This is our last preview of the year, Chris and I have had a lot of fun doing these previews and hopefully keeping the mood light enough around Mizzou Hoops to keep you all entertained. We'll be having a LOT to talk about in the coming offseason, so stay tuned to that. But thanks for reading what we had to say about this year.
With all that said, it's time to talk SEC Tournament. Each team has had 18 conference games to acclimate to each other, and now it's time to seed all 14 teams (Mizzou is 14th... :( ... ) and figure out how this bracket is likely to play out. This will have a bit of a Mizzou slant as we're going to mostly focus on them, but why not at least talk about some of the other teams since we're here. They're also better than Mizzou so it's easier to talk about. We're now in our third year of playing these teams, and it's been an interesting experiment to say the least, but for the first time since we joined, the SEC is a stable league.
About This Gosh-Dang Basketball Conference
After a several years in a row of subpar basketball play outside of a select few teams, the SEC seems to have righted the ship this season and has 6 teams eyeing possible NCAA bids. There's a graph below, the top 6 teams are all on the list of teams that have a chance to receive a bid this Sunday.
Everyone knows about Kentucky to this point, they've not lost a game all year, they've got oodles and oodles of McDonalds All-Americans, etcetera etcetera. But there have been plenty of surprises this year in the league that I'm not sure many people saw coming. Ole Miss surprised some with a strong showing and an 11-7 record in league play, even after the #SECBasketballFever-ish loss to open the season against Charleston Southern. Texas A&M wasn't expected to do much and they took care of most of their business and are peeking in at the NCAA tourney. Georgia did what most figured they would do, be solid throughout the year and if they'd have stayed healthy might have threatened Arkansas at the 2 spot.
The bottom of the conference was surprising for some though as not very many people foresaw Missouri being as bad as they turned out to be. Not many expected Florida to struggle the way they did however, but the Gators didn't even see .500 in conference after losing approximately 137% of their points from a year ago. That number might not be correct, I think my math is fuzzy. All that said, it mostly gets tossed out the window when the tourney starts, as everybody is one and done!
Now for a closer look at the conference tournament, let's chat with someone from our SEC Sports Hub!
Q&A With TEAM SPEED KILLS
So we talked with David Wunderlich, or Year2 as he's known, over at TeamSpeedKills (THEY COVER BASKETBALL TOO!) and he answered a few questions about the upcoming SEC Tournament. In a general sort of way. Fun fact, did you know that David lives in Italy? I secretly hate him for that.
RockMNation: Obviously Kentucky is the favorite by a long shot, but who do you think has the best opportunity to catch them napping and why?
David Wunderlich: If it's going to happen, it's going to be the Wildcats' second game against either LSU or Texas A&M. I don't see either Florida or Alabama having enough offense to keep up with UK, while both the Aggies and Tigers gave UK a good game. Granted those good games were road games for Big Blue, while Kentucky fans will buy up tons of tournament tickets as they always do to create a pro-Wildcat crowd. I don't see UK losing in the final, when the team's killer instinct is probably going to kick in. One game after a laugher over the Gators or Tide but before the whole thing is on the line is when they might get taken down.
RMN: Of the teams on the bubble (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU) who do you think cannot afford to go out early in the Tournament and still make the NCAAs?
Wunderlich: Texas A&M easily has the least margin for error, as the team is currently outside the field according to the composite at the Bracket Matrix. If the Aggies lose their first game against either Auburn or Mississippi State, they're done. Ole Miss might also fail to make the bracket if it loses its first game to either South Carolina or Missouri. LSU is the only one of the three that can lose its first SEC Tournament game and still feel relatively OK about making the Big Dance-provided that loss is to the Aggies. If it was to Auburn or Mississippi State, then they're in trouble too.
RMN: What coaches do you think won't be back coaching in this tournament this time next year?
Wunderlich: The only coach in deep trouble of being fired is Anthony Grant. Two of the bottom four teams are on first-year head coaches, while the other two are on third-year head coaches. Florida and Tennessee had disappointing seasons, but Donovan is coach for life and the Vols are on a first-year coach. Grant has been in Tuscaloosa for six years with only a single NCAA Tournament and two NIT bids to show for it. A third NIT appearance is coming this year, but I think Bama wants more than that from its basketball program. I don't see any coaches leaving for other college jobs or the NBA, so Grant is about it.
RMN: Missouri plays South Carolina, do you think the Tigers have a chance to make any noise in the tourney?
