Pre-tourney SEC notebook

Heading into the start of the SEC post-season tournament, the Southeastern Conference clearly rates as the toughest basketball league in the nation.

  • The SEC ranks first in the nation in Non-Conference RPI, according to the latest poll by CollegeRPI.com, as of March 10.
  • The SEC ranks first in the Sagarin rankings by central mean and simple average, as of March 10.
  • As of March 10, the SEC boasts eight teams who have recorded 17 or more wins this season.
  • The Southeastern Conference leads the nation with six teams ranked in CollegeRPI.com's Top 40, as of March 10.
  • All 12 SEC teams are among the 60 toughest schedules in the country, according to CollegeRPI.com, as of March 10.
  • Every team in the SEC has made at least one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six editions of the "Big Dance," which shows the balance in the league over the past few seasons.
  • With an 108-32 (.771) non-conference record, the SEC looks to continue its annual success in out-of-conference play just as it has in the last 10 years.

Individual team notes

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Alabama will be the four seed in the West at the 2003 SEC Tournament, playing Vanderbilt on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Louisiana Superdome. The Tide and the Commodores played one another in Nashville on January 11. Vanderbilt won the game 70-69. Tide freshman Kennedy Winston got his first collegiate start in that game and ended it with 14 points, though Mo Williams was the Tide's scoring leader in that game with 23 points. The winner of Thursday night's game gets SEC Champion Kentucky on Friday night at 6:30. Kentucky won the regular season meeting against Alabama 63-46 on January 25th. Erwin Dudley's 10 rebounds at LSU on Saturday marked the 14th time this season he's collected 10 or more boards. He averages 15.0 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Tide, stats that lead the SEC in rebounding and rank 11th individually in scoring. Mo Williams averaged 19 points in three games last week with 16 against Ole Miss on March 2, 22 against USC on March 5 and 19 against LSU on March 8. Freshman Kennedy Winston completed his first regular season by scoring in double digits 10th time.

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS
Arkansas' 4-12 league finish is its worst since joining the SEC in 1992. Arkansas also went 8-8 at home this year, the worst mark for the Razorbacks since going 4-7 in 1986. Freshman Jonathon Modica, Arkansas' leading scorer most of the season, has been held to a combined five points in the last two games. Another freshman, Kendrick Davis, is averaging 12.8 points over the last five games. Arkansas out-rebounded opponents just three times all season. This year, Arkansas has out-boarded its opponents 17 times in 27 games. The Razorbacks have not scored more than 62 points in their last nine games, since the 81-70 home win over Alabama on Feb. 5. Due to an ongoing inquiry, Georgia has pulled out of postseason play, causing a revised bracket for this week's SEC Tournament at the Superdome in New Orleans, La. The Razorbacks will now play LSU at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday in a first round game. Arkansas had been scheduled to play Georgia, but after the Bulldogs withdrew, the tournament was re-seeded. The winner of the Arkansas-LSU game will play Florida at 2:15 p.m. on Friday. Arkansas and LSU split the season series.

AUBURN TIGERS
The Tigers are 20-22 (.476) in the SEC Tournament since its renewal in 1979. Overall, Auburn has a 24-39 (.381) mark in the tournament. Auburn's only SEC Tournament crown came in 1985 when the Tigers won four games in four days, marking the first team to accomplish that feat (Arkansas also did it in 2000) by defeating the Tigers in the championship game). Auburn has been the SEC Tournament runner-up twice (1984, 2000). Auburn has a 20-19 (.513) record in games in New Orleans, last playing in the Big Easy in the 1996 SEC Tournament, defeating Vanderbilt 68-65 in the first round while losing to eventual tournament champ and Final Four participant Mississippi State 69-58 in the quarterfinals. Auburn has a first round bye for the third time in the last five years. The Tigers were the No. 1 seed in the West in 1999, No. 2 seed in 2000 and are No. 2 this year. Auburn lost to the eventual tournament champion both of the previous times, to Kentucky in the 1999 semifinals and to Arkansas in the 2000 championship game. Auburn is 6-8 (.429) in SEC Tournament play under Cliff Ellis.

