If you’re a favorite, you have to be loving how the 2023 SEC Basketball Tournament is panning out so far.
It’s not just chalk-heavy, it is almost 100% upset free. There were some minor hiccups in the Sad Wednesday games, but elsewise Seeds 1-6 and 8 have all advanced to the quarterfinals unscathed. And even the “upset,” 10-seed Arkansas over 7-seed Auburn, was a product of scheduling mathematics: Arkansas played a much more difficult schedule and was on the bad-end of tiebreakers. Vegas didn’t have the Barn favored; no one who knew basketball did either.
The right teams advanced because the better teams advanced. If you’re Alabama you can see that as a nice omen, or curse the gods for a difficult road ahead…probably a bit of both.
ROUND ONE RECAP
No. 3 Tennessee struggled a bit against upstart No. 13 Ole Miss, who had played three good halves of basketball in the tourney. But the bad half? It was really bad. The Rebels defense collapsed, and the Vols ball movement and rebounding smoked them down the stretch. For a half, however, all of those dreaded cracks were showing in UT’s armor without Zeigler. A team can and will exploit that at some point. Both Alabama and Mizzou have the shooters to do so (though I’m not certain that Missouri has the defense to pull it off).
No. 8 Mississippi State was leagues better than No. 9 Florida for about 30 minutes. Then, Florida got within striking range — even took a lead — and had a chance to win…but neither team could hit a shot from 3 feet to save their life. That almost certainly means the Bulldogs will knock down 80% of their jumpers vs. ‘Bama — because that’s just how fate treats us. The Bulldogs have probably punched their dance ticket with that neutral win over NET 60 Florida. The Gators are almost certainly NIT-bound now. But their loss opens the door to one of the year’s best stories: The second-half Commodores. Give that bubble bid to Vanderbilt, cowards!
No. 10 Arkansas was mortal offensively — that’s been a facet of their offense all year. So too has their big dumb mistakes. Which were everywhere. But even on a night when nothing was falling from the perimeter, they looked every bit the PITA we feared. The Hogs were relentless attacking the glass, foul-hungry, and looked like a scarlet swarm devouring the hapless No. 7 Tigers. Because Arkansas is so sloppy and dumb, Barn kept it respectable, and stormed back with the chance for a game-winner at the buzzer. CLANK. It was an ugly, choppy game as expected, with a lot of whining — the teams had combined for 40 free throws in just 30 minutes — but Arkansas is just plain better, seeding be damned. They’re going to give Aggie fits…if they can put together 40 smart minutes of basketball. That’s always a dicey proposition for this team, which again, is gritty and dumb in equal measure
No. 6 Vanderbilt got some very good news before their contest even started. UVA bounced the Tarheels, and that team is almost 100% guaranteed to be NIT-bound now.
As for the game, good adjustments by Stackhouse — without Liam Robbins, the Tigers were probably going to be the better interior team…so he let them be. Vandy started three guards, went small ball, and focused on high ball screens, PnR, and dribble-drive penetration. Defensively they made life hell for LSU’s defenders, who were a step slow and often reduced to hacking on the way to the basket. Not pretty, but smart: Vandy hit the stripe 30 times.
You can’t convince me that as of March 10, 2023 this is not an NCAA team. Stackhouse is already well respected by his peers for his Xs & O; it was the program-building and player buy-in that no one fully was sold on. This could be a rising power in the East in the near-term if he gets the talent and has the early seasons yips and roster management worked out.
Here is today’s bracket and schedule:
- Game 7: Alabama / Game 3 winner, noon (ESPN)
- Game 8: Missouri / Game 4 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
- Game 9: Texas A&M / Game 5 winner, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
- Game 10: Kentucky / Game 6 winner, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
TL; DR PREVIEW
No. 1 Alabama vs No. 8 Mississippi State. Parker has your preview on the main page today. Suffice it to say, Alabama has waged two wars against the aggressive Bulldogs already this year, and I would expect nothing different in the third matchup. The ‘Dogs won’t quit, and they make life miserable every trip down the floor. Can Alabama avoid the last few weeks of slow starts and a shooting slump?
Who ya’ got?
Alabama, in another close physical meeting between these two.
MSU, the Tide’s shooting is still suspect, and the Bulldogs can do just enough to squeeze out an intense defensive win
Too close to call
138 votes total
No 10. Arkansas vs. No. 2 Texas A&M. Contrast in styles here. The Hogs turn it over a bunch, foul a bunch, and fly up and down the court. The Aggies want to make the game more deliberative, while also being physical. Not the best shooting team, but one of the more careful ones out there, A&M doesn’t beat themselves; you have to do it yourself. Problem for A&M is that has not been terribly difficult for opponents to do away from Reed Center. How much gas does Arkansas have left in the tank though? They were in an intense, physical war last night against a similar team…and now are staring down another.
Who ya’ got?
Big, dumb Arkansas athleticism finds a way, no matter how many times they try to give the game away.
Texas A&M doesn’t beat itself. Aggie will play safe, and take advantage of too many Arkansas miscues.
Too close to call.
138 votes total
No. 4 Missouri vs. No. 5 Tennessee. The Vols were very vulnerable yesterday to an athletic Ole Miss team that matched their intensity on the boards and exploited the Vols lack of Zeigler. For 20 minutes. The Rebels were never going to win, but it gave teams a blueprint for handling the wounded Vols. If the Tigers can play a little defense, they have the shooters to pull this off.
Who ya’ got?
Tennessee’s patient, efficient offense proves too much for Mizzou to overcome, and the Tigers struggle to consistently score against the Vols.
Mizzou can live with their mistakes, so they’ll keep their foot on the gas and dare UT’s thin front court to match them.
Too close to call. And it may even depend on how the game is officiated.
137 votes total
No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 6 Vanderbilt. The ‘Dores were able to ride out Liam’s injury in Rupp, but now the ‘Cats have had a full week to scheme ways to attack an undersized VU interior. If Kentucky gets to dominate the interior — and there’s no reason to think they won’t — then Vandy’s gameplan once again mirrors last night’s: high screens, screen and roll, drive to the rim. Will it work? It could. But VU has no one to match Oscar defensively, much less what he does in the rebounding department. If the Cats’ guards play even marginal defense, UK can probably bully Vanderbilt and advance with a post-heavy game.
Who ya’ got?
Vanderbilt. The Dores find a way. Somehow. Again.
Kentucky. Calipari doesn’t even wake up every year until this tournament starts. Superior athleticism and size gets it done.
Too close to call
144 votes total