Saturday's action will find LSU winning at Auburn, Ole Miss beating Mississippi State at Oxford, South Carolina winning at Georgia and Florida beating Kentucky in Gainesville. Sunday's action will find Tennessee beating Alabama in Knoxville and Vanderbilt beating Arkansas in Nashville.
If all of these picks are accurate – and I'm never, ever wrong about this stuff – here's the way the SEC Tournament will shake out next week in Tampa:
Round 1 (Thursday, March 12) will find East 4 seed Kentucky beating West 5 seed Alabama at 1:00, West 3 seed Ole Miss beating East 6 seed Georgia at 3:15, West 4 seed Mississippi State beating East 5 seed Vanderbilt at 7:30 and East 3 seed Florida beating West 6 seed Arkansas at 9:45.
If all of these projections are on the money – and it's a lead-pipe cinch they will be – here's the way Round 2 (Friday, March 13) will shape up:
1:00 - West 1 seed LSU faces Kentucky
3:15 - East 2 seed South Carolina faces Ole Miss
7:30 – East 1 seed Tennessee faces Mississippi State
9:45 - East 3 seed Florida faces West 2 seed Auburn
Are you still with me? OK, here's why I don't like UT's chances of winning the tournament:
Tennessee's Round 2 opponent is Mississippi State, a team the Vols barely beat (81-76) in Knoxville last week. On a neutral floor in Tampa, I think this is a 50/50 game.
Should the Vols get past the Bulldogs, their Round 3 opponent will be the winner of the Auburn-Florida game. Neither matchup favors UT. Jeff Lebo's Tigers beat the Big Orange on Feb. 7 and seem to bring out the worst in Tennessee whenever the teams meet.
Should Florida beat Auburn, I like the Vol-Gator matchup even less than the Vol-Tiger matchup. UT already has beaten Florida twice this year, and we've all heard the horror stories about how hard it is to beat a team three times in one season. Well, those horror stories are true. Tennessee beat South Carolina twice during the 2005-06 regular season but lost 79-71 to the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament. The 2007-08 Vols hammered SC twice during the regular season (80-56 at Columbia, 89-56 at Knoxville) but struggled mightily to eke out an 89-87 SEC tourney win just five days after the blowout in K-Town.
Finally, should Tennessee somehow defeat Mississippi State and the Florida/Auburn winner, I'm guessing the Vols' opponent in the title game will be Kentucky. Big Blue fans always provide their team a home-court advantage in the SEC tourney. And, with their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance, I believe the Cats will claw their way into the finals at Tampa.
Given that UT went 0-2 against UK and 8-0 against the rest of the SEC East this season, I just don't see the Vols passing the three-game test that awaits them in Tampa.