With Saturday’s 84-65 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, the Florida Gators capped off an undefeated SEC schedule, becoming the first team in SEC history to compile an 18-0 conference record. What was predicted at the beginning of the year to be a two horse race, the SEC now appears to be the Gators alone to lose. The Kentucky Wildcats (2), Georgia Bulldogs (3), and Tennessee Volunteers (4) round out the top seeds in the tournament, while a few other NCAA Tournament Bubble teams sprinkle the field. While many talking heads believe the SEC to be the weakest of the “major” conferences this season, the tournament is still worth tuning in for, as many teams will be fighting for their ticket to the Big Dance.
As the top seed in the tournament, the Florida Gators receive a bye until Friday, where they will face the winner of the 8/9 match up between the Missouri Tigers and the Texas A&M Aggies. Texas A&M finished 8-10 in the SEC and lost to the Missouri Tigers 57-56 last Wednesday in their only meeting this season. The Gators dominated the Aggies in their lone meeting on February 1st, winning 69-36 at the O’Dome. The Gators defense held the Aggies to 26% shooting, and the 36 points were the fewest scored by Texas A&M all season. The Missouri Tigers finished 9-9 in the SEC, with 7 of their 9 losses coming by 10 points or less. The Tigers are led by Jabari Brown (19.7 PPG, SEC’s leading scorer) and Jordan Clarkson (18.1 PPG), the highest scoring back court in the conference. Florida beat Missouri 68-58 in Chris Walker’s college debut back on February 4th in Gainesville. Mizzou is currently listed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi as one of the “Next Four Out” and need a solid SEC tournament run to bolster their resume.
Prediction: Florida Gators 73 – Missouri Tigers 61
Assuming the prediction above holds true, the Florida Gators will advance to the conference semifinals to face the winner of what most likely will be #5 Arkansas (10-8) versus #4 Tennessee (11-7). Both of these teams are bubble teams (listed as “Last Four In”) and the winner of this match up will most likely play their way into the Big Dance. I think Arkansas presents a more difficult opponent for Florida, as the Razorbacks took the Gators to overtime in their only meeting this season, falling 84-82. Arkansas ranks 17th in the nation in points per game, averaging just over 80, and their high-powered offense will be a challenge for the Gators stout defense. Tennessee enters the postseason after a 72-45 beat down of Missouri to close out the season. The Volunteers are a familiar foe for the Gators, having lost both ends of the home and home season series. After being blown out in the first meeting in Gainesville, the Volunteers took a lead into halftime of the second match up, shooting over 62% from the field. Defensive adjustments by the Gators during the break led to Tennessee’s eventual downfall, as they were held to just 29% shooting in the second half and were outscored by 10.
Prediction: Florida Gators 72 – Arkansas Razorbacks 65
If all goes as planned, the Florida Gators will be playing for the SEC Championship on Sunday afternoon. At the beginning of the season, the Gators and the Kentucky Wildcats were the favorites to contend for the conference title, and those preseason premonitions may very well come true. However, I believe that the sixth seeded Ole Miss Rebels will give the Wildcats a run for their money in the conference semifinals behind the hot hand of Marshall Henderson. With that said, Skyway Shout Out is still predicting a championship showdown of the top two seeds, which will be the third meeting of the season between Florida and Kentucky. The Wildcats have stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their last seven games (Kentucky needed OT to pull out a one point victory at home against LSU). Led by Julius Randle, who is averaging a double-double on the season (15.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG), the Wildcats are always a strong threat at the Georgia Dome in ‘Cat’lanta.
Prediction: Florida Gators 68 – Kentucky Wildcats 60
Stay tuned for additional conference tournament coverage, including Florida State’s final push in the ACC tournament.