SEC Champion and SEC Tournament Champion Kentucky makes its 12th straight NCAA Tournament appearance this year. Florida is making their fifth straight NCAA tourney. Alabama and Mississippi State are making their second straight appearances. Auburn and LSU rejoin the field of 65 for the first time since 2000.
NCAA Tournament ScheduleMIDWEST REGION
21st (Friday) * Nashville, Tenn. [CBS]
#1 Kentucky vs. #16 IUPUI 11:30 a.m. CT
21st (Friday) * Boston, Mass. [CBS]
#10 Alabama vs. #7 Indiana Game Time: 30 min. following 7:10 p.m. ET game
21st (Friday) * Birmingham, Ala [CBS]
#8 LSU vs. #9 Purdue Game Time: 30 min. following 11:30 a.m. CT game
21st (Friday) * Tampa, Fla. [CBS]
#2 Florida vs. #15 Sam Houston State Game Time: 30 min. following 7:10 p.m. ET game
21st (Friday) * Birmingham, Ala. [CBS]
#5 Mississippi State vs. #12 Butler Game Time: 30 min. following 6:20 p.m. CT game
21st (Friday) * Tampa, Fla. [CBS]
#10 Auburn vs. #7 St. Joseph's 12:25 p.m. ET
Team-by-Team NotesALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
The University of Alabama will be making its 16th NCAA tournament appearance since 1975 when the Crimson Tide travels to Boston, Mass., to play Indiana on Friday in the Midwest Regional. Game time is set for approximately 8:30 p.m. CT. The match-up is one made in media heaven as both teams will be coached by former University of Alabama basketball players as Tide coach Mark Gottfried played for the Tide (1984-87) as did Indiana head coach Mike Davis. Davis, a native of Fayette, Alabama, which is about 45 minutes from Tuscaloosa, played four seasons at Alabama (1980-81-82-83) for head first C.M. Newton (as a freshman) and then Wimp Sanderson (his sophomore through junior seasons). When Davis was a player at Alabama, the Tide advanced to the 1982 Sweet 16. Gottfried's teammates advanced to the NCAA tournament all three seasons he played at Alabama and advanced to the Sweet 16 all three seasons as well. Mo Williams led the Crimson Tide with 24 points in their 82-69 first round loss to Vanderbilt in the 2003 SEC Tournament in New Orleans, La.
Freshmen ended the season as the top three scorers for Arkansas. Jonathon Modica led the club with 11.5 points per game. Arkansas played 17 games against teams earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, winning four of those. UA's freshmen (Modica, Kendrick Davis, Eric Ferguson, Rashard Sullivan and Wen Mukubu) accounted for 1,033 of the team's 1,726 points (59.8 percent) and 398 of 1,063 rebounds (37.4 percent). Offensively, Arkansas averaged 61.6 points a game, its lowest total since 1967 when the Razorbacks scored 60.3 points in a 6-17 campaign. Defensively, the Razorbacks allowed just 66.5 points, the lowest total since 1988 when UA gave up 64.9 during a 21-9 season. Arkansas averaged 38.0 rebounds a game, its best since the 1998 team claimed 39.6 boards per game. UA's positive rebounding margin (+5.5) is its first since the 1994 national championship team had a plus 1.1 and is the best since the 1984 club had a plus 6.5. Arkansas had consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1971 and 1972 and consecutive seasons without advancing to post-season for the first time since 1975 and 1976.
Auburn, which is 10-7 (.588) in NCAA Tournament action, is making its third appearance in five years in the Big Dance. It is Auburn's eighth appearance overall in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers last appeared in the Big Dance in 2000. The furthest the Tigers have advanced is the Elite Eight when Auburn lost to eventual National Champion Louisville 84-76 in the NCAA West Regional Final in Houston. Auburn has won six-straight opening round games in the NCAA Tournament. Auburn is 3-2 in NCAA Tournament play under head coach Cliff Ellis. Auburn has advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past five years. The Tigers were the No. 1 seed in 1999 and reached the Sweet Sixteen, the No. 7 seed in 2000 and reached the second round and is the No. 10 seed in 2003. Auburn's schedule, which is ranked 27th nationally by Collegerpi.com, is ranked higher than 50 of the other 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament field. This is the second meeting between the Tigers and Hawks. Auburn defeated Saint Joseph's 66-64 Dec. 18, 1956, in second round of the Carousel Tournament in Charlotte, N.C.
