While the men of the SEC have one more week of conference play, the women's basketball season ended on Sunday. The next-and final-step in SEC play is the SEC Tournament. If you haven't been following the Lady Volunteers closely this year, first off shame on you. Secondly, you probably have questions. We have answers.
When and where is this? March 4th to the 8th in Little Rock, Arkansas, which I assume counts as a neutral site since Tennessee fans turned Nashville into Knoxville West last year.
Who are the favorites? In order: South Carolina, Tennessee, [nullset]. The only two losses by either team this season were Tennessee's loss to South Carolina in Columbia and South Carolina's mostly-dead-rubber loss in Lexington that gave Tennessee a split regular season title.. Everyone else has at least five losses and ...well, let's just say they're underdogs against the top two teams. South Carolina's the 1 seed, if you weren't able to figure that out.
How many of these teams could beat Baylor? Based on Baylor's struggles against Top 20 RPI teams, three: South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, who-hey, lookit that-already did.
So why isn't Kentucky a favorite? Well, they're 2-3 in their last five games, which doesn't bode well. Losing in Knoxville is understandable. Losing at home by twelve to midrange specialist Texas A&M and losing by eight in Oxford are less so, even if they do have "only team to beat South Carolina in-conference" in their ledger. But: yeah, they could do it.
Let's talk NCAAs. Who's in? Right now, seven teams are in:
1. South Carolina, who's a 1 seed unless something weird and/or stupid happens.
2. Tennessee, who comes in as a 2 seed, flipping with Maryland in a who-really-cares thanks to Baylor losing two of their last three conference games.
3. Kentucky, who should host a mini-regional thanks to their win over South Carolina (but it was in danger for a while).
4. Texas A&M, who are basically Bizarro World Kentucky, but they're also suffering a key injury which might impact their seeding. They recently lost to Missouri at home and closed with a loss at LSU, so they're not going in the right direction.
5. Mississippi State, casually chilling out in the 4-5 seed range, which sounds right.
6. LSU, who did a lot for themselves with their win over Texas A&M but need to repeat it in the quarters to really feel safe. They're probably okay with a loss in the quarters, but that depends on who the loss was to and what happens in other conferences and you kind of hate to be in that spot.
7. Arkansas, sitting at 6-10 in conference but with a strong RPI.
Wait, you forgot Georgia. Georgia's just happy to not be playing on Wednesday, closing conference play on a 1-8 run after Shacobia Barbee went down with a season-ending injury. I didn't forget them. I might have forgotten Ole Miss, currently the third-hottest team in the league, but since their RPI is pushing 100, that likely means they're toast unless they can make a finals run (which would include at least a win over a top-5 RPI squad). The Rebels are looking really strong, closing with wins over Kentucky and LSU (although they got stymied by Mississippi State), and look to be a tough draw. However, next year's probably their year.
So is Ole Miss going to be good enough that Baylor will drop them from their out-of-conference schedule? Hey, you're learning!
Are you done making fun of Baylor yet? Nope!
You pretty much glossed over Arkansas. Yeah, that's because they're ....there. Their only conference win of note was against LSU, although they did beat Iowa in the non-conference. The only thing you'll likely know about them is ex-ESPN voice of the SEC Jimmy Dykes is behind their bench. They're also the only team in the SEC shallower than Tennessee.
Has the state of Alabama figured out basketball yet? Nope! They're 3-25 against conference teams outside the state, with wins over Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Georgia. (See? Told you I didn't forget Georgia.)
Why should I watch on Wednesday? You're a glutton for punishment? All of these teams are messes, but Vanderbilt and Florida at least have some plausible deniability. I'd say they'll win with easy, but, well, see the last question you asked.
Why should I watch on Thursday? Georgia vs. Actually Being Able To Win A Game is at least kind of entertaining if you enjoy watching teams struggle. Beyond that, there are some good teams on tap-Arkansas and Ole Miss should be fun at least, as well as Texas A&M and a surging Kentucky squad. I wouldn't block out your schedule for any of these teams, but if you're around a TV they're worth a watch.
How many of the teams playing on Thursday would Baylor duck in out-of-conference scheduling? Putting Kentucky aside (although since they've lost two in a row against them, that's probably the end of that series), I'd put the mark at two other teams: Ole Miss and Texas A&M. They would totally schedule Georgia, because that's the kind of win that looks like a bigger deal than it is these days. Heck, I'd schedule Georgia if I was Baylor's AD.
Who's Tennessee going to face? In order of likelihood: Arkansas or Georgia(!!) on Friday at 6 PM CST (on SECN), [3 vs 6 winner] on Saturday at about 7 PM CST, and South Carolina on Sunday at 2:30 PM CST.
Wait, hang on. Tennessee-Kentucky again? There's a decent chance, in which case they're probably going to replay Isabelle Harrison's injury again. DO NOT WATCH THIS.
