There are two things we know for certain about this week’s SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Tampa:
1, Auburn is the hottest team coming in;
2, That doesn’t mean jack squat.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury summed it up nicely last week: “I think it’s probably the most wide open it’s been in my 11 years here.”
Auburn has won eight of their last nine and manhandled Western Division champion LSU on Saturday. But if this season has taught us anything, it’s that the future is about as predictable as an Agatha Christie novel.
In other words, the only thing we can expect is the unexpected.
Let’s quickly review some of the results this season that have made me question the laws of logic: Ole Miss over Kentucky, MSU over Kentucky, Georgia over Florida, Kentucky over Tennessee, Georgia over Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt over LSU, Alabama over Tennessee – to name a few.
This is why I’m not about to make a prediction on who will win the SEC Tournament. Logic does not apply to the SEC, and I’ve never trusted my gut.
I can tell you what every team will look at, either for inspiration or as a warning: Georgia, circa 2008. That team went from last in the Eastern Division to tournament champions – against the odds and against the tornado that forced them to play twice in one day.
Aftera disheartening loss to Auburn on Feb. 28, Mississippi State sophomore Phil Turner said, “Just like Georgia did, we can, too. And I feel like we’re a better ball club than Georgia was last year.”
MSU (19-12, 9-7 SEC), which plays a first-round game against Georgia on Thursday, has as good a chance as anybody. So let us make an argument for a different set of Bulldogs winning the whole thing and earning an automatic NCAA tournament berth.
The argument begins and ends with State’s recent play. After losing five out of six, the Bulldogs have won two straight, against Florida and Ole Miss. What’s stood out the most from those two wins is the team’s depth and willingness to share the ball.
In each game, 10 different Bulldogs got in the scoring column. Only two players logged 30 or more minutes (Dee Bost and Barry Stewart versus Ole Miss). MSU had 13 assists both nights.
An off night by leading scorer Jarvis Varnado doesn’t spell defeat. He had only nine points and six rebounds against the Rebels, but Kodi Augustus came off the bench and notched 13 and seven in the post.
When MSU’s shooters are on target, it’s like being locked inside a phone booth with a juiced-up pitching machine. The blows come from all directions, and there is no route of escape.
In these last two wins, MSU has made 18 of 43 (41.9 percent) from 3-point range, 50 percent against Florida.
Looking beyond the two most recent games, MSU took LSU to two overtimes. The Bulldogs haven’t been blown out often. The only point of real concern is those two losses to Auburn, by 15 and 18 points.
But, like these two wins, that’s in the past. Which means that it means nothing.
Brad Locke (email@example.com) covers MSU for the Journal and blogs daily at djbulldogs.wordpress.com.