SEC Tournament Preview

The 2015 SEC Tournament takes center stage in the Music City this week, beginning with two games Wednesday night and running through the championship game at noon on Selection Sunday.

Scout will have complete coverage of the tournament all week long. But before the first jump ball is tossed at halfcourt in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, get ready for the action with game schedules and outlooks on all 14 teams from the publishers and experts that know them best.

CLICK HERE for the full SEC Tournament bracket from the conference's website.
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Mississippi State Outlook

Mississippi State had a disappointing regular season but ended the campaign on a positive note by defeating Missouri 52-43 on MSU's Senior Day. They go into the SEC Tournament as the No. 12 seed and play No. 13 seed Auburn Wednesday night.

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The Bulldogs defeated Auburn 78-71 on the Plains earlier in the season and hope to do the same in the tournament. Going into the tourney, Mississippi State is led in scoring by junior shooting guard Craig Sword, who is averaging 11.0 points per game. In the last three games he has been on a tear, scoring 20.3 points per game and shooting 7-of 11-from the 3-point line.

Mississippi State is hoping Sword can continue that pace and help lead Mississippi State to a successful SEC Tournament appearance. If State gets past Auburn Wednesday night, they will face No. 5 seed Texas A&M Thursday at approximately 2:30 p.m.

Earlier in the year, Mississippi State lost to Texas A&M 74-70 at Texas A&M.

- Gene Swindoll, GenesPage.com

Auburn Outlook

An Auburn team that started the season short on talent and depth will finish it more depleted when it arrives in Nashville.

The big plus for the Tigers is they feature the SEC’s top scorer and three-point shooter, senior guard K.T. Harrell, who is averaging 18.1 points per game. Coach Bruce Pearl is lobbying hard for the senior to earn first-team all-conference status.

Pearl is short on offensive firepower, a problem that has been compounded by the loss of guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen to injuries. The sophomore guard is also the team’s best defender.

With the team’s second-leading scorer (Antoine Mason, 15.0 points per game) missing practice and games the last month of the season while spending time with his father, former NBA star Anthony Mason who died last week, the Tigers have been even more challenged to score. Mason rejoined the team for Monday's practice and will play in the tournament.

Cinmeon Bowers, a six-foot-six forward who has led the SEC in rebounding most of the season, has been in a slump and will need to play closer to peak level for Auburn to defeat Mississippi State in Nashville.

For the Tigers to do more than one-and-done they will need solid performances from junior forward Jordon Granger and senior guard K.C. Ross-Miller, who have had up-and-down performances this season.

- Mark Murphy, AUTigers.com

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South Carolina Outlook

South Carolina will have to win at least one game to be eligible for the postseason, and for head coach Frank Martin to avoid his third losing season in a row to start his tenure in Columbia. The Gamecocks have proved that they can beat NCAA-bound teams. South Carolina knocked off Georgia twice and Iowa State on a neutral floor during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

But the Gamecocks have struggled to consistently win in SEC play. Carolina will tip off the SEC Tournament Wednesday night versus league cellar dweller Missouri and will have to win five games in five days to get to the NCAA Tournament. That seems like too much to ask from a program that has only won six SEC games all season. Finding a way to the NITs is more attainable but would still require multiple wins in Nashville.

Prediction: The Gamecocks beat Missouri Wednesday night then lose to hungry Ole Miss on Thursday, ending the season for Martin & Co.

- Dean Legge, GamecockAnthem.com

Missouri Outlook

Year one under Kim Anderson was expected to be rough, with the Columbia-based Tigers having graduated a lot of talent from the previous edition of Mizzou basketball, but no one expected the kind of spiral that results in a 3-15 league record and a 29.0% winning percentage overall.

Heading to Nashville, Missouri is bringing up the rear in the SEC. The Tigers do possess wins over LSU and Florida, but the problem is they dropped 13 straight decisions between those triumphs. Mizzou squared off against first-round opponent South Carolina only once in the regular season, 65-60 in the Palmetto State on Feb. 10.

There’s not much to be optimistic about when it comes to the Tigers’ trip to the Music City. At 9-22 overall Missouri is nowhere near qualifying for postseason play. Should the Tigers find a way to trip up the Gamecocks, their second-round game would be the nightcap Thursday against sixth-seeded Ole Miss, which pummeled Missouri by 20 in the Show Me State in the only meeting between the two this season.

- Ben Love, Scout.com

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Florida Outlook

This season hasn’t gone the way Florida expected. One year after reaching the Final Four, the Gators knew there would be some bumps in the road after replacing four starters from last year’s team. They just didn’t know there would be this many. Florida stumbled through the non-conference portion of its schedule and things didn’t get much better in the Southeastern Conference games.

There are plenty of reasons it has gone wrong. Multiple players – including former five-star recruits Kasey Hill and Chris Walker – haven’t developed as needed for Florida to continue playing at a high level. The injury bug has also hurt Florida at different times, but the bottom line is the Gators simply aren’t as talented as most expected them to be.

