LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- You can argue this has been a season of transition for men’s basketball in the Southeastern Conference.
Alabama won the regular season title for the first time since 2002. Arkansas finished second after the Razorbacks finished in the league’s second division the two previous seasons.
Of the 13 coaches bringing their teams to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, for the SEC Tournament, which begins Wednesday, only one man has won the event: Kentucky’s John Calipari, who’s done it six times.
Defending champion Bruce Pearl of Auburn is staying home. Something about an issue or two with the NCAA.
So buckle up. Starting with its tournament opener against Mississippi State at noon Thursday, Kentucky must win four in a row to extend its season.
Here are five storylines to watch in the SEC Tournament:
1. Can Kentucky win four straight?
Remember this: The last Southeastern Conference men’s tournament that was completed was in 2019. The winner was Auburn. The Tigers were a 5-seed, which means that Pearl’s had to win four games.
But also remember this: Over the last 20 seasons, only four SEC Tournament winners won four straight: Auburn in 2019; Mississippi State in 2009; Georgia in 2008 and Arkansas in 2000.
That Auburn team in 2019 was not a collection of chumps. The Tigers were actually the 5-seed in Nashville. They got a break in the semifinals when Florida, the 8-seed, took out top seed LSU.
Auburn finished its work against Tennessee in the championship game and then won four more on its way to the Final Four.
2. But, can Kentucky win four straight?
Calipari said that Kentucky can beat anybody in the league — and lose to anybody in the league. I do not disagree.
The Wildcats defeated the teams that finished third, fourth and fifth in the league. They should have beaten SEC runner-up Arkansas