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In the SEC Tournament this week in Tampa, there are a number of teams that can create chaos, not just the top 4 seeds — Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Most people have high expectations for the Auburn Tigers, who won the regular season championship on Saturday. Bruce Pearl’s Tigers survived in Starkville and took care of South Carolina to wrap up the title. But if their streaky guard play shows up in Tampa, they might not make it to the finals.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what Auburn brings to this tournament. The Tigers, led by freshman Jabari Smith who averages 17.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, are dangerous. But if we get a bad shooting night from K.D Johnson or even Wendell Green Jr., then we may start to worry. Yes, Walker Kessler should dominate in the paint, but teams will try to take him out of the game. Auburn will face either Florida or Texas A&M on Friday, and I imagine they’d like a little revenge on the Gators.
Then there’s Tennessee. In a win against the Razorbacks, the Vols led by as much as 21 points. Rick Barnes and his squad finished undefeated at home this season, but did have a few bad days on the road. How will this play out for them in Tampa? I don’t think it’s cause for concern, especially if they can get consistent play from Kennedy Chandler, Santiago Vescovi, Zakai Zeigler, Josiah-Jordan James and even the emerging Brandon Huntley-Hatfield.
We’ve all seen what Kentucky can do when they are fully healthy. Coming off a nice win at Gainesville, the Wildcats are still looking for a consistent performance from TyTy Washington, who is still battling back from an ankle injury. But Oscar Tshiebwe has been making life miserable for opposing teams all season long, and I expect that to continue in the postseason. He dropped 27 points against the Gators and did receive help from Sahvir Wheeler and Kellan Grady. But if either of these guys have an off night, a player like Davion Mints will need to bring his best. The Cats are a team that worry me with perimeter shooting. They certainly could cut down the nets on Sunday.
The Razorbacks should also be taken seriously as a threat to win the tournament. For them, everything goes through JD Notae and Jaylin Williams. We all witnessed this past Saturday that they can be taken out of the game, either by foul trouble or bad shooting, so they need to play smart. Eric Musselman has gotten everything out of his team, so let’s see if they can put together a few good games in Tampa. If you were thinking of betting on the Hogs, you should be careful.
Which Teams Can Create Chaos?
I don’t think anyone can get a good read on Alabama this season. One minute they are knocking off a top 10 team, and the next minute they are getting destroyed by Texas A&M. They have so much talent with Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford leading them at the guard position. Even Keon Ellis is a threat. I know they’ve played shockingly bad at times this season, but I still think they could play on Sunday, if they get hot. If we get the same team that couldn’t hit a shot against the Aggies, then it will be a short trip to Florida. But, if the team that defeated Baylor shows up, prepare for an interesting matchup with Kentucky on Friday.
The LSU Tigers managed to sneak their way into the 5th seed with a win over Alabama this past Saturday. This squad, led by Tari Eason, Darius Days and Xavier Pinson, is capable of getting hot and grabbing three straight wins. They’ve got to be consistent at the guard position, especially Pinson, and they’ve also got to be aggressive on the boards. If Will Wade can get this group playing complementary basketball, they will be headed for a rematch with Arkansas on Friday. Now that’s a game that could turn some heads.
Finally, there’s something about the Florida Gators. Sure, they are coming off a home loss to Kentucky, but they have an impressive defensive ability. This is the same team that defeated Auburn a few weeks back, thanks to great perimeter defense and Colin Castleton causing problems in the paint. Tyree Appleby is good, especially at running this Florida offense. But Mike White will rely on him to get hot behind the arc and drive the basket, which he’s done well at times this season. I am not saying the Gators will make it to Sunday, but maybe they create chaos before then.
I don’t trust many other SEC teams to string together multiple games of consistent play, especially seeing how the regular season played out. But that doesn’t mean we won’t see a few upsets on Thursday and Friday.
It’s finally March Madness, and for the SEC, it starts in Tampa. So, let the games begin and the chaos ensue.