By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most teams in the SEC are streaking in the wrong direction heading into the conference tournament. Even the 13th-ranked, top-seeded Florida Gators are staggering into the tournament after missing their last 11 shots at Kentucky in their regular-season finale.
There has been questions all season about the number of quality teams in the Southeastern Conference. The SEC opens its expanded tournament Wednesday night with the bottom four teams fighting for the chance at one more game.
A couple teams have gotten hot, some need another win or two to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee and those whose next loss will mean the end to a disappointing season. Here’s a few:
The Volunteers are the SEC’s hottest team, winning of eight their last nine games. They have Jarnell Stokes, the only SEC player to average a double-double in league play this season with 13.1 points and 10.7 rebounds and 10 double-doubles in his last 13 games. Jordan McRae is averaging 25.8 points over his last six games, shooting 24-of-44 from 3-point range in that time. The Vol to watch is Trae Golden who has averaged 18.1 shots, hitting 44.6 percent during the eight wins. But he scored only four points, hitting 1 of 10 from the floor, in that 78-68 loss at Georgia on March 2.
The Gators are the favorite; they’re the SEC’s only ranked team and are the regular season champs. But they blew their chance to go into the tournament on a three-game winning streak when they went cold in the final 7:36 at Rupp Arena. So while Florida went 15-0 at home, the Gators come to Nashville having lost their last three road games and four of five away from the Sunshine State.
The Wildcats got a late-season signature win upsetting visiting Florida. Now they can help salvage their challenging season by Kentucky standards by winning the tournament title, even if coach John Calipari isn’t a big fan of conference tourneys. The Wildcats lost the title game a year ago after winning the two previous seasons. Missing out on a second straight tournament championship in the event Cats’ fans see as their birthright with 27 titles would be streaking in the wrong direction.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, this tournament isn’t being held in Fayetteville, Little Rock or Hot Springs. Arkansas has an impressive 18-1 record at home with its lone loss was to then-No. 6 Syracuse. The Razorbacks beat up on Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kentucky — with some friendly no-calls on B.J. Young’s back-to-back game winners against Missouri and Georgia. But Arkansas is 1-8 on the road in league play and have lost three in a row. Neutral sites haven’t helped either with losses in Las Vegas to Arizona State and Wisconsin.
First-year coach Rick Ray managed to avoid finishing last in the SEC by beating Auburn 74-71 in overtime last weekend for the Bulldogs second win in three games. But the Bulldogs’ painfully disappointing season likely will be coming to an end quickly. They lost Jalen Steele last week to a torn ACL and meniscus are down to six scholarship players. They have lost 14 of their last 16 games and their road record is a woeful 1-11.
The last-place Tigers are stumbling into the tournament losers of their last nine in a row. They have a chance to snap that skid against No. 13 seed Texas A&M on Wednesday night. The Aggies may be without their leading scorer Elston Turner, who broke a finger on his left hand in a loss to LSU last week, while J’Mychal Reese sprained an ankle in a loss at Arkansas to wrap up the regular season.
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