The University of Florida received an NCAA Tournament bid for a school record fifth consecutive year. The Gators will open in Tampa as the No. 2 seed in the South region, their highest seeding ever - they had previously been a No. 3 seed in both 1994 and 2001. The Gators open with Sam Houston State of the Southland Conference on Friday. Florida posted six wins over 2003 NCAA Tournament teams, including two over teams in the South Region. Florida is the only school to play in a New Year's Day Bowl game in football and make the NCAA Tournament in men's basketball each of the past five seasons. The appearance in Tampa is the Gators' third all-time NCAA appearance in the state of Florida. The Gators won a pair of games in Miami in 1994 to advance to the Final Four, while they fell in the opening round in Tallahassee in 1995. Florida head coach Billy Donovan owns an 8-4 record in NCAA Tournaments. With a win on Friday, the Gator senior class will be the first in school history to reach 100 wins during their four-year careers.
Georgia finished its season at 19-8 overall, 11-5 in SEC games. For the first time ever, Georgia won double-digit SEC games in consecutive seasons. For just the fifth time in the past 50 years, Georgia finished the season with single-digit losses. Georgia's schedule was ranked #1 nationally in difficulty for the second time in three seasons. Eight of its 11 non-conference opponents are playing in the postseason, including five NCAA Tournament teams. In all, 18 of Georgia's 27 games were against post-season teams. Ezra Williams ended his Georgia career with 1,349 career points, good enough for 14th place on UGA's career scoring list. Rashad Wright completed his junior season with 405 career assists, which ranks 3rd on Georgia's career list, just 61 behind all-time leader Litterial Green. Jarvis Hayes became Georgia's first two-time consensus All-SEC first-team pick since Dominique Wilkins in 1981-82. The Bulldogs' 11 league wins marks the program's highest total since the 1990 SEC championship season, when that team went 13-5 in conference play. Georgia was the league leader in Assist/Turnover Ratio all season. Georgia was 5-4 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 this season.
Keith Bogans was named MVP as he averaged 17.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg in the 2003 SEC Tournament, leading the Cats to their 24th league tournament crown while completing the first sweep of the league schedule and postseason tournament in 51 years. Marquis Estill also earned All-Tournament team honors. With the three wins, the Wildcats extended their nation's best win streak to 23 games. UK captured a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament for the eighth time since seedings began in 1979, the first time at UK since 1997. Kentucky will battle Mid-Continent Conference Champ IUPUI on Friday in Nashville to open its NCAA-record 44th tournament appearance. The Cats and Jaguars have never played. UK has an 89-38 NCAA Tournament record and is making its 12th straight tournament appearance. The Cats have played 10 teams in the NCAA field this season, and own a 11-2 record against those teams. Kentucky finished the season No. 1 in the final AP poll this week. It marks the first time since 1978 for the Wildcats and the eighth time overall, tying UCLA for the most No. 1 finishes.
The Tigers advanced to the semifinals for the second straight year before losing to Mississippi State. In the process, LSU defeated No. 7 Florida, 65-61, in the quarterfinals, marking the third top 10 team LSU has beaten this season. That ties the 1981 Final Four team as the only other LSU team to knock off three top 10s in a season. LSU gets its 17th NCAA Tournament berth, the second for Coach John Brady after reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2000. LSU is the only school in the SEC to have both its men and women's team in the tournament and have its football team participate in a bowl game this season. For Brad Bridgewater, Torris Bright, Ronald Dupree and Collis Temple, it will be their second NCAA Tournament appearance. LSU's first round opponent Purdue had their only meeting on the floor of the Maravich Assembly Center in the 1986 NCAA Tournament. The 11th-seeded Tigers beat Purdue in double overtime, 94-87, as LSU would go on to become the lowest seed ever to make the NCAA Final Four.
OLE MISS REBELS
The Rebels finished the 2002-03 season with a 14-15 record. This is the first year since 1995-96 that Ole Miss had a losing record and did not go to a postseason tournament. Despite the below .500 season, Ole Miss is still the winningest program in the SEC Western Division with 142 overall victories since 1996-97. The Rebels' 142 wins since 1996-97 are also the 3rd most among all SEC teams. Rod Barnes won his 100th game as the Rebel head coach when Ole Miss defeated South Carolina in the 1st round of the SEC Tournament. Barnes is only the 2nd coach in Rebel history to reach the milestone. The 2003 Rebel seniors finished their careers with 80 victories, the 3rd most by a senior class in Ole Miss history. Senior Derrick Allen finished his career with consecutive double-doubles in the SEC Tournament vs. South Carolina (10-16) and Mississippi State (11-15). The performances were his 4th and 5th career double-doubles, and the 16 boards vs. South Carolina tied a career high. Junior Aaron Harper hit 65 three-pointers in 2002-03, the 4th most for a single season in Ole Miss history. Harper holds the school record with 83.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
With a runner-up finish at the SEC Tournament, the 21-9 Bulldogs received the No. 5 seed in the East Regional bracket to be played in Birmingham. MSU will take on 12th-seeded Butler in Friday¹s opening round in a first-ever hardwood meeting between the two teams. The winner will advance to meet the Louisville-Austin Peay winner on Sunday. Having already posted a second-straight 20-win season for the first time since 1994-95 and 1995-96 and with back-to-back, 20-win campaigns for only the fourth time in school history, the Bulldogs are making successive NCAA Tournament appearances for only the second time in the school's history. This year marks State's sixth NCAA Tournament appearance and 11th all-time postseason tournament berth in school history. MSU's Rick Stansbury became the fourth basketball coach in school history to reach the century mark for career coaching victories. Senior Derrick Zimmerman needs one more win to tie Jay Walton (81 wins) in becoming the all-time winningest basketball player(s) in school history. With 509 career assists, Zimmerman also needs just two more assists to replace Al Perry as the school's all-time assists leader.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
South Carolina fell to Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament, 62-56. South Carolina never led. Ole Miss had three less field goals than South Carolina but made 18-of-20 at the foul line. The Gamecocks were 4-of-6. South Carolina ended their season at 12-16. A year ago, the Gamecocks made an improbable run to the SEC Tournament semifinals in Atlanta. South Carolina, which played in the NIT the last two years, hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1998. South Carolina had two chances to tie the game in the final two minutes. After Chris Warren hit a 3-pointer to pull the Gamecocks within 53-51, Carlos Powell stole the ball from Justin Reed during a scramble near midcourt. Powell missed an off-balance jumper at the side of the lane, and Reed made two free throws at the other end to give Ole Miss a four-point cushion. Mike Boynton sank a 3 to make it 55-54, but Ole Miss countered with a layin with 46 seconds left. South Carolina senior Chuck Eidson missed a jumper late and Ole Miss' Emmanuel Wade was fouled, making both free throws with 25 seconds to clinch the victory.
Tennessee made its fifth post-season appearance in the last six seasons when the Vols hosted the Georgetown Hoyas in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday, March 18. The Vols lost by 10 points to the Hoyas. The Vols made their 10th appearance in the NIT overall and their first since the 1996 season. Over the last six seasons Tennessee has made four NCAA Tournament appearances and one trip to the NIT. UT finished the season with a 17-12 overall record after posting a 9-7 mark in the SEC. Ron Slay led the Vols and the SEC with 21.4 points per game. C.J. Watson led the SEC with 5.61 assists per game while also contributing 9.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. Brandon Crump averaged 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Vanderbilt finished the 2002-03 season on a positive note as the Commodores defeated Alabama, 82-69, in the first round of the SEC Tournament before falling to eventual tournament champion Kentucky. The first-round victory was Vanderbilt's first SEC Tournament win since 2000. Igniting the Commodores' upset of Alabama was freshman Mario Moore, who scored a career-high 25 points on the strength of 6-of-8 shooting from three-point range. Moore followed that performance with 18 points against Kentucky, which eclipsed the regular-season high of 17 points that he scored at home against Kentucky. Matt Freije, who was named Second Team All-SEC by the SEC coaches and Third Team All-SEC by the Associated Press, scored 24 points versus Alabama and then 13 points against Kentucky. With his 37 points in the SEC Tournament, Freije finished the season by moving past Jeff Turner and Will Perdue into 19th place on Vanderbilt's career scoring list with 1,284 career points. Freije ended the season by scoring at least 20 points in nine of the final 14 games and was Vanderbilt's leading scorer with 17.9 points per contest.