Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Welcome to the Fun Tournament
By Mike Siroky
The Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament is fun.
Fun to watch. Fun to play in. Sometimes fun to coach.
The SEC has five teams – the ranked ones – already doing laundry for the NCAA and the draw is not until March 11.
Sure, the champ gets the official conference bid. There are no No. 1 national bids for the SEC this time. But there will be two No. 2s and maybe a No. 3.
The others – and there could be as many as seven league teams in – will be scattered across America.
LSU seems likely to be a high seed at home for a sub-Regional. That means they will have higher-ranked team visiting. How many and how much higher will be decided by the Tigers in the SEC tournament. So it counts more for them than for the ranked teams. They do have the league’s hottest win streak – at six – included in their regular-season finish. If Vanderbilt gets to the next tournament that means all the SEC teams with winning conference records get in. Such is the RPI of the league.
This league is so strong it can go off-campus for the conference tournament. Duluth, Ga., has also hosted in 2007 and 2010.
Tennessee has already won more than half of these sorority gatherings, 16 of 31. Georgia has seven. Of course the SEC being the SEC means the league champ is once again nationally ranked below the runnerup. That can be validated or changed this week as the SEC plays early enough to change the final regular-season rankings.
Of the contenders, this is A&M’s first chance (which puts it on the same number as seven other league teams) and UK has won it twice. In the NCAAs, the Lady Vols will host two games before the Sweet 16, as will Texas A&M, each likely the highest seed at their own places.
For the record, Georgia finished on an 8-2 run in the final 10, which is an NCAA qualifier. South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky all went 7-3. Texas A&M and Vanderbilt were 6-4.
If UK, UT and A&M all do as well as expected, what they are angling for is good NCAA positioning. No one wants to be in Baylor’s bracket, so a chance to go West is realistic and the usual suspect for the weakest Regional.
UConn and Notre Dame are likely No. 1 seeds – with UConn not leaving the state before the final Four -- in the East and South. Someone from the Big Three of the conference will have to take them on before the Final Four as well. But, if you earn a No. 2 seed now, there is the chance another team can at least rough them up if not eliminate them before the Final Four qualifier.
SEC teams can also enjoy the intensity of good basketball in four days.
Some unexpected player will make the all-tournament team even if her team is the championship one. The big dogs don’t even bark until quarterfinals on Friday.
Here are the games this week (seeds in parentheses) and league record this season:
Mississippi State (12) 5-11 vs. Alabama (13) 2-14.
Arkansas (8) 6-10 vs. Florida (9) 6-10; Game 1 Winner vs. South Carolina (5) 11-5; Missouri (10) 6-10 vs. Vanderbilt (7) 9-7; Auburn (11) 5-11 vs. LSU (6) 10-6.
Arkansas-Florida winner vs. Tennessee (1) 14-2; Game 1-South Carolina winner vs. Texas A&M (4) 11-5; Missouri-Vanderbilt winner vs. Kentucky (2) 13-3; Auburn - LSU winner Vs. Georgia 12-4.
Saturday semifinals, Sunday final.
These are preordained by the league finish. What Tennessee did by winning the league was earn an interesting semifinal. Georgia would face the surging LSU team, if all higher seeds win. Then Georgia would get UT. But A&M and UK would have a mighty semifinal battle, a bit tougher than the one the Lady Vols project to face.
In the pretournament teleconference, the usual mumbo-jumbo from all the coaches had some blinks of reality.
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said her team would certainly loved to have only one SEC loss (as the second came on the last day of the season) but that they had to refocus now.
“As you play hard, good things will happen,” she said. “I like our energy and how hard we play.”
She did not confirm anything about her injured center.
“We’ve had a toughness about us,” she said. “After all of our losses, we’ve gone back to work and gone back extremely hard.”
Gary Blair of Texas A&M is still playing the newcomer card in his school’s initial league run, especially with the tough finish, three straight and four of five.
“You can go from the top 10 two weeks ago to No. 19 now. There’s nothing wrong with us. We have got to play harder, play smarter and sometime give s credit to your opponents.
“We are going to our first SEC tournament and we’re gonna have a good time. The team that wins the SEC regular season doesn’t always win the conference tournament. That’s what happened in the Big 12 when we didn’t win the regular season but won the conference tournament.
“We are going in to have fun. We just need some Band-Aids and some confidence. I am playing three kids in the top nine who are freshmen.
Leadership has to come from within and it starts with the head coach.
“I have got to do a better job. We know we are gonna be in the NCAAs but we are going in to win this. The first one to get to 51 (points) in the first game will win.”
Andy Landers, long the best man in the conference, said, “We have better teams and better players in the SEC. Not only the veteran players, but the younger players. The talent in the league is higher and very well-distributed throughout the league.”
Matt Mitchell of Kentucky might be one of those who did not win the regular season but turns it around in the first playoff round, the league tournament.
“We were very disappointed to not reach our goal (of winning the regular season) so we have another goal,” he said.
Dawn Staley will take South Carolina to the NCAAs for consecutive seasons, the first time that has happened in more than a decade.
“It seems every team entered the season thinking they could win it,” she observed.
“I don’t know a more competitive conference in the country. The best in the conference turns out to be the best in the country.”
In the preseason, league coaches picked Kentucky to win, followed by Georgia and Texas A&M, then Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The media at least had Tennessee fourth. Now do you see why this is fun? No one knows nothing until the games are actually played.
Ole Miss has opted out already. Alabama, which didn’t care enough to fire a woeful coach last season may do so after this tournament. Other coaches likely in their last SEC appearances are at either Mississippi.
We’ll wrap it up for you Sunday night. And then comes the big draw.
The SEC is participating in the “Time Out in the Community” initiative during the conference tournament.
The program helps the women’s basketball student-athletes and coaches give back to the community which hosts the SEC basketball championships.
The SEC office worked in conjunction with The Arena at Gwinnett Center staff in Duluth, Ga., establish the outreach opportunities.
Prior to the start of the tournament, student-athletes and coaches will visit local children’s hospitals, elementary schools, and Boys and Girls Clubs. Each institution is assigned an outreach project based on seed order.
This venture is also being supported by the SEC’s corporate sponsors as a replacement for the conference’s longstanding Youth Clinic program.
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