SEC tourney time

I'm picking Georgia and Arkansas in the finals of the SEC Tournament this week in Hoover, AL, but any of the eight teams there are capable of getting hot and winning the five-day event that starts Wednesday.

Players and coaches in SEC baseball will tell you at the drop of a hat ours is the best college league in the country.

That may or may not be. But it certainly is one of the most confusing. And exciting. It's hard to guess what's going to happen in this league.

Mississippi State won the SEC Tournament last year. They also started the 2006 season with 18 consecutive wins. So where were they this week? Sitting at home hoping the NCAA doesn't overlook their 35-21 record and invites them to a regional despite the fact they didn't qualify for the league's own championship event.

In case you're not familiar with the weird and wacky way the SEC decides who goes to Hoover, AL, for the conference affair, and who doesn't, only eight of the league's teams earn an invitation. The bottom four don't. The Bulldogs are one of the bottom four. Only conference games are considered. MSU won just 12 league games while losing 17. LSU got the eighth spot despite losing two of three to Florida the final weekend.

But back to 2006 and confusion. In the midst of their opening win streak the Dogs were ranked #1 in the country. So much for wishful thinking.

Ole Miss was runner-up last year. They were the fourth seed when the season ended, good enough to gain entrance to the playoff but not good enough to win the SEC West. Alabama, considered to be a so-so team at season start, won the title in their half of the league.

In the SEC East we really felt South Carolina would win it all. So did a lot of Gamecock fans. Instead USC goes into tournament play as the seventh seed out of eight. Disappointing? Darn right.

Kentucky, which had never won an SEC baseball title in its history, ended up as the Eastern champion. Surprising? Darn right again.

So who is going to win this thing? Remember this is written before Game 1 has been played. For simplicity, I'm going to pick one team from the East and one from the West, even though it may not pan out that way. Out of the East my choice is Georgia to emerge. They are playing their best baseball now at the end of the season and I believe it's good enough to win. Out of the West, I pick Arkansas for the finals against the Bulldogs. Georgia will win the tourney title.

Several teams, though, in a short tourney have a shot. Look was MSU did last year. They got hot at the right time and won it all. That can happen again in this tournament format.

As for the Rebels, it's a good sign for Coach Mike Bianco's re-tooled team to be able to follow up last year's excellent showing with another winning record in the SEC and to have an opportunity to host another regional with a strong finish. If they keep knocking on the door year-in and year-out, good things will continue to happen. They have to feel good about themselves going into the tournament after winning their last two series of the regular season over Arkansas and rival MSU in Starkville.

I still think the season is too long. Every team in the league played either 55 or 56 games. It's tantamount to the NBA's horrendous 82 game schedule. If NCAA football teams can't have a national play-down tournament because of wear and tear and the need for the players to go to class now and then, how do you justify adding two possible tournaments to a 56 game season? Makes no sense to me.

Nevertheless, interest in college baseball has skyrocketed. Attendance is up. Publicity is up. The Ole Miss-Mississippi State final game drew 5,709. For several schools there will be a profit at the end of the season. Oops, we're back to dollars and cents again. But isn't that what college athletics is all about these days? Why should baseball be an exception?

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