Vols to Final Four?

Woody Paige of ESPN's "Cold Pizza" television show today picked Tennessee to reach the NCAA Final Four, along with Texas, Memphis and Boston College.

I'm not ready to jump on that bandwagon but I think the Vols could make some noise in the Big Dance. Tennessee played nine teams that made the NCAA Tournament field during the regular season, going 6-5. The Vols swept Florida and split two games with Kentucky. They beat Texas, South Alabama and Murray State once each, while losing to Memphis, LSU, Arkansas and Alabama once each.

Tennessee has lost four of its last six games but, thanks to a great seeding and a favorable draw, has a chance to make a nice run in the tourney. I think the second-seeded Vols (21-7) will beat No. 15 seed Winthrop (23-7) in Round 1, then edge the winner between No. 7 seed Wichita State (24-8) and No. 10 seed Seton Hall (18-11) in Round 2.

That would send Tennessee to the regional in Washington D.C., where it probably would face No. 3 seed North Carolina in the Round of 16. Coincidentally, the last time Tennessee made the Sweet 16 (March of 2000) the opponent was North Carolina. The Tar Heels won that time and I think they'll win this time, too. Carolina has too much talent for UT to overcome, just as Memphis, LSU and Alabama did during the regular season.

So, how will the other SEC teams fare?

LSU features a top-notch guard in Darrel Mitchell and two freaks of nature up front. Glen Davis (6-9, 300 pounds) is stronger than anyone he'll face and front-court mate Tyrus Thomas (6-9, 220) is remarkably agile for his size.

Fourth-seeded LSU (23-8) should beat No. 13 seed Iona (23-7) in its tourney opener. The second-round foe probably will be No. 5 seed Syracuse (23-11). Frankly, I think Jim Boeheim will outcoach John Brady in the Round of 32.

Florida has lost to a lower-seeded foe five years in a row but playing its first two games in Jacksonville has got to help. The third-seeded Gators (27-6) face No. 14 seed South Alabama (24-6) in Round 1. South Alabama coach John Pelphrey knows all of Billy Donovan's tricks, having served as his lead assistant for several years. I see Florida edging South Alabama in Round 1, then outlasting No. 11 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee (21-8) in Round 2. I suspect the unpredictable Gators will fall in the Sweet 16.

I see third-seeded Alabama (17-12) losing to No. 7 seed Marquette (20-10) in Round 1 at San Diego. The Tide is awesome in Tuscaloosa and mediocre everywhere else. In the unlikely event Bama wins its opener, it will get hammered by No. 2 seed UCLA (27-6) in Round 2. The Bruins will have something of a home-court advantage but they won't need it.

Eighth-seeded Arkansas (22-9) will edge ninth-seeded Bucknell (26-4) in Round 1, then get dusted by top-seeded Memphis (30-3) in Round 2.

Eighth-seeded Kentucky (21-12) plays its first-round game against Alabama Birmingham (24-6), the same team that ousted a top-seeded Wildcat team from the 2004 NCAA Tournament. I'm going with the Blazers again. Even if the Big Blue wins, it will be crushed by top-seeded UConn (27-3) in Round 2.

I don't see any SEC team advancing past the Sweet 16. If anyone does, it would be Tennessee (on chemistry) or LSU (on raw talent).

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