Up first is our Week 7 ballot - we're saving the commentary for our roundtable questions this week, as RTT joins the other voting sites in answering six year-end questions - we encourage your answers as well in the comments:
Week 7 Ballot (Overall Record - SEC Record - RPI)
1. Florida (21-5 - 10-2 - 13)
2. Vanderbilt (20-6 - 8-4 - 16)
3. Alabama (18-8 - 10-2 - 77)
4. Kentucky (19-7 - 7-5 - 17)
5. Georgia (18-8 - 7-5 - 38)
6. Tennessee (16-11 - 6-6 - 32)
7. Arkansas (16-10 - 5-7 - 114)
8. Mississippi State (14-12 - 6-6 - 132)
9. Ole Miss (17-10 - 5-7 - 70)
10. South Carolina (13-12 - 4-8 - 123)
11. LSU (10-17 - 2-10 - 223)
12. Auburn (8-17 - 2-10 - 271)
Which teams are locks, probables, and bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament? Why?
Probable: Vanderbilt, Kentucky
Bubble: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee
I'm defining "lock" as "even if they lost the rest of their games, they'd still be in." That's definitely true for Florida, and is almost true for Vanderbilt. Kentucky should get there, it's just that none of their remaining games are gimmies and they can't win on the road. If that continues and they take losses in Fayetteville and Knoxville, it's also certainly not crazy to think that Florida and Vanderbilt could beat them at Rupp. Are they going to lose all four of those games? I doubt it...but if they did, they'd be 19-11 and under .500 in the SEC. They might dance anyway thanks to the name on the front of the jersey, but it'd get a little tight in Lexington and Atlanta.
I really typed all of that to distract myself from the tension that's already hanging around in Knoxville. Bruce Pearl will try to spin a trip to Nashville as an opportunity, but it's about the last thing in the world this team needs right now. I think all three of these bubble teams need to finish 3-1 to feel safe.What is the story of the year in the SEC?
It's us. Again.
I take no great pleasure in it, but Tennessee has been the most interesting story all year, from the 7-0 start to the losses in December to the unprecedented suspension and return for Pearl to the string of to-the-wire games. Even we have no idea what we're going to get from the Vols each night, we just know it's going to be dramatic. You'll see a great freshman, you'll see Scotty Hopson dunk on somebody, and you'll see us take a 30 footer on the final possession when we're only down one. Maybe Bruce Pearl will survive, maybe he won't. We live to entertain. I guarantee you Bruce Pearl leads the nation in ESPN graphic packages. Look, a timeline!
Also, part of this is the fact that the other major stories in the SEC feel like repeats. Kentucky plays freshmen? Seen it. Florida has five really great players in their starting lineup? Seen it. And both of the previous versions were better. I'd put Mississippi State's year behind the Vols as the season's most interesting story...so far.
Who is the SEC Player of the Year?
John Jenkins, Vanderbilt.
The Gators spread the wealth around too well to call one of their guys the POY, and though at least half a dozen players in this league have higher draft stock right now, Jenkins is clearly the guy. He leads the league in scoring at 19.9 per game, has hit double figures in every game this year, and in SEC play he's averaging 22.2 per game. He has the signature game against Kentucky to stand out, and shoots 42.3% from the arc. He's the guy.
Who is the SEC Coach of the Year?
Though Kevin Stallings deserves some credit, I think this has to be Anthony Grant. It's one thing to beat up on the SEC West. But Grant kept Alabama afloat and together when the Tide were 5-6 on December 18. They're 13-2 since then, with wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and a close loss at Vanderbilt. Their defense and hustle are outstanding - he gets more out of his guys than anybody in the league right now. They deserve a chance to be there in March, well before anybody thought Grant would get them on the dance floor. He's the real thing.
Which SEC team will go furthest in the NCAA Tournament?
No team has killed me in the office pool like Vanderbilt. And yet, here I come back to the well again.
If guard play wins in March, you have to like the Dores - Jenkins leads the league in points, Brad Tinsley leads the league in assists. And if you like teams on a roll, Vandy is certainly that right now.
They've simply got more punch than the Gators, who I think are a very safe bet to get to the Sweet 16, but I'm not sure they're talented enough to take down any of the higher seeds they'd see there. And you can only win so many close games; Florida has to be at or past their limit for the year already.
Kentucky is too young with less raw talent and swagger that carried them to the Elite Eight last year (by beating a 16, a 9, and a 12 seed - an opportunity they earned by getting a 1 seed, but still). And Tennessee's inconsistencies will make anyone doubt their ability to get past the first weekend. I don't think there are any Final Four teams in the league this year, but the team with the best puncher's chance is definitely Vanderbilt.
Could any team not currently in NCAA Tournament discussion win the SEC Tournament?
If Arkansas - who beat Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama, and lost to Georgia by one - can get the West #2 seed and a bye, I think they'll have a chance. They'd have to beat a good team right away on Friday, but if Rotnei Clark is on who knows. I think they're the only ones capable of even being considered for such a feat.