UK's the pick

I've covered a bunch of Southeastern Conference basketball tournaments through the years and, frankly, I'm convinced the most talented team rarely wins. Usually, it's the most motivated team that prevails.

The top teams already have good seedings for the NCAA Tournament locked up, so they often go through the motions in the SEC tourney. And who can blame them?

If you were Florida's Billy Donovan, would you wear out your starters to win three meaningless games in Atlanta when you're probably guaranteed a No. 2 seeding for the NCAA Tournament even if you lose your SEC opener?

If you were Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, would you risk re-injuring Chris Lofton's right ankle by playing him 30 minutes per game four days in succession just to win a title that means next-to-nothing?

If you were Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, would you tax a team that faded down the stretch or settle for an early ouster that would give your weary players some extra rest?

I think Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are the top three teams in this year's SEC tournament but I doubt any of the three is motivated enough to win it. That's why I'm going with the league's fourth-best team – Kentucky.

The Big Blue certainly has plenty of motivation. Consider:

- Head coach Tubby Smith is on the hot seat. Each loss he incurs – even in a meaningless conference tournament – moves him one step closer to the unemployment line.

- The tradition-rich Wildcats expect to win every time they take the floor. The concept of an unimportant game is foreign to them.

- Kentucky has a chance to significantly improve its NCAA Tournament seeding with a strong run in Atlanta.

- The Wildcats EXPECT to win. They've won more SEC Tournament titles than the other 11 programs combined.

- Big Blue fans are so devoted/crazy that they'll show up at the Georgia Dome in mind-boggling numbers to support their team.

What follows is my round-by-round prediction for how the tournament will play out:

TODAY

Kentucky beats Alabama as Tubby outcoaches Mark Gottfried

Arkansas beats South Carolina, costing the Cocks an NIT bid

Georgia beats Auburn because of the home-state advantage

Tennessee beats LSU, thanks to a glut of Tiger turnovers

FRIDAY

Kentucky beats Mississippi State due to an edge in experience

Vanderbilt beats Arkansas, avenging last Saturday's loss in Nashville

Florida beats Georgia due to vastly superior personnel

Tennessee beats Ole Miss to reach the semis for the first time since '91

SATURDAY

Kentucky beats Vanderbilt, avenging two regular-season losses

Florida beats Tennessee, which is playing its second game in 17 hours

SUNDAY

Kentucky beats Florida simply because it's Kentucky


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