Tournament Time: Who's Hot, Who's Not

A look at the Auburn Tigers and other teams around the league at the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament.

New Orleans, La.--After this weekend there are no more chances for Derrick Bird to win an invitation to The Big Dance.

Bird, a guard, and forward Marquis Daniels are Auburn's two senior starters. Both are being counted on heavily as the Tigers prepare for their postseason starting with the SEC Basketball Tournament.

Bird would like to make the Tigers a slam dunk of a pick for the NCAA Tournament by playing well in New Orleans.

While Daniels participated and played well in the NCAA Tournament as a true freshman for the Tigers, this is Bird's only opportunity to be a part of the show. To make that happen, Auburn's top defensive player is well aware that it would help his team's cause to defeat Tennessee on Friday night at the Louisiana Superdome.

Auburn, which is 19-10 overall and 8-8 in the SEC, is considered an NCAA Tournament bubble team by many. Tennessee, at 9-7 in the league and 17-10 overall, has a good chance to receive an NCAA Tournament bid, but is also considered a bubble team by some.

Derrick Bird

"I don't think right now we are getting the respect we need and deserve being in the best conference in the country," Bird says. "We are 8-8 and tied for second place on our side. If we come in here and get another win, that will definitely help us out. And, hopefully get some more respect."

Tennessee defeated Auburn by three points in the only regular season meeting between the two teams. Winning the rematch would be big for the Tigers as well as the Vols, Bird says. "I think that would help out, definitely, because they have beaten some good teams," he says. "They are just like us--close--right there on the bubble."

The Tigers and Volunteers both have byes in the opening round of play on Thursday at the Louisiana Superdome. They will be the last two teams to take the court in the four-day event when they tip it off at approximately 8:45 p.m. CST in a game scheduled to be televised regionally by JP Sports.

Marquis Daniels was named a second team All-SEC pick by the league's coaches.

Tennessee was originally the fourth seed from the SEC East, but the entire field was re-seeded when Georgia dropped out of the tournament. Instead of playing the winner of a first round game pitting Arkansas vs. Georgia, the Tigers face a Tennessee team that will be just as rested as Auburn. The winner of the Tigers vs. Vols showdown moves into the semi-finals on Saturday where the likely opponent is No. 1 seed Kentucky.

After losing a chance to win the SEC West in the regular season finale at Mississippi State, Bird knows that a second straight loss on Friday means trouble for his postseason dreams. He wants to see his team come out in an attacking mode vs. the Vols with everybody on his team having "win, win, win on their mind."

Looking at the 11 teams participating in this year's tournament, here is a brief overview of each:

Alabama (7-9, 17-10)--With four starters back plus four other lettermen from a 27-8 team, Coach Mark Gottfried has some explaining to do about what happened this season. Right now he is busy explaining to anyone who will listen why a team that lost two more conference games than it won deserves an NCAA Tournament bid.

Arkansas (4-14, 9-18)-- The Razorbacks were expected to struggle at times with just two starters back and a new coaching staff in place following the soap era style ugly end of the Nolan Richardson Era in Fayetteville. However, few thought there would be this much struggling going on.

Marquis Daniels is averaging 18.2 points per game for the Tigers.

Auburn (8-8, 19-10)-- After running out to a 4-0 start in league play, the Tigers haven't done enough since to assure themselves an invitation into the 65-team NCAA Tournament field. In the words of Al Davis of Oakland Raiders fame, it is time for the Tigers to "Just win, baby," if they want to see their name called on Selection Sunday.

Florida (12-4, 24-6)-- Billy Donovan has done an impressive job of blending in young talent with three returning starters. If anyone at this tournament can knock off the white-hot Wildcats of Kentucky, it is probably the Gators, who look like a potential NCAA Tournament two-seed if they have a good showing in New Orleans.

LSU (8-8, 19-9)--It's hard to like the Bayou Bengals with Coach John Brady running the show, but the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee might like his team considering that LSU closed the regular season with five consecutive wins. Having a notch in the belt for taking down the toughest gun in the West, No. 1 ranked Arizona earlier this year, should help LSU's cause, too.

Kentucky (16-0, 26-3)-- Although it is difficult to comprehend, there was heavy criticism of Wildcat coach Tubby Smith earlier this season by UK fans. A 16-0 run through the SEC, which included style points for looking extra good while doing it, has quieted the dissent and made it look silly. This team has the look of an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed.

Mississippi State (9-7, 19-8)-- The Bulldogs overcame a very slow start in conference play to win the SEC West with the help of a fade down the stretch by the Auburn Tigers. As expected in preseason, the Bulldogs are a lock for an NCAA bid. With Georgia home watching on TV MSU is the best bet for a darkhorse winner at the SEC Tournament.

Ole Miss (4-12, 13-14)-- Missing only pint-size point guard Jason Harrison from last year's 20-win NCAA Tournament team, one of the biggest mysteries in the SEC is what happened to the Rebels? This team looked like a strong threat to finish near the top of the league standings, but never really meshed during conference play.

South Carolina (5-11, 12-15)-- The big news on the basketball front in Columbia was the move into the new 18,000-seat Carolina Center. Despite returning capable starters Chuck Eidson, Rolando Howell and Tony Kitchings plus key reserves, the Gamecocks are 10 wins shy of last season's total and need to run the table in New Orleans to play any more basketball this season.

Tennessee (9-7, 17-10)-- UT's winning conference record should be enough to earn an NCAA invitation for a team that returned just two starters from a 15-16 club, but a win over Auburn in New Orleans would make that a surer thing. The Volunteers will have to defeat the Tigers a man short with starting guard Jon Higgins academically ineligible for the tournament.

Vanderbilt (3-13, 10-17)-- Coach Kevin Stallings brought an impressive resume to the Music City from a successful run at Illinois State, but there has been little Memorial Magic for the Commodores since he arrived four seasons ago. Vandy wasn't expected to be a national power this year, but with talented Matt Freije and two other starters back the Commodores weren't expected to be arriving in New Orleans with just 10 total wins.

Looking at the matchups for this year's event:

First Round

*Ole Miss vs. South Carolina, noon Thursday.

*Arkansas vs. LSU, 2:15 p.m. Thursday

*Vanderbilt vs. Alabama, 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Second Round

*Ole Miss/South Carolina winner vs. Mississippi State, noon

*Arkansas/LSU winner vs. Florida, 2:15 p.m.

*Vanderbilt/Alabama winner vs. Kentucky 6:30 p.m.

*Tennessee vs. Auburn, 8:45 p.m.



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