FIRST ROUND: Thursday, March 10
By coincidence, Mississippi (4-12)
and South Carolina (7-9) closed the regular season by playing each other
in Columbia, SC, the Gamecocks getting an overtime 76-70 win. South
Carolina has had some team chemistry problems this year, which must
have been a trying one for Coach Dave Odom. 6-7 senior Carlos Powell
(16.0 ppg) had his career high score against Mississippi. 6-6 junior
Tarance Kinsey (9.2 ppg), 6-0 sophomore Tre Kelley (9.1 ppg), 6-8 junior
Antoine Tisby (6.2 ppg), and 6-7 sophomore Renaldo Balkman (5.7 ppg)
usually complete the starting lineup, but 6-2 senior Josh Gonner (9.0
ppg), 6-2 junior Rocky Trice (5.8 ppg), and 6-9 sophomore Brandon Wallace
(5.4 ppg) also play a lot of minutes. 6-6 freshman Dwayne Day is done
for the season because of an injury. For the Gamecocks, their 73-61
home win over Kentucky was the season's highlight, and they also gave
the Wildcats all they wanted in Lexington.
Mississippi has only two players scoring
in double digits: 6-7 senior Tommie Eddie (10.9 ppg) and 6-7 junior
Londrick Nolen (10.5 ppg). However, Nolen has slumped badly in the
last ten games and recently some other players have been scoring more,
especially 6-6 senior Marvin Moore (5.9 ppg) and 6-7 senior Kendrick Fox (7.7 ppg). 6-1 sophomore Todd Abernethy (8.4 ppg) usually doesn't
start but plays more minutes than anyone else on the team. 6-0 senior
Justin Johnson (5.8 ppg), 6-6 freshman Brandon Patterson (5.3 ppg) and
6-2 senior Ed Glass (2.9 ppg) will play a lot.
This game pits together two scrappy
teams that play tough defense but sometimes have trouble scoring, especially
Mississippi. The Rebels don't have a "go-to" guy like Powell
is for South Carolina. This looks like a close, tough struggle but
the Gamecocks should notch a close win and advance.
As expected, the Georgia Bulldogs (2-14
in conference play) have been had a very bad year. They closed the
season with a 78-68 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville. 6-1 sophomore Levi Stukes (15.4 ppg) and 6-1 freshman point guard Sundiata Gaines (11.9
ppg) are the only double-digit scorers. There are only six other scholarship
players, including 6-4 freshman Channing Toney (9.8 ppg), 6-8 sophomore
Steve Newman (7.4 ppg), 6-10 freshman Dave Bliss (7.0 ppg), 6-7 freshman
Corey Gibbs (4.2 ppg), 6-1 freshman Kevin Brophy (3.9 ppg), and 6-9
freshman Younes Idrissi (2.6 ppg). With little experience and depth,
it has been a long season for Head Coach Dennis Felton.
Mississippi State (9-7) will probably
go to the NCAA tournament, but is a candidate for most disappointing
team in the conference. Closing with a 68-63 home loss to Alabama,
they struggled all year and earlier had a horrendous 98-49 loss to the
Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Not even the presence of the near All-American,
6-9 senior Lawrence Roberts (17.3 ppg and 11.1 rebounds), has kept them
on track. Probably their chief weakness has been at point guard, where
5-11 sophomore Gary Ervin (7.8 ppg) has been a disappointment. The
loss of 6-4 senior Winsome Frazier (12.4 ppg), their best defender,
in mid-season for eight games was a crippling blow. Steady 6-4 senior
Shane Power (11.4 ppg) and 7-0 senior Marcus Campbell (6.4 ppg) round
out the starting lineup. Actually, 6-5 senior Ontario Harper (8.2 ppg)
plays a lot more than the slow-moving Campbell. 5-9 junior Jamall Edmondson
(4.7 ppg), 6-3 sophomore Dietric Slater (3.1 ppg), 6-8 freshman Charles Rhodes (2.6 ppg), 7-2 senior Wesley Morgan (2.0 ppg), 6-9 freshman Walter Sharpe (2.0 ppg), and 6-9 sophomore Piotr Stelmach (2.4 ppg) also see
Mississippi State is erratic but has
to be favored to win this battle of the Bulldogs, probably by a comfortable
margin. Mississippi State is overwhelmingly the stronger team on the
boards, where they will beat Georgia to death, and their superior depth
is likely to be a big factor.
