(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- Holy Hell, That's Rick Barnes/Bruce Pearl's Music: Both formerly maligned coaches elevated shaky preseason teams to the top of the SEC, despite an influx of talent throughout the league. Barnes stole the Coach of the Year award (Pearl's Auburn program possibly being in trouble with the NCAA might not have helped that), but both were worthy candidates, and both teams employ a variety of skilled, versatile players to wreak havoc on opponents. Tip of the cap to you both, Bruce and Rick.
- Vandy Drops Anchor: The Commodores really took the loss to Northwestern in last year's tournament hard (or maybe Luke Kornet was actually just that important on both sides of the ball). Vandy's tumble to 13th was exaggerated by the improvement of nearly every other team in the SEC, but was still shocking to the Weave, as we pegged them as a Top 40 squad in the preseason. But Bryce Drew and Commodore Nation can rest easy knowing that the school's best recruiting class ever is on its way in the fall.
- Flotsam in the Middle: Every time Ky or I released a bracketology update on 3MW, it seemed like 4-5 SEC teams were always jumbled around the same place in the S-Curve. That comes from the conference being deeper - the teams beat up on each other, getting good wins and racking up double-digit losses against each other, which has ultimately led to a bunch of teams that will likely get seeded in the 7-10 range. It made for a more entertaining season, though (unless you happen to be Andy Kennedy).
The SEC follows the "double-bye" format for its top 4 teams, and with 14 teams, only the bottom 4 squads must win 5 games in 5 days. The tournament is being held in St. Louis this year, picking up where Arch Madness left off, and many friends of 3MW will be in attendance...
What to Watch:
- Michael Effing Porter, Jr., folks - that's what you want to watch. Will the potential Top 3 NBA Draft pick play? Barbershop rumors were swirling that he will (literally, we heard that from a barbershop), but the official hammer was dropped Wednesday afternoon - HE'S BACK, FOLKS. What kind of impact can he have on a Mizzou squad that's already on its way to the NCAA Tournament?
- Will Florida get hot? We saw how devastating they can be when hot in one of the games of the year at PK80 (beat Gonzaga in 2OT), they should have beaten Duke, and they whipped Kentucky in the season finale. But when the Gators are struggling from the perimeter (threes and twos alike), they can crash down to Earth - that's how you lose 5 conference games to teams that almost certainly won't be in the NCAA Tournament. They only need to be hot for three games, but one cold half could doom them.
- After Bruce Pearl's outcry of disrespect for his players in the all-conference voting (and I agree with him that it was insane to exclude Mustapha Heron - did they just forget?), will Auburn attempt to prove all the other coaches wrong? The perimeter talent is there, and Chuma Okeke and Horace Spencer ensure they're no slouches inside, but plenty of skeptics still exist on Auburn's chances on the biggest stage (see Who Will Win section below to find out if I'm one of them).
Who Will Win:
- Tennessee - Unlike Auburn, the Vols completely converted me this year. The combination of Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams at the outside linebacker/forward spots is a matchup nightmare, and they have plenty of perimeter creativity and shooting to complement those guys. Rick Barnes has also built the defense into a monster (4th in the country per KenPom!), so the Vols can win in a plethora of ways. Rocky Top!
If Not Them, Then:
- Florida - As mentioned, it really comes down to the shooters. If Jalen Hudson, Egor "Three-gor" Koulechov, KeVaughn Allen, etc. are lights out from downtown, the Gators are nearly impossible to beat. They can be forced into tough midrange twos, though, and the interior defense remains vulnerable to bully ball.
- Kentucky - John Calipari seemed to unlock some of this team's potential with Jarred Vanderbilt giving the team far greater lineup versatility, and the dual-PG systems with Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander provide much-needed playmaking. Hami Diallo's midseason descent into the abyss is a concern, but like this entire team as a whole, he has the potential to become a defensive terror for a few days.