Rebels are an exciting team, with two of the leagues top seven scorers in Breein Tyree and Terrance Davis. When those two get hot they are must-see TV. Alabama is a wildly inconsistent team that needs to win a few games to help its chances on the bubble. They have lost three straight and six of eight overall. The two teams played in January when the Crimson Tide won at home 74-53. It will be interesting to see which Alabama team shows up and whether the Ole Miss scoring duo can get hot.
Team to Watch – Auburn Tigers
Bruce Pearl‘s team has finished the season strong winning its last four games. The Tigers are led by their explosive backcourt of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. Both players are averaging 15 points a game. They have been a constant for the Tigers for the last three seasons, but their most important player may be Chuma Okeke. The sophomore forward gives Auburn a sorely needed inside presence. He is averaging 15.7 points and 8 rebounds during the current win streak. They will open with the winner of Wednesday night’s game Missouri and Georgia. The fourth-seeded Gamecocks would await after that.
Wild Week in Nashville
The story lines will be aplenty next week at Bridgestone Arena. Can Vanderbilt finally win a game after going winless in league play? How will seniors like Chris Silva, Skylar Mays, and KeVaughn Allen perform in their final SEC tournament? Can South Carolina, Florida, or Alabama make a run and help their NCAA tournament chances? Will Kentucky reign supreme once again, or can the Volunteers or Tigers lift the trophy? The fun kicks off on Wednesday, and there should be no shortage of entertainment leading up to Sunday’s final.
Embed from Getty Images