Tennessee (E5) vs. Arkansas (W4).
The Tennessee Vols (6-10) were probably
even more disappointing this season than Mississippi State. An undependable
defense and mid-season injuries to 6-10 senior Brandon Crump (11.4 ppg)
and 6-5 senior Scooter McFadgon (14.0 ppg) kept the Vols off course.
Both Crump and McFadgon are ready to play again. 6-2 Chris Lofton (13.5
ppg) appears to be a cinch for the all-freshman team after hitting a
remarkable 47% of his three-point shots. The quiet personality of 6-2
junior C.J. Watson (11.8 ppg) has prevented him from being the effective
team leader that is needed. 6-7 junior Andre Patterson (7.7 ppg) has
been the top rebounder. The reserves are 6-4 sophomore Dane Bradshaw
(2.9 ppg), 6-10 sophomore Major Wingate (5.2 ppg), 6-8 junior Jemere Hendrix (2.8 ppg), 6-5 junior Stanley Asumnu (2.4 ppg), 6-1 freshman
JaJuan Smith (2.0 ppg), and 6-3 freshman Jordan Howell (1.2 ppg).
Arkansas (6-10) ended the season weakly
by losing at Auburn 77-64. The Razorbacks are still inexperienced and
play far better in Bud Walton Arena than away. 6-7 sophomore Ronnie Brewer (16.4 ppg) came on strongly, and 6-4 junior Jonathon Modica (9.9
ppg) finished well after struggling much of the season, hitting almost
45% of his threes. 6-10 freshman Darian Townes (10.2 ppg) provided
a presence underneath, but Brewer actually edged him out as top rebounder.
6-5 sophomore Olu Famutimi (9.4 ppg) showed signs of finding himself.
6-1 junior Eric Ferguson (8.8 ppg) is the team's best defender. 7-0
freshman Steven Hill is a great shotblocker, but does not score much
(2.3 ppg). Other players are 6-9 senior Michael Jones (4.1 ppg), 6-4
junior Dontell Jefferson (4.2 ppg), 6-8 junior Rashard Sullivan (2.3
ppg), and massive 6-7 freshman Charles Thomas (5.6 ppg).
With Crump and McFadgon both playing
again, Tennessee looks like the favorite in this game. Arkansas certainly
plays better defense, but the team's lack of self-confidence on the
road is likely to be a factor. (Not that Tennessee is a strong team
in that area either.)
Vanderbilt (E3) v. Auburn (W6)
The Vanderbilt Commodores are one of
the more experienced conference teams (although also having a considerable
freshman presence) and closed well, for an 8-8 conference record. Two
tendencies (erratic play at the point guard and lack of scoring under
the basket) were reversed in the team's finale, an 81-69 loss at LSU,
in which 5-11 junior Mario Moore and 6-9 junior Julian Terrell both
had career high scoring efforts. Moore (13.2 ppg) has rebounded from
a deep slump in late January and early February. Steady 6-6 senior
Corey Smith (12.0 ppg) was the only other double digit scorer on the
team. Terrell (6.4 ppg), 7-2 senior Dawid Przybyszewski (7.0 ppg),
and 6-11 senior Ted Skuchas (2.2 ppg) are the main big men. 6-5 senior
Jason Holwerda (6.8 ppg) is a solid defender, finisher, and passer,
although he never developed into the big scoring threat that had been
expected. 6-6 freshman Shan Foster (8.3 ppg) is a good outside shooter
(43% success on threes) and defender. Help also comes from 6-7 freshman
DeMarre Carroll (3.8 ppg), 6-5 sophomore Dan Cage (4.2 ppg), 5-10 freshman
Alex Gordon (6.5 ppg), and 6-10 freshman Alan Metcalfe (1.6 ppg).
The Auburn Tigers (4-12 in conference
play) have no depth or size, yet they somehow were able to pull off
a few upsets. Freshman Head Coach Jeff Lebo did a commendable job of
getting a lot out of the little talent that he possessed. 6-1 freshman
Toney Douglas (16.8 ppg) tailed off as weariness set in, but is still
the likely freshman of the year in the SEC. 6-3 senior Ian Young (13.3
ppg) ran the team and shot threes. 6-6 Quinnel Brown (13.1 ppg) had
to be the teams undersized "big man," and top rebounder.
