Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
SEC Tournament report:
Drama at LSU part of story
LSU forward Emmitt Williams (24) celebrates with the LSU student section after an overtime victory in an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won in overtime 82-80.(AP Photo/Bill Feig)
FAYETTEVILLE -- The SEC Tournament opens today in Nashville, Tenn., with a first-four matchup of league bottom feeders Vanderbilt, Georgia, Missouri and Texas A&M -- none of whom won more than six league games -- but the spiciest action is on the other end of the bracket.
No. 1 seed LSU celebrated the school's first SEC regular-season championship since 2009 with Saturday's 80-59 clubbing of Vanderbilt at the Maravich Assembly Center. But the Tigers' celebration featured a classic bayou melodrama, including the booing of Athletic Director Joe Alleva, and the absence of Coach Will Wade and standout freshmen Javonte Smart and Naz Reid.
Wade and Smart are caught up in an FBI probe, which included secret wiretaps, into college basketball corruption. Wade was suspended indefinitely Friday by LSU after he was alleged to be on one of the wiretaps with aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins discussing a "strong-a** offer," allegedly to a "handler" for a recruit. Yahoo Sports and ESPN have reported the recruit is Smart, a top 50 recruit from Baton Rouge who also has been suspended by LSU.
Reid sat out Saturday's title-clinching victory, apparently with a concussion, but the 6-10 forward has been cleared to play in the SEC Tournament, according to interim LSU Coach Tony Benford.
For the first time, the SEC Tournament will feature three teams ranked in The Associated Press top 10 in No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Tennessee and No. 9 LSU.
No. 12 seed Missouri (14-16, 5-13 SEC) will meet No. 13 seed Georgia (11-20, 2-16) in the tournament opener tonight at 6 at Bridgestone Arena, which is hosting for the fifth time in the past seven years (2013, 2015-17). The 8:30 p.m. game will pit No. 11 seed Texas A&M (13-17, 6-12) against Vanderbilt (9-22, 0-18) for the right to enter the main draw Thursday.
The Commodores, playing in their hometown, are riding a school-record 19-game losing streak, winless since a 90-59 victory over UNC-Asheville on Dec. 31.
No team has won five games to earn the SEC Tournament title since the current double-bye format for the top four teams was enacted in 2013. Mississippi State won the 2009 SEC Tournament with a four-game run, joining Georgia (2008) in the tornado-affected tourney in Atlanta, Arkansas (2000) and Auburn (1985) as the only teams to win the SEC Tournament by winning four consecutive games to capture the league's automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
The University of Arkansas (17-14, 8-10) would face the Tigers (26-5, 16-2) in a rubber match Friday if the No. 9 seed Razorbacks can get by No. 8 seed Florida (17-14, 9-9) in their noon game Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.
The Gators notched a 57-51 victory at Walton Arena on Jan. 9 in the only meeting between the teams this year. Arkansas eliminated the Gators from last year's SEC Tournament with an 80-72 victory in the quarterfinals in St. Louis.
The other pre-determined second-round game will pit No. 7 seed Ole Miss (20-11, 10-8) against No. 10 seed Alabama (17-14, 8-10) at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
The Missouri-Georgia winner will take on No. 5 seed Auburn (22-9, 11-7) at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Texas A&M-Vanderbilt winner will face No. 6 seed Mississippi State (22-9, 10-8) at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday.
LSU, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina are the top four seeds in that order. The Volunteers (27-4, 15-3), who held the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 for four weeks earlier in the season, came up one win shy of claiming a share of a second consecutive SEC title due to Saturday's 84-80 loss at Auburn, which shared the regular season crown last year.
No. 2 seed Kentucky (26-5, 15-3) will be gunning for its fifth consecutive SEC Tournament championship, and its league-record 32nd overall. The Wildcats also hold the record by winning seven tournaments in a row from 1944-1950.
Florida was the last team to win the tournament prior to Kentucky's four-year streak. The Gators beat the Wildcats 61-60 behind tournament MVP Scottie Wilbekin at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in 2014.
In and out
Alabama fell out of most NCAA Tournament projections due to its three-game losing streak to cap the regular season. The Crimson Tide's fall to the wrong side of the bubble leaves the SEC with six or seven projected NCAA tourney teams, barring an upset champion in Nashville.
No. 4 seed South Carolina is not one of those teams. The Gamecocks (16-15, 11-7) went 5-8 in nonconference play as the only league team with a losing out-of-conference record.
CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm dropped both Alabama and Florida out of his projection into the "first four out" category Monday. Florida easily has the top NCAA Net ranking among those teams at No. 33. Palm has six SEC teams in his current projection: 1 seed Kentucky, 2 seeds LSU and Tennessee, 6 seed Mississippi State, 7 seed Auburn and 8 seed Ole Miss.
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi has seven team in his latest projection: 1 seed Kentucky, 2 seeds LSU and Tennessee, 5 seed Auburn, 6 seed Mississippi State, 9 seed Ole Miss and 11 seed Florida.
AP All-SEC team
Tennessee's Grant Williams was chosen as SEC Player of the Year, and Ole Miss' Kermit Davis was the pick for coach of the year to lead the Associated Press All-SEC team released Tuesday. Davis, in his first season, led Ole Miss to a 20-11 record and the No. 7 seed for the conference tournament after the Rebels were picked in the preseason to repeat a last-place finish.
