SEC Tournament Bracket Set: An Early Look

CATLANTA, Ga. -- Even before "the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home" on Senior Day against Florida later today, the SEC tournament bracket has been set. Is the magic back for the Kentucky Wildcats, despite the season-ending injury to Patrick Patterson? Here's a far, far too-early look at the bracket and possible outcomes.

The seeds have been determined, and the games are set for next week's SEC mens' basketball tournament in Atlanta, Georgia. Kentucky earned a bye in the tournament for the first time in three years with Alabama's upset victory over Vanderbilt, assuring Kentucky of outright 2nd place position in the SEC East.

FIRST ROUND
March 13 (Thursday)
Game 1 [E5] South Carolina vs. [W4] LSU [RS] 1:00 ET
Game 2 [W6] Auburn vs. [E3] Vanderbilt [RS] 3:15 ET
Game 3 [W5] Alabama vs. [E4] Florida [RS] 7:30 ET
Game 4 [E6] Georgia vs. [W3] Ole Miss [RS] 9:45 ET

SECOND ROUND
March 14 (Friday)
Game 5 Game 1 Winner vs. [E1] Tennessee [RS] 1:00 ET
Game 6 Game 2 Winner vs. [W2] Arkansas [RS] 3:15 ET
Game 7 Game 3 Winner vs. [W1] Mississippi State [RS] 7:30 ET
Game 8 Game 4 Winner vs. [E2] Kentucky [RS] 9:45 ET

SEMIFINALS
March 15 (Saturday)
Game 9 Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner [RS] 1:00 ET
Game 10 Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner [RS] 3:15 ET

FINALS
March 16 (Sunday)
Game 11 Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner [CBS] 1:00 ET

All Times EASTERN

So that's the bracket. Now let's look at how it might play out.

Game 1 looks to be an LSU victory over South Carolina. The Bengal Tigers are playing extremely well since John Brady lost the competition to Alabama's Mark Gottfried for "SEC's worst coach and/or most likely to be fired," and the talent has generally risen to the top. South Carolina appears to have a nice, gentle finish to the season, mirroring the generally calm nature of retiring gentleman coach Dave Odom.

Game 2 should see the seeds continue to fall into place, as a Vanderbilt team that has won 25 games already this season should have no trouble dispatching an undermanned Auburn squad.

Game 3 is interesting, as an inexperienced--but talented, and well-coached Florida team faces an experienced, talented, and not-so-well coached Alabama team. This game could be ripe for an upset. We'll hold off on any absolute predictions for this game for the moment, but it could go down to the wire.

Game 4 has a Georgia team riding out the string facing an Ole Miss team with faint, faint hopes of an NCAA tournament. Pick the Rebels in this game and don't look back.

Those four games will take place on opening day on Thursday, with Friday's games featuring teams with a first round bye.

In Game 5, we see SEC regular season champion and RPI # 1 Tennessee team playing LSU, most likely. Watch out. This could be a game Bruce Pearl does not put a lot of emphasis on winning, and LSU, with a "warm-up game" under its belt, could pull the upset.

Game 6 likely has Vanderbilt (if they win on Thursday) facing Arkansas, the Western Divison # 2 seed. This is one of the most evenly-matched games we'll see, as long as it is not in Memorial Coliseum in Nashville, Tennessee. Figure Vandy with a slight advantage for playing on Thursday. That will become a disadvantage on them by Saturday, by the way.

Game 7 has the Alabama/Florida winner facing a very good Mississippi State team. Figure whichever team wins Game 7 will play this one, and go back home. Give this one to the Bulldogs.

Game 8 -- finally -- arrives at a 9:45 p.m. ET tipoff, and will have the Kentucky Wildcats facing, most likely, Ole Miss. Yes, Kentucky does not have Patrick Patterson. Yes, Ole Miss took Kentucky to the wire, with a chance to win just a couple of games ago. Forget a couple of games ago, and forget Patterson's absence--this is Catlanta, and the Cats come to play. Mark the Wildcats down in Saturday's semifinals.

Game 9 should feature # 1 Tennessee against either Vanderbilt or Arkansas. Should. We might find LSU sneaking into this slot, so we reserve the right to change our picks here. This game could be closer than people think if Tennessee is in it, and either Vandy or Arkansas is.

Let's call this game to Arkansas if they beat Vandy, and Tennessee, if Vandy beats Arkansas. Just a hunch.

Game 10 should feature Mississippi State versus Kentucky. What a battle.

I won't make any friends with this pick, but right now, I lean toward Mississippi State winning this game. MSU's front line was much stronger than Kentucky's, with Patrick Patterson. What now, for the Cats? Wildcats come back playing a game that will likely end around midnight Saturday morning, then play again at 3:15 p.m. the very next day. That's tough for anyone, but as many minutes as the UK front line players play, it's very tough--but if there's a team that could do it, it's Kentucky. Call me a traitor, but I'll take MSU under those circumstances.

So if the magic eight-ball is working, the final would pit Arkansas (or Tennessee) against Mississippi State, with a legitimate chance for Kentucky to arrive in that slot.

If that occurs, we'll give the nod to Arkansas because of their experience, or Tennessee, because of their talent, over the MSU Bulldogs.

And that's a too-early look at the SEC tournament. Don't print this out and save it, whatever you do.

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