You're awfully dismissive of anyone who isn't South Carolina. Well, yes-again, are you new here?-but if a Tennessee squad lacking Isabelle Harrison was still able to beat Kentucky at a canter, they're probably okay to win a couple of games. Kentucky was able to stop South Carolina, but I don't know if they can do it two times running. Meanwhile, South Carolina still has more talent and depth than most teams. The only thing stopping them until the final is their utter lack of three point shooting, and only Tennessee and Kentucky-of which they'll only face one-might be able to take them out of the post.
Anyone else you want to make fun of? Texas A&M is rocking this weird midrange game that was all the rage before people figured out that midrange games aren't particularly efficient. Second-leading scorer Courtney Williams has the kind of shot selection and touch that makes Meighan Simmons look efficient (Courtney Walker: good), and Jordan Jones is out for the season.
Meanwhile, Nikki Caldwell is running Tennessee Lite at LSU, which is what happens when you have defense and even less of a plan on offense than Tennessee playing on the road in January.
In case you think LSU has half court offense figured out and you want even less of a semblance of half court offense, Kentucky's half court offense is basically hoping Makalya Epps and Jennifer O'Neill do stuff. (In fairness, Epps is really talented and will give opponents fits.)
Florida lost to Savannah State in the non-conference, which isn't me making fun of them. It actually happened.
I'd make fun of South Carolina, but I'd be maimed within the hour for one and they're really good and fun to watch for two. Would've been nice to see them beat UConn since Geno's still scared of Knoxville, he said from his glass house.
What's the most likely upset? Georgia vs. offensive competence, with a secondary nod to Baylor vs. Top-25 RPI team and yes, Baylor winning would be the upset.
Don't get cute. Fine. I'd like Ole Miss's chances to spring an upset, except they're locked in to face either one of Tennessee or South Carolina in the quarterfinals. They could upset Tennessee and it wouldn't be the biggest surprise, but any of the 3-6 seeds can beat each other, so if you want bracket chaos, look there. If Georgia springs the upset against offensive competence, watching them make a run would be hilarious (until they beat Tennessee, which would be annoying).
Who's making the final? For those of you who haven't figured this out yet: South Carolina and Tennessee, with Kentucky as your third favorite.
Who's winning the tournament? South Carolina, probably. Tennessee's literally down a starting lineup (Jannah Tucker, Jasmine Jones, Diamond DeShields, Isabelle Harrison, Mercedes Russell), and in a three-games-in-three-days scenario the lack of depth is going to be a problem at some point. This isn't a knock on Tennessee-Jones, Harrison, and Russell all went down with season-ending injuries-as much as it is a fact of life. Kentucky pretty much has to play their game of the season a week after their old game of the season.
So how does Tennessee secure a 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament? Rooting for a Maryland loss, while ugly, could be effective. Iowa's ranked in the top 20 and has a strong RPI, while the Big Ten has five teams around the 30s in RPI. Rooting for a Baylor loss is way more fun, but would involve them dropping a game to some team around 20 in the RPI or worse, not that they haven't been doing that lately.
If neither of those happens, making the finals should be enough, especially if they can somehow pick up another win against Kentucky or Mississippi State along the way. A Missouri-MSU-South Carolina final is the most realistic worst-case RPI scenario.
Of course, winning the SEC Tournament locks up a 1 seed, but y'all knew that already.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
Hey, whatever happened to the Vanderbilt Whistler? Like most Vanderbilt fans when things get rough, I assume the Vanderbilt Whistler will be showing up to Little Rock in Tennessee orange, hopefully not whistling.
How many SEC teams actually deserve to be in the tournament? Six, probably. I'm not the biggest fan of Arkansas' profile, where the marquee win appears to be Iowa (a team I admittedly know very little about). Given the ability to make hay against a lot of good teams in the SEC this year, their only win against the top 6 was at home vs. LSU. They pair those with some ugly losses (pulling off the Vanderbilt/Florida/Missouri trifecta), so they're basically riding off a tough schedule and hoping for the best. I'd like to see more. (Incidentally, this is actually the exact same argument I'd make against Baylor-not much going on, but riding a strong conference RPI-just at a different scale.)
Best tie game in the SEC? Embarrassing confession alert: I have no idea. I'm gonna go with Matthew Mitchell (who needs to dress well to draw attention away from the hideous part leading to his bald spot) and/or Rick Insell of Mississippi State based on a sample size of two. Andy Landers and Gary Blair wear ties like a middle manager on the last job before he retires.
Pick one new commentator for SEC women's basketball next year. I'd go out-of-sport here intentionally, pegging either Gary Thorne because he needs something to do other than call Orioles games or Pierre McGuire because I'm curious how much creepier he could actually get.
What teams are bringing the fans? In estimated likelihood: Tennessee, Kentucky, then South Carolina, who brought it for home games this year. Arkansas is a pretty obvious third, but I swear, I know nothing about either them or Missouri this year. Incidentally, South Carolina also led the SEC in average attendance for home games this year (I think, either that or ESPN was lying to all of us) so full marks to them.