Now, the Commodores need a run to the SEC Championship game to get the highest seed possible. Hopefully with a couple wins, the tournament committee will be merciful and give Vanderbilt a 3-seed. Let's take a look at the tournament as a whole and see if the ‘Dores can get to the final game.
Here is how each division ended up:
East No. 1 (E1) - Kentucky
E2 - Vanderbilt
E3 - Tennessee
E4 - Florida
E5 - South Carolina
E6 - Georgia
West No. 1 (W1) - Mississippi State
W2 - Ole Miss
W3 - Arkansas
W4 - Alabama
W5 - Auburn
W6 – LSU
Let's take a quick look at the first round games and see who should win and advance.
South Carolina vs. Alabama
At one point this season, the Crimson Tide was 11-4 and had the look of an NCAA Tournament team. Since then, Alabama came back to earth and finished the season 5-10 to wind up at 16-14. I think that Devan Downey will avenge last week's Senior Day loss to ‘Bama. The Crimson Tide is a better team, but Downey will carry the Gamecocks to the quarterfinals.
Verdict: South Carolina advances
LSU vs. Tennessee
LSU is really bad and the Volunteers need a deep run to maximize their NCAA seeding. It would take a miracle for the Tigers to win. Verdict: Tennessee rolls
Auburn vs. Florida
As of now, Florida seems to be in the field of 65. A loss to Auburn would be catastrophic. That might knock them over to the wrong side of the bubble. In reality, Auburn doesn't have any post-season aspirations and may lay an egg.
Verdict: Florida wins a close one
Georgia vs. Arkansas
I think the sexy pick is for Georgia to make a deep run in the tournament. They have beaten a lot of really good teams (Illinois, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Florida). I remember an ESPN commentator (Andy Katz?) saying that the Bulldogs have more quality wins than a lot of bubble teams. In their only meeting this year, the Razorbacks overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to win in Athens. This will be the game of the first round, and I think Arkansas pulls it out.
Verdict: Arkansas eliminates the sleeper of the tournament
South Carolina vs. Kentucky
Big Blue Nation is slowly invading Nashville, and it will all crescendo against South Carolina. Downey is incredible, but not good enough to beat this Triple-A NBA team twice in the same season.
Verdict: Kentucky takes care of business
Tennessee vs. Ole Miss
After steamrolling LSU, the Vols will get a very motivated opponent in the quarters. Ole Miss is still on the NCAA radar. For them to have any chance at the Big Dance, they need to beat Tennessee. The Rebels let a 12-point second half lead evaporate in Knoxville and eventually lost to the Vols in overtime. Many people are anticipating an UK-UT semifinal, but I think Ole Miss spoils the party.
Verdict: Ole Miss keeps its NCAA hopes alive
Florida vs. Mississippi State
This may be a play-in game for the SEC Tournament. Both teams have similar resumes, and I can't imagine the committee putting the Gators in over the Bulldogs if Mississippi State wins this game. Florida won their earlier contest in Gainesville, and there isn't any reason to think why they can't do it again.
Verdict: Florida secures its spot in the NCAA Tournament
Arkansas vs. Vanderbilt
If you watched the game in Fayetteville, you would know that Vanderbilt looked like a far superior team. That was only two weeks ago. Not that much has changed.
Verdict: Vanderbilt moves to the semifinals with ease
Kentucky vs. Ole Miss
Verdict: Kentucky makes it to the finals, but it'll be closer than people think
Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt took Florida's best shot in Gainesville and still won. It's tough to beat a team three times in the same season, but I think the ‘Dores are motivated and want another shot at Kentucky. Hopefully the hometown crowd is enough to get Vandy by the Gators once again.
Verdict: Vanderbilt gets its chance at revenge
Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt
Do I pick with my head or my heart? Maybe both. Vanderbilt is a couple plays away from being one of the hottest teams in the country. If Vandy beat Kentucky at Memorial, then gave Devan Downey food poisoning before Senior Day, the ‘Dores would be playing for a 2-seed. Think about it. The Commodores would be 25-5, regular season SEC Champions, and a top 10 team in the country. Sure this is a bunch of "What Ifs", but it doesn't change the fact that Vanderbilt is built very well for the Big Dance. The problem is the tournament committee doesn't see close losses to UK and South Carolina, they only see losses. Kentucky already has a 1-seed locked up, so Vanderbilt will hopefully be the hungrier team.
Some national media may say that since the game is in Nashville, the Commodores will have a home-court edge. We all know that would be crazy. For the three of us that attended the Sun Belt Classic, we know how bad it can get. It feels like the entire state of Kentucky is coming to town. In a UK-Vandy final, I would say the crowd would be about 70/30 for the Wildcats.
I'm not naive enough to think that Vanderbilt is better than Kentucky. But I do think they match up pretty well with them. They are one of the few teams to not play zone against them. Beal can slow down Wall enough to give them a chance. Cousins is a beast, but hopefully not on Sunday. The ‘Dores will get open looks, and if they can hit them, they may be able to shock the nation. I sure hope so.
Verdict: Vanderbilt wins their first SEC Tournament since 1951.