Wunderlich: If beating South Carolina counts as making noise, then the Tigers have a shot at making some noise. If not, then I'd have to say no. The Gamecocks only beat MU by five at home, so that game is definitely a possible win. The following one against Ole Miss probably is not. The Rebels are probably a tournament team thanks to avoiding bad losses in league play. They didn't lose to anyone seeded below 7-seed Vandy, and with them sliding closer to the cut line with that loss to the Commodores last weekend, I can't see them losing focus and falling to Mizzou.
RMN: Last, how do you see the Tournament playing out? What are some upsets to keep an eye out for?Who is your pick as Tournament MVP?
Wunderlich: It's hard to say that any team got a great draw other than Georgia, who swept its likely first opponent Ole Miss, nearly knocked of its likely next opponent Arkansas, and avoided being in Kentucky's half. A&M got a good draw inasmuch as it has chances to boost its resume with a draw featuring games against LSU and Kentucky.
I don't see much of a chance for the 11 through 14 seeds to make a run because A&M desperately needs wins and Ole Miss seems to be immune to bad SEC losses. The rest comes down to who wants it the most. I think the Aggies will knock off LSU a third time and push Kentucky, but I can't see the Wildcats losing. If we get a surprise finalist, it's going to be Ole Miss. The Rebels might catch UGA thinking that it doesn't have to care here because its dance ticket is punched, and we've already seen the Rebels beat Arkansas. UK will win this thing, though.
Following that theme, my MVP pick would be Stefan Moody. When Ole Miss wins, it's usually because he's carrying the team. If not him, then the obvious choice is newly-minted SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis. He's just tremendous. Because Kentucky is so balanced, I don't think a Wildcat will end up with the MVP despite the team's near-certain chances of winning the thing. Guys just take their turn shining and it's not often the same one two or three games in a row.
Again, thanks to David, aka Year2, for his insight. Check out TeamSpeedKills.com if you have some time. They do good work there.
So we know a lot about the SEC Tournament at this point. But what about Mizzou? Well, I hate to break this bad news to you but it's really doubtful that Mizzou wins the tournament. In fact odds are 80,000 to 1, if you're a betting man. Those are not very good. Mizzou doesn't have the lowest odds, because they're actually on the other side of the bracket to Kentucky, so the lowest odds go to both Mississippi State and Auburn at 150,000 to 1. The reality of this season is that if Mizzou gets to play two games they should consider that a success.
1) Be The Good Version of Missouri
The good version of Missouri is a decent offensive team. They move the ball, get open 3's to the guys who can make them, work the ball inside, get offensive rebounds and don't turn the ball over regularly. The problem is that this version of the Tigers rarely shows up. Down the stretch, they lost Johnathan Williams III as their most effective scorer and when that happened the Tigers found it even more difficult to score. If JW3 can find some semblance of a post game and be effective, Missouri can be a tough out.
Part of that is going to be the second part.
2) Freshman Wings MUST knock down shots
3) Turnovers & Rebounds
Last time Mizzou played South Carolina, they had 5 more turnovers and gave up 18 offensive rebounds to the Gamecocks. But this is a problem that plagued the Tigers in more games than just against SC. Defensive glass and turnovers have put Mizzou into a lot of holes, and for them to flip any kind of script they have GOT to shore up these areas.
Rebounding is so vital because when your margin of error is thin like Mizzou's, you cannot give the other team extra possessions on offense. The pace of the game for the majority of Mizzou's games has been... glacial, to say the least. But this is a team that needs to keep the pace of the game low in order to limit possessions. It's really difficult to limit possessions for the other team when you're turning the ball over, and giving them extra shots through offensive rebounds, that's just tough to over come.
And yet, Missouri has the players to win these battles. Especially early. Against South Carolina, their bigs aren't going to overwhelm you with their talent and explosiveness, but they will outwork you if you let them. MIzzou just has to find a way to over come, they've got to want it more. Beyond the Gamecocks, Ole Miss is a team that isn't threatening on the inside, they do most of their damage from the perimeter. So its not like winning multiple games is out of the question for this team.
It kind of ends there however.
The likelihood that Mizzou advances is slim. The Gamecocks have more experience, and they'll engage you in a street fight. Coming off a game like that, even if the Tigers were fortunate to win, it would be entirely too much to ask to overcome a team like Ole Miss the very next day. I think Mizzou likely loses tonight, and I'm not so sure that isn't the best thing for this team. Get to the offseason.
What will be important, is not necessarily today's game, or possibly tomorrows if the Tigers were to win today, but the next 6 months. That's far more important.