The 2011 SEC Tournament kicks off Thursday in the Georgia Dome with four first round games. Kentucky will be trying to defend its 2010 title, but there have been four different winners in the past four years. The Wildcats have won 26 SEC tournament titles, which is 20 more than Alabama, who has the next most at six. Interestingly, Georgia Tech has as many SEC Tournament Championships (one) as Vanderbilt, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, and Arkansas.
Teams that are playing on Thursday must win four games in four days to win the tournament. When the league expanded, there was no running of the gauntlet from 1992 to 1999. But in 2000, Arkansas became the first team to do it. It has happened twice since then, with Georgia in 2008 and Mississippi State in 2009 accomplishing the feat.
This year’s first round matchups include a lot of big favorites: Georgia -11.5 vs. Auburn, Ole Miss -4 vs. South Carolina, Tennessee -6 vs. Arkansas, and Vanderbilt -13.5 vs. LSU. Ordinarily the Thursday games don’t see these type of prices. However, the discrepancies between the East and West and the top and bottom teams in the league have been fairly extreme this season. Vanderbilt looks like the safest bet to win their first round game with a decent shot at winning four games in four days. The Commodores will face Mississippi State on Friday, then Florida or Tennessee most likely on Saturday with a chance to reach the finals. It is certainly a doable path for one of the top four teams in the league.
Georgia should get by Auburn in round one, but the Tigers did force the Bulldogs to overtime back in Athens earlier this season. Auburn clearly lacks talent, but they compete and have been able to hang around many SEC games this year. An upset here would not be a surprise, but Georgia will likely squeak out a win and have a rematch with Alabama on Friday. Bama just posted a home win over Georgia last week, and this game could be a battle for an NCAA at-large berth, so both teams will lay it on the line.
Ole Miss and South Carolina is a coin flip, with South Carolina winning two weeks ago at home, 79-73. There is certainly no East Division bias in the line on this game with the Rebels being a 4-point favorite. The winner here gets Kentucky on Friday, and the Wildcats should have no trouble with either team as they advance to meet Alabama or Georgia on Saturday.
The final first round matchup features another team – Tennessee – that has an opportunity to win four in four. This team has been wildly inconsistent for much of the campaign. Despite recent struggles, we have seen what the Vols can do with wins over Pitt and Vandy twice. They should defeat Arkansas, but a straight up loss wouldn’t be a shocker either. The winner gets Florida on Friday, and the Gators could be a willing upset victim, having won the regular season title and locked up a Big Dance berth.
Overall, I expect several upsets in this tournament, with a Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt final and the Commodores coming out on top.
First Round - Thursday
E4 Georgia vs. W5 Auburn
W3 Ole Miss vs. E6 South Carolina
W4Arkansas vs. E5 Tennessee
E3 Vanderbilt vs. W6 LSU
Quarterfinals - Friday
W1 Alabama vs. Georgia/Auburn winner
E2 Kentucky vs. Ole Miss/South Carolina winner
E1 Florida vs. Arkansas/Tennessee winner
W2 Mississippi State vs. Vanderbilt/LSU winner