By John L. Pitts
There are years when the SEC men’s basketball tournament matchups are hard to forecast, even before the last weekend of the regular season tips off.
This season isn’t one of them.
The top seeds are already known – Tennessee in the Eastern and LSU in the Western – as well as the No. 2 seeds in each division (South Carolina and Auburn).
Two games today will prove crucial to setting the remainder of the bracket – Mississippi State’s visit to Ole Miss and Kentucky’s trip to Florida. Still, it could be Sunday afternoon before the entire bracket is finalized.
A quick look at the situation in each division:
n Mississippi State earns the No. 3 seed – and an opening-round game against Georgia – with a victory today in Oxford. Lose, and the Bulldogs drop to No. 4 and must face Vanderbilt.
If Ole Miss wins today to sweep the season series, the Rebels get the No. 3 slot and the game against Georgia. If Ole Miss loses, the bracket won’t be complete until the result of Sunday’s game between Alabama and Tennessee. An Alabama win would send the Crimson Tide to Tampa as the No. 4 seed, dropping Ole Miss to No. 5 – and an opening-round game against either Florida or Kentucky. If Alabama loses, Ole Miss gets Vandy.
Alabama will watch today’s game in Oxford carefully, hoping they can take the court against the Vols with a chance to finish as the No. 4 seed.
n Much easier to explain.
Today’s Florida-Kentucky winner is the Eastern No. 3 seed and plays Arkansas.
The loser is the No. 4 seed and plays … either Ole Miss or Alabama.
The tenative first-round schedule:
Thursday, March 12
Game 1 (Noon CT): Ole Miss or Alabama vs. Florida or Kentucky
(Winner plays LSU on Friday)
Game 2 (2:15 p.m.): Georgia vs. MSU or Ole Miss
(Winner plays South Carolina on Friday)
Game 3 (6:30 p.m.): Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss or Alabama or MSU
(Winner plays Tennessee on Friday)
Game 4 (8:45 p.m.): Arkansas vs. Florida or Kentucky
(Winner plays Auburn on Friday)