Williams, the only unanimous choice, leads the SEC in scoring (19.3). He lost out on the AP's SEC Player of the Year last season to Georgia's Yante Maten.
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford, Kentucky forward PJ Washington, LSU guard Tremont Waters and Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon joined Williams on the first team.
The second team consisted of Tennessee teammates Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield, Auburn guard Jared Harper, Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree and South Carolina forward Chis Silva.
Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro earned SEC Newcomer of the Year honors.
Tennessee's Grant Williams repeated as the coaches' selection for SEC Player of the Year, and Ole Miss' Kermit Davis was voted coach of the year by his peers.
Noticeably absent was LSU Coach Will Wade, who led the Tigers to their first SEC regular-season championship in 10 years with a 16-2 mark that included an 9-0 road record. Wade is currently on an indefinite suspension levied by LSU after the latest revelations in an FBI probe into corruption in college basketball.
The league announced an eight-man first team of Williams and teammate Admiral Schofield, Arkansas' Daniel Gafford, Kentucky's PJ Washington, LSU's Tremont Waters, Ole Miss' Breein Tyree, Mississippi State's Quinndary Weatherspoon and South Carolina's Chris Silva.
The eight-man second team was comprised of Auburn's Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, Georgia's Nicolas Claxton, Kentucky's Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson, LSU's Skylar Mays, Ole Miss' Terence Davis and Tennessee's Jordan Bone.
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe, the league's top three-point shooter, headlines the All-Freshman team, which also includes Alabama's Kira Lewis Jr., Florida's Andrew Nembhard, Kentucky's Herro and Johnson, LSU's Naz Reid, Mississippi State's Reggie Perry and South Carolina's A.J. Lawson.
Waters and Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans were named co-defensive players of the year.
LSU's Mays was the scholar-athlete of the year, Kentucky's Johnson was freshman of the year and South Carolina's Hassani Gravett was sixth-man of the year.
The all-defensive team featured Gafford, Hagans, Silva, Waters and Alabama center Donta Hall.
Tonight's SEC Tournament openers are both rematches of recently played games. Missouri dumped Georgia 64-39 on March 5. The Bulldogs, playing at home, were held to the lowest point total in an SEC game this year.
Texas A&M held off the Commodores 64-57 on March 2 to give the Aggies their third SEC home victory at Reed Arena. Texas A&M went 3-6 in both home and road games in conference play.
Vanderbilt wrapped up the first winless conference season in 65 years last week with losses at home to Arkansas and on the road at LSU.
The Commodores have lost a school-record 22 games, and are riding a school-record 19-game losing streak.
Coach Bryce Drew's club collapsed at the end, falling at Memorial Gym against the Hogs (84-48) and at LSU (80-59) by a combined 164-107.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
RANK;LAST WEEK;NET;TEAM (RECORDS);COMMENT
1;1;14;LSU (26-5, 16-2);Will Wade, Smart troubles derail a great season?
2;2;6;Tennessee (27-4, 15-3);Only unbeaten SEC home team (17-0)
3;3;5;Kentucky (26-5, 15-3);Largely considered an NCAA No. 1 seed
4;6;17;Auburn (22-9, 11-7);Pearl has Tigers peaking for postseason
5;8;78;South Carolina (16-15, 11-7);SEC's 4th place team out of NCAAs?
6;5;21; Miss. State (22-9, 10-8);First NCAA berth in 10 years upcoming
7;4;34;Ole Miss (20-11, 10-8);Outscored 366-365 while going 2-3 in past 5
8;7;33;Florida (17-14, 9-9);Meets Razorbacks in first round again
9;11;64;Arkansas (17-14, 8-10);Can 3-game streak trigger postseason bid?
10;9;57;Alabama (17-14, 8-10);Lost 6 of last 8 games to finish on ebb Tide
11;10;80; Texas A&M (13-17, 6-12);Coach Billy Kennedy may be on his way out
12;12;77;Missouri (14-16, 5-13);Held Georgia to 39 points last week
13;13;113;Georgia (11-20, 2-16);Crean has sparked an attendance boon
14;14;153;Vanderbilt (9-22, 0-18);Worst SEC run in school history
The NCAA has instituted a new rating system, the NET Rankings, which has taken the place of the Ratings Percentage Index. An acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, the NET rankings factor in game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses.
at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn
All times Central
GAME 1 No. 13 Georgia vs. No. 12 Missouri, 6 p.m.
GAME 2 No. 14 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 Texas A&M, 8:30 p.m.
GAME 3 No. 9 Arkansas vs. No. 8 Florida, noon
GAME 4 No. 5 Auburn vs. Game 1 winner, 2:30 p.m.
GAME 5 No. 10 Alabama vs. No. 7 Ole Miss, 6 p.m.
GAME 6 No. 6 Mississippi State vs. Game 2 winner, 8:30 p.m.
GAME 7 No. 1 LSU vs. Game 3 winner, noon
GAME 8 No. 4 South Carolina vs. Game 4 winner, 2:30 p.m.
GAME 9 No. 2 Kentucky vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.
GAME 10 No. 3 Tennessee vs. Game 6 winner, 8:30 p.m.
GAME 11 Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, noon
GAME 12 Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Championship game, noon
Sports on 03/13/2019
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.