When Florida plays well, it’s because of forward Dorian Finney-Smith and guard Michael Frazier. The duo is averaging 25.9 points per game and can impact the game in multiple ways.

The Gators open the SEC Tournament against Alabama, a team they beat 52-50 in the first meeting. Florida should be able to get by the Crimson Tide before likely suffering a third loss of the year to Kentucky in the second round.

- Cody Jones, FightinGators.com

Alabama Outlook

There are a number of “good news, bad news” scenarios at play for Coach Anthony Grant’s Alabama basketball team as the Crimson Tide enters the SEC Tournament. Certainly, Bama is coming in with a good feeling, having finished regular season play with a big comeback victory over Texas A&M in College Station.

From that standpoint, it may be good news that Alabama is playing away from home. The Crimson Tide managed only a 4-5 SEC record in Coleman Coliseum, while posting the same 4-5 record in SEC road games.

Bama isn’t going far in the SEC tournament. The team is without two regulars, starting point guard Ricky Tarrant and forward Shannon Hale, both lost for the year with injuries. Although Levi Randolph has had a solid season for Alabama, the rest of the team has been inconsistent.

The SEC tourney schedule hardly works well. Grant, once a valued assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida, has never beaten his mentor. This year’s game was a 52-50 Gator win in Tuscaloosa. Florida has won 10 consecutive games against Alabama, all with Grant as Bama’s coach.

Win this game, and the prize is a third game of the season against Kentucky. Alabama may be an NIT team, and that’s about all that could be at stake for the Tide against Florida.

- Kirk McNair, BamaMag.com

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Texas A&M Outlook

The Aggies have entered a freefall over the last two weeks, losing three of four and spiraling from a position of strength at 10-4 in league play. Texas A&M finished at 11-7 in the SEC, at the mercy of a four-way tiebreaker which yielded a five seed for the maroon and white. Had A&M won any of the three games it lost late, Billy Kennedy’s team would be the three-seed with a double bye and a clear path to the NCAA Tournament.

As thing stand the Aggies must play Thursday against the Mississippi State-Auburn winner, and there’s work to be done to assure a berth in the Big Dance. Texas A&M is in danger of being the odd-man-out in the SEC should only five teams get into the NCAAs.

Not helping matters is a recent injury to leading scorer Danuel House. The transfer guard from Houston suffered a foot injury in the midweek, keeping him out of Texas A&M’s game Saturday versus Alabama. Without House, the Aggies blew a 14-point halftime lead, falling 61-60 to the Tide.

Prediction: House will return as Texas A&M’s season is on the line, and the Aggies will win Thursday but lose Friday to an LSU team that wants payback. And that will make everyone in College Station generate a lot of flop-sweat come Selection Sunday.

- Ben Love, Scout.com

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Vanderbilt Outlook

Vanderbilt's season will be remembered as a success no matter what happens at the SEC Tournament. Why? This team grew up. Players developed within the course of the season. VU is on the right track.

In late January, this team was consistently competitive, but unable to finish games. After multiple missed foul shots created a stinging home-court loss to Tennessee on Feb. 11, people around the program wondered if this team would lose heart. Instead of faltering, though, Vanderbilt used that loss as a positive turning point. The Commodores have lost only once since then, and they avenged their loss to Tennessee by winning in Knoxville. It is hard to believe this is the same team that lost to Rutgers in late November.

Damian Jones is VU's key player. He will be the centerpiece of next year's team. In the Dores' opening game against Tennessee, Vanderbilt can't rely on making stacks of threes, which is what it did in the Tommy Bowl. Jones has to establish himself in the low post. VU must play this game inside-out, not outside-in.

Prediction: Vandy beats Tennessee, loses to Arkansas in the quarters.

- Matt Zemek, VandyMania.com

Tennessee Outlook

Tennessee dropped 10 of its final 13 regular-season games but lucked out by getting a relatively manageable path to the SEC Tournament finals. After a first-round bye it will face No. 7 seed Vanderbilt in Thursday’s second round. The Vols and Commodores split their regular-season matchups – Tennessee winning 76-73 in overtime Feb. 11 in Nashville and Vandy winning 73-65 Feb. 26 in Knoxville. Vanderbilt hit 16 of 19 second-half shots in the latter to prevail.

Defeating the Commodores would earn the Vols a quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded Arkansas, a team they beat 74-69 in Knoxville and seriously challenged before bowing 69-64 in Fayetteville. Beating the Razorbacks on Friday would put Tennessee in Saturday’s semifinals, probably against No. 3 seed Georgia or No. 6 seed Ole Miss. The Vols pushed the Dawgs before bowing 56-53 in Athens and pushed the Rebels before falling 59-57 in Oxford.

Tennessee wouldn’t have to face top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky until Sunday’s finals, which is an obvious advantage.

- Randy Moore, InsideTennessee.com

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Ole Miss Outlook

Ole Miss played its final home game of the season Saturday. And that’s a good thing.

The Rebels, long projected as an NCAA tournament team, finished an inexplicable 9-7 inside Tad Smith Coliseum following an ugly 86-77 loss to Vanderbilt on senior night. With the loss, Ole Miss will be the No. 6 seed in the SEC tournament.