FLORIDA GATORS
Despite holding second-ranked Kentucky without a field goal over the final 6:50 of regulation, the Florida Gators' 20-game home winning streak came to an end when Anthony Roberson's shot fell short at the buzzer. The Gators went on an 11-0 run to cut a 66-54 lead to a point with just under two minutes to play, but would not get any closer. Matt Bonner scored 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting despite playing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. It was hit third straight game of 20-point game seventh on the season. David Lee had his fifth double-double of the season, scoring 13 points while adding 11 rebounds. The Gators dished out 20 assists and shot 52.8 percent from the floor for the game. The Gators fell in Athens for the first time since 1999, dropping a hard-fought 82-81 decision that came down to the final possession. It was the Gators' fifth and final Super Tuesday appearance of the season. Matt Bonner scored a team-high 24 points, including a basket with :24 seconds remaining to put the Gators on top before Georgia's Jarvis Hayes hit the eventual game-winner.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS
The University of Georgia has notified the Southeastern Conference that, due to an on-going investigation of its men's basketball program, it will not participate in the 2003 NCAA and SEC Men's Basketball Tournaments. In accordance with SEC rules and regulations, a team that is prohibited from playing in the NCAA Tournament is prohibited from playing in the SEC Tournament. Georgia finished the season at 19-8 overall, 11-5 in SEC games. For the first time ever, Georgia won at least 10 SEC games in consecutive years. 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, the league leader in Assist/Turnover Ratio all season, had its two lowest turnover totals of the season last week: 7 vs. Florida and 8 vs. South Carolina. Rashad Wright became the fourth player in UGA history to hand out 400 career assists. In the South Carolina game, he passed Vern Fleming to move into third place on the all-time assist list. No Georgia team has ever had five players with at least 60 assists. Georgia was 5-4 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 at game time.

KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Kentucky ended the 2003 SEC regular season with a 69-67 victory at Florida to sweep the league with an unblemished 16-0 record. The Wildcats are the second team to accomplish the feat in the last 47 years, joining their '96 UK predecessors with the historical achievement. Kentucky now enters SEC Tournament play with more wins (14) away from Rupp Arena, both road and neutral site games, than any other team in the nation. In addition, UK owns an 11-1 record against ranked opponents, the most ranked victories in the country, including four wins over top-10 teams this season. The Cats still own the nation's longest win streak at 20, the last loss coming on Dec. 28. Kentucky will attempt to win its 24th SEC Tournament title and secure the automatic bid for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. UK owns a first-round bye and will play Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET at the Louisiana Superdome against the winner of the Vanderbilt-Alabama game. UK has won more league tournament titles than all the other teams combined and since the SEC switched to its current format in 1992, the Wildcats have won eight of the 11 crowns.

LSU TIGERS
Tigers enter the SEC Tournament off five consecutive wins, including two on the road, after Saturday's win at home over Alabama. The Tigers finished 8-8 in the league, 5-5 in the division and 3-3 against the East. Coach John Brady won his 100th game as the head coach at LSU and Torris Bright, Ronald Dupree and Collis Temple III are one win away from 80 wins in their four-year career. Brad Bridgewater, who played four of the past five years, has 78 wins for his career. LSU had four players in double figures against Ole Miss, including a season high 22 points by Torris Bright, and five in double figures against Alabama. Ronald Dupree and Jaime Lloreda both had double doubles. Lloreda also had seven blocks against the Crimson Tide. In the SEC Tournament, the Tigers are 37-42 in the SEC Tournament, 16-22 since the renewal. LSU won the 1980 championship and in the last three years, LSU has a 4-3 record, advancing last year to the semifinals. LSU and Arkansas split games this season with each winning on its home floor.

OLE MISS REBELS
The Rebels will face South Carolina in the 1st round of the SEC Tournament Mar. 13 in New Orleans. The Gamecocks hold a 3-1 series edge when the two teams have played in the SEC Tournament. South Carolina won the last meeting between the 2 teams in the SEC Tournament, defeating Ole Miss 69-67 in the 2002 league tourney in Atlanta. The Gamecocks won the earlier meeting between the two teams, a 55-49 victory on Jan. 8 in Columbia. Ole Miss and South Carolina have met four previous times in the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks have won three of those encounters (1994, 1998, 2002). The Rebels' win came in 1999.The Gamecocks won the 1994 game 80-57 and the 1998 contest 87-77. The Rebels took the 1999 encounter by a 64-60 score, and South Carolina won the 2002 contest 69-67. Senior David Sanders posted the 2nd double-double of his career vs. Arkansas Mar. 8 with 23 points and 10 boards. Junior Justin Reed now has 1,224 career points. Justin Reed is only the 9th player in Ole Miss history to have 1,200 points and 550 rebounds. He has 1,224 points and 555 rebounds.

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Upon both claiming their first SEC Western Division crown and securing the team's first No. 1 seed for the SEC Tournament since their 1995-96 Final Four season, the Bulldogs will head to New Orleans this week looking to defend their league tournament title of a year ago. The Bulldogs are also aiming to defend their SEC Tournament championship of 1996, when Mississippi State captured the school's first-ever league tournament title during the only previous time that the conference tourney has been held at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. With a first-round bye, the Bulldogs will meet the winner of Thursday's opening-round contest between South Carolina and Mississippi at noon on Friday. In the only previous MSU-USC meeting in SEC Tournament play, the Gamecocks claimed a 69-62 first-round win over State at the 2001 league tourney in Nashville. The Bulldogs swept the Rebels during the regular season by a collective total of just five points. MSU and Ole Miss have never met in SEC Tournament competition through the years. Rick Stansbury enters the postseason needing just two more wins to become the fourth coach in school history to reach 100 wins.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Georgia and South Carolina went into overtime with No. 25 Georgia eventually coming out on top, 60-55. USC won the rebounding war, 49-42, but lost the game. USC is 20-2 under Odom when winning the rebounding war. USC was led by Chris Warren, who scored a team-high 14 points and tied a career high with four rebounds. Both Tony Kitchings and Rolando Howell had double-doubles. Kitchings, his first of the season, came with a season-high 13 rebounds and 10 points. Howell, putting up his second double-double of the year, had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Georgia's Jarvis Hayes and Steve Thomas also hit double-doubles. Chuck Eidson had six assists in the game -- it was the 10th game he had five or more assists. USC has advanced to the second round of the SEC Tournament three straight years - advancing to the semi-finals two of those years (2002 and 2000). Since joining the SEC in 1992, USC has advanced to the second round 7-of-11 times, including seven of the last nine years and to the semi-finals twice (2000, 2002) and the finals once (1998 - lost to Kentucky 58-86).

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Tennessee, the No. 3 seed in the SEC's Eastern Division by virtue of Georgia's withdrawal from the tournament, will meet Auburn, the second seed in the SEC West, in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament at 8:45 p.m. (CST) Friday, March 13, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, La. The Vols won their fifth in a row over the Tigers, 60-57, on Feb. 1 at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn, Ala. The Vols enter the conference tournament riding a two-game winning streak after defeating 23rd-ranked Mississippi State 59-49 and then winning at in-state rival Vanderbilt 70-65 last week. Ron Slay leads the Vols and the SEC with 21.6 points per game. C.J. Watson leads the SEC with 5.63 assists per game while also contributing 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds. Slay was named a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award on Monday. Slay is one of four SEC players on the list. Slay was also named to CollegeInsider.com's All-America team and was listed as the SEC Player of the Year. Watson was named to the Web Site's national All-Freshman team.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES
Vanderbilt closed out the regular season with a hard fought game against in-state rival Tennessee, coming up on the short end of a 70-65 decision Saturday in Nashville. Matt Freije led the Commodores with a game-high 25 points, which is the fourth-highest total of his career. He also tied three career highs against Tennessee, including made field goals (11), field goal attempts (22) and three-point attempts (11). Against Tennessee, sophomore Jason Holwerda scored nine points, including two three-pointers, grabbed five rebounds, dished out a team-high four assists and recorded a block and a steal in 28 minutes. Junior Scott Hundley was forced to sit out the Tennessee game after injuring his chest in practice earlier in the week. It is the first time in his career that Hundley has missed a game after appearing in the first 88 games as a Commodore. Vanderbilt now turns its attention to the SEC Tournament. The Commodores' all-time record in the SEC Tournament is 24-40 (.375), which ranks them ninth in winning percentage among the current members of the SEC. Vanderbilt's only tournament championship came in 1951 when they defeated Kentucky, 61-57, in Louisville, Ky.


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