Maestro, our theme music for the week, S'il vous plait:
I've been busier than a boy dog with 3, um, "important tasks occupying most of his time" this week and still managed to do a little blogging to boot, but the time is running short and there ain't no rest for the wicked. So I'm going to have to multitask a little. I'm combining this week's Free Form Friday with my leg of the SEC Hoops Power Poll Roundtable. Please also take a look at the contributions of poll participants A Bulldog in Exile, Garnet and Black Attack, and Rocky Top Talk.
1. What teams are locks, probables and bubble teams for the NCAA tournament? Why?
Florida has reached "lock" status the old-fashioned way- they've earned it. The Gators have rarely passed up an opportunity to win a close conference game, including some road contests that really tested the mettle of Billy Donovan's team. Their recent comeback win against Georgia really only cinched it for me. The Gators won't win the Big Dance, but I think they have a shot to ride the right bracket deep into the tourney.
Vandy is also a lock, and I can't fully believe I'm typing that. All season I waited for the 'Dores to fold. They haven't done it. I still have my doubts about their ability to win away from Memorial Gym. Given that they won't be playing any tournament games at home, this could be a problem.
Kentucky is a lock, but in my mind they're also a lock to leave before the Sweet Sixteen. John Calipari right now is coaching a collection of excellent basketball players who just don't play well as a team, often at the worst times. Like against Arkansas. Believe me, if they can lose on the road to Arkansas they can lose on a neutral court to a lot of tournament teams.
Tennessee is technically on the bubble, but they're "lockish", or as Stephen Colbert might put it, "locky." The Vols' recent win over Vandy was so big that Bruce Pearl wanted to tell the world about it. And as we've learned recently you can't always count on Bruce to just go blabbering to anyone.
Past that, Alabama and Georgia are still squarely on the bubble. 'Bama has torn through the SEC West but is still answering for some dismal losses in the early going. Georgia on the other hand doesn't have a single bad loss on the resume, with all but one of the Dawgs' 8 losses coming at the hands of a team currently ranked in the RPI top 50. But the Bulldogs also don't have a lot of quality wins either. If they beat the teams they're supposed to beat (LSU, Auburn, South Carolina) then I think everything's fine. But if the 'Dawgs drop one of those winnable games down the stretch however, it's going to give the selection committee all they need to pick someone else for one of those precious few at-large spots. And this year there's a glut of teams that could easily make a case for "last one in" status. We do not need to give the committee any reasons to exclude the Hoop Hounds.
2. What is your story of the year for the conference?
The barren wasteland that is the SEC West. Truly, no one expected Auburn to be very good in the first season under Tony Barbee. But I really thought Trent Johnson would have LSU moving in the right direction. Mississippi State has been a slow motion trainwreck from the get-go, Arkansas has underachieved, and poor Alabama has dominated the division and finds themselves on the tournament bubble at least partially because of the abyssmal RPI's of the coevals they have no choice but to play. Think about that. 'Bama may not make the Big Dance because Auburn and LSU suck like a pair of gaping chest wounds. Speaking of which, Alabama's late season surge would be a close runner-up. I mean, this team has gone from losing some really bad out of conference games to possibly posting the top conference record. Anthony Grant deserves real credit for keeping the wheels on the wagon in Tuscaloosa.
3. Who is your player of the year? Why?
John Jenkins. I love to watch that guy play. The college game has sadly been deprived of pure shooters the past few years, so seeing a guy like Jenkins when he's lighting it up is just incredibly refreshing. He's leading the conference in scoring at close to 20 per game, and there's no team in the league whose fortunes are so tied to their star's as the Commodores'. I think he could thrive on any team in the league. That says player of the year to me.
4. Who is the coach of the year? Why?
Gotta be Anthony Grant of Alabama, for the reasons noted above. A week before Christmas the Tide were 5-6 when most of the conference had been fattening up on cupcakes prior to the beginning of conference play. Since then they've gone 13-2, and the two losses were on the road by 5 points or less. That's mind-boggling stuff for a team that I gave up for dead only 10 games into the season.
5. What SEC team will go furthest in the NCAA tournament? In one of the other post season tourneys?
Florida. Billy Donavan seems to have worked out the early season kinks, and the Gators have shown an aptitude for doing what it takes to win basketball games. Could Kentucky get hot and make a run? Sure. But I really have no faith in any SEC team to make it to the Elite 8. It's just a down year for the conference all over.
I am intrigued by the Vanderbilt Commodores as well. Sometimes old sayings hang around because there's a kernel of truth in them. One of the old sayings that attends the NCAA basketball tournament is that "guard play wins in March." It would be interesting to test that saying statistically, but I don't have either the time or the acumen to do so. I will say that if it's true then no team in the SEC has a better pair of guards than Vandy. Again however, I just don't think Vandy's the same team away from Memorial Gym, and I'm afraid the tournament will expose that fact.
Bonus question: Does any team not currently in your NCAA tournament discussion have a team that could win the SEC tournament?
No. The SEC currently has a lot of flawed basketball teams. It's always possible for somebody to get hot at the right time (see Georgia, 2008). If anybody has a puncher's chance of coming out of nowhere to win it, it would likely be Mississippi State. Stansbury's team has a lot of talent, and that's why some thought they could really make some noise in the SEC this season. A team with that much talent on the floor is always a little bit dangerous. But I don't think they can put together 3 solid games in a row.
As usual, you may mock my choice of music or my basketball knowledge in the comments. Or you can comment on other hot topics of conversation in the world-at-large, such as how exactly Al-Queda managed to drug the entire Libyan coffee supply, whether Auburn's going down and taking Tennessee with them, and whether or not you even knew that spring training for Major League Baseball has begun (and whether or not you care). And as always . . .