Andy Kennedy’s team will play the nightcap Thursday against the winner of South Carolina-Missouri. The Rebels dispatched of Mizzou, 67-47, on Jan. 31. They defeated South Carolina, 65-49, in the only meeting between the teams in January. Ole Miss holds a slight 18-15 series advantage over the Gamecocks.

The real question now is whether Ole Miss will be playing for its NCAA tournament life in Nashville.

“Our name has not been mentioned one time in any bubble conversation. It probably will now,” Kennedy said, following Ole Miss’ third loss in four games.

The key player remains Stefan Moody. In his debut season at Ole Miss, Moody leads the team with 16.6 points per game. However, as the Rebels limped to the regular-season finish line, he was 16-of-58 from the floor, including 6-of-31 from three.

- Ben Garrett, OMSpirit.com

Kentucky Outlook

Kentucky rolls into Nashville ranked No. 1 and sporting a 31-0 record, the first team from a "power five" conference to finish the regular season unblemished since Indiana in 1976. The Cats will be heavy favorites in the SEC Tournament, backed by the traveling power of the "Big Blue Nation," which is expected to once again take over Music City next weekend. A challenging schedule and hunger for more has the Cats ready for postseason play.

Key Player: Junior forward/center Willie Cauley-Stein is undoubtedly Kentucky's "Most Valuable Player," thanks to his combination of experience and versatility on both ends of the floor. The 7-footer may be the nation's top all-around defender, with the rare ability to lock down the opponent's point guard or center.

Tournament Prediction: It's hard to see anyone knocking off the Cats, who start Friday in the early game versus the winner of Florida and Alabama, but stranger things have happened in conference tourney action. UK coach John Calipari does not like the event, and his teams have played like it a couple of times in the past. Teams like Georgia and LSU have the personnel and style to match up with the Cats if they advance.

- Jeff Drummond, AllWildcats.com
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LSU Outlook

The talented Tigers’ final week of the regular season was as appropriate as it could be. LSU lost at home to Tennessee and then scored a huge win at ranked Arkansas Saturday playing without Jordan Mickey. That’s the way Johnny Jones’ crew has been, capable of beating the best and losing head-scratchers.

For all the up-and-down play LSU finished in a good seed for its time in Nashville – fourth. The Bayou Bengals get a double bye into Friday’s quarterfinal action, when they’ll take on either Texas A&M, which swept LSU this season, or the 12/13 winner between Mississippi State and Auburn.

At this point LSU is safely in the Big Dance, owning road wins at top-20 teams West Virginia and Arkansas. The conference tourney is about improving seeding in the NCAA Tournament, and a crack at top-ranked Kentucky Saturday could go a long way. Of course much of the team’s chances depend on the health of Mickey (shoulder). Jones may choose to rest his sophomore stud, the nation’s leader in blocks.

If Mickey rests LSU will probably lose to the Cats on Saturday. If he’s back and healthy, it’s not impossible to see the Tigers giving Big Blue a battle. The two played a two-point game in Baton Rouge on Feb. 10.

- Ben Love, TigerSportsDigest.com

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Arkansas Outlook

An Arkansas team having its best since 1995 will now attempt to find some success in the postseason. The second-seeded Razorbacks will open tournament play Friday against the winner of Thursday’s game between Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

Arkansas has won eight of its last 10 games but also lost two of its last three after an 81-78 home loss to LSU on Saturday.

“These guys have done an unbelievable job of improving,” Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said. “We won 13 games in conference play ... I still don’t think we played our best basketball for a full game. We have to play with a sense of urgency.”

The Razorbacks are led by 6-foot-11 sophomore Bobby Portis (17.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) – who had 21 points, 15 rebounds and four assists against LSU – and 6-foot-5 junior Michael Qualls (15.3 ppg) – the SEC’s highest-scoring duo.

- Dudley E. Dawson, HogsIllustrated.com

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Georgia Outlook

Georgia got a win and a little luck on the final day of the season to end up as the No. 3 seed in the 2015 SEC Tournament. That gives the Bulldogs a double bye as they wait for a winner to emerge from the South Carolina-Ole Miss-Missouri pod. Georgia is now firmly in the NCAA Tournament thanks to closing the season by winning four of its final five games – the only loss coming to No. 1 Kentucky.

The Bulldogs could certainly end up playing the Cats once more on Sunday in the championship game. Presumably Georgia would have to beat suddenly struggling Ole Miss and Arkansas. Those two have combined to win only two of their last six games.

Point guard Charles Mann might have to shoulder the load again for the Bulldogs if shooting guard Kenny Gaines, who is listed as day-to-day, can’t play in Nashville. Most prognosticators see the Bulldogs as an eight seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Georgia would likely have to win the SECs in order escape playing a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Round of 32. And with a highly-partisan Kentucky crowd expected in Nashville, winning the SEC Tournament seems a little much to ask of the Bulldogs (or anyone for that matter).

- Dean Legge, DawgPost.com

Semifinals

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Finals

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