6-3 senior Nathan Watson (11.3 ppg) did an amazing job under the boards
(6 rebounds per game). Two other freshmen, 6-3 Frank Tolbert (6.9 ppg)
and 6-5 Daniel Hayles (6.0 ppg), helped out any way they could. After
that, there was very little: 6-1 sophomore Brett Howell (1.6 ppg), 6-1
senior Troy Gaines (1.0 ppg) and one or two others were the bench, after
6-5 senior Ronnie LeMelle went out early in the season with an injury.
Vanderbilt has every advantage in this
matchup and should win rather handily. Auburn might catch the Commodores
somewhat by surprise if they shoot well after their inept offensive
exhibition in the regular-season meeting between the two teams. Lebo
should be able to get an early start in planning ahead for next season.
SECOND ROUND: Friday, March 11
South Carolina-Mississippi winner v.
The Alabama Crimson Tide ended the
season with a 68-63 win at Mississippi State, and 12-4 conference record.
Despite a brief dip now and then, the Tide had one of the most consistent
teams in the SEC. The same starting five went through the entire season
without a single miss. 6-6 junior Kennedy Winston (18.1 ppg and a 47.9%
shooter from three-point territory) is a cinch all-conference first
teamer. 6-3 senior Earnest Shelton (16.4 ppg) is one of the most dangerous
outside bombers around. 6-7 junior Chuck Davis (14.2 ppg) is one of
the smartest players in the conference. 6-2 freshman Ronald Steele
(7.8 ppg) had an excellent assist/turnover ratio while running the operation.
6-10 sophomore Jermareo Davidson (7.8 ppg) was the top rebounder. 6-7
freshman Jean Felix (5.2 ppg) comes off the bench to provide offense.
6-8 junior Evan Brock (2.5 ppg), 6-5 freshman Justin Jonus (2.5 ppg),
and 6-3 freshman Albert Weber (2.2 ppg) make up the rest of the reserves.
South Carolina will provide the Tide
with a scrap. But the Gamecocks, despite their defensive tough-mindedness,
are not likely to be able to match the Alabama attack. If Mississippi
upsets South Carolina and plays Alabama, it probably won't be close.
Either way this should be an Alabama win.
Miss. State-Georgia winner v. Florida
The Florida Gators (12-4 in the conference)
ended the season in a big way by edging the Kentucky Wildcats 53-52
in Gainesville. This should give them a shot of self-confidence to
go with the scoring of the big three: 6-2 junior Anthony Roberson (18.6
ppg); 6-6 junior Matt Walsh (13.9 ppg), and 6-9 senior David Lee (13.3
ppg). Walsh missed four games with an injury in mid-conference action,
but is now in good shape. Roberson and Lee are playing some of their
best ball. The Gators are still youthful as shown by the fact almost
all of the other players are freshmen and sophomores. 6-8 freshman
Corey Brewer (6.9 ppg) and 6-8 freshman Al Horford (6.1 ppg) are starters.
6-2 sophomore Lee Humphrey (5.1 ppg) is a steady defender and dangerous
shooter. 6-11 freshman Joakim Noah (4.1 ppg) and 6-0 freshman Taurean Green (3.8 ppg) both saw significant action. 6-8 sophomore Chris Richard
(3.3 ppg) and 6-9 junior Adrian Moss (2.6 ppg) help out underneath.
6-4 freshman Cornelius Ingram (1.6 ppg) did not play much.
The Gators have offensive punch, respectable
rebounding, and talent. Mississippi State is almost certain to be their
opponent, and the presence of Lawrence Roberts gives them a decent chance
to upset Florida. But Florida seems to be on a roll and is selected
here to win after a close tussle.
Tennessee-Arkansas winner v. Kentucky
The Kentucky Wildcats (14-2 in conference
games) had their only two losses late in the season. Despite their
steady play, the Cats don't appear to be as dominating as in many other
years. 6-5 junior Kelenna Azubuike (14.7 ppg) is the main offensive
threat, but 6-1 junior Patrick Sparks (11.7 ppg) can have the big game
or get hot when it really matters. 6-6 senior Chuck Hayes (10.8 ppg)
isn't a big scorer but is generally considered to be an all-conference
performer who is the real heart of the team. 6-11 freshman Randolph Morris (8.7 ppg) and 6-1 freshman Rajon Rondo (8.0 ppg) are the other
two starters on a rather young team. Morris is not yet the star he
likely will be, but Rondo sometimes tore the opposition apart with his
drives, although usually not. There is a rather long bench, headed
by 6-1 freshman Rumel Bradley (5.0 ppg), 6-6 sophomore Bobby Perry (3.5
ppg), 6-2 junior Ravi Moss (4.0 ppg), and 7-3 sophomore Shagari Alleyne
(3.4 ppg). Kentucky has a lot of players including 6-7 sophomore Sheary
Thomas (1.2 ppg), 6-4 senior Josh Carrier (1.2 pgg), and 6-4 freshman
Joe Crawford (2.8 ppg).
Kentucky has to be favored to beat
either Tennessee or Arkansas. However, an upset is not entirely out
of the question. Tennessee is the likelier opponent of the two and
if the Vols put it together, they could extend the Wildcats, but Kentucky
Vanderbilt-Auburn winner v. LSU (W2).
The LSU Tigers (12-4 in the conference)
may be the biggest over-achievers of the year in the SEC (although Kentucky
also has a claim). Like co-champion Alabama in the west, they had extreme
stability in the starting lineup. 6-8 sophomore Brandon Bass (17.5
ppg) is a strong candidate for player-of-the-year in the conference,
both a scoring power and a force under the boards. 5-11 junior Darrel Mitchell (13.5 ppg) will likely be third-team All-SEC with his all-around
steady play. 6-9 freshman Glen Davis (13.1 ppg) is certain to be on
the all-freshman first team (he is the only starter to have missed a
start). 6-6 senior Antonio Hudson (12.7 ppg) was Mr. Consistency this
year, always contributing solidly. 5-11 sophomore Tack Minor (10.8
ppg) settled down and began to live up to his potential. The bench
is short, but 6-8 sophomore Ross Neltner (2.7 ppg), 6-2 senior Xavier Whipple (2.1 ppg), and 6-8 sophomore Darnell Lazare (2.1 ppg) have all
contributed solidly, especially the first two. LSU is strong in rebounding
and offense, but they have sometimes unravelled on the road.
Vanderbilt will very probably be the
opponent of LSU in this game. The two teams met in their last game
of the season, LSU winning 81-69 in Baton Rouge. That game provided
some surprises, with Mario Moore of Vanderbilt running wild against
Minor (30 points), and Julian Terrell (21 points) giving Davis a hard
time under the boards. On the other hand, the Commodores had a lot
of trouble with Hudson (25 points) and Bass (20 points, 14 rebounds).
It would be a mistake to expect that same scenario to repeat, but a
close game is likely. LSU is picked to edge by the Commodores, but
this game could easily produce an upset.
SEMIFINALS, Saturday, March 12
Following the predictions given above,
Alabama and Florida will meet in one of the semifinal games and Kentucky
and LSU in the other. Kentucky is the clear choice over LSU (or Vanderbilt,
if they upset LSU), but Alabama and Florida are close to a tossup.
The more consistent Alabama team is picked to go the finals.
FINALS, Sunday, March 13
Alabama and Kentucky should meet in
the championship game, the winner to secure the automatic bid to the
NCAA. Kentucky is selected to win.
NCAA TOURNAMENT REPRESENTATIVES
Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, and LSU are obvious selections to play in the NCAA tournament, regardless of how they fare in the conference tournament. Mississippi State certainly has the best chance of any of the others to be selected, but an upset by Georgia (highly improbable) would put them in a dubious position. After that, Vanderbilt has a good chance to be selected if they beat Auburn and upset LSU. If that happens, the fate of the Commodores may hinge upon the number of so-called "mid-major" teams that are picked as at-large selections. At this writing, Southern Illinois has been upset in the Missouri Valley conference tournaments, but they will be picked for an at-large slot (and coincidentally they defeated Vanderbilt 67-53 at a neutral site). Two teams will get to the Big Dance from the West Coast Conference, St. Mary's and Gonzaga, regardless of how the conference tournament comes out. It is very likely that the Western Athletic Conference will get both Nevada and UTEP in. If Vanderbilt should win three games in the tournament, they surely will be selected regardless of what happens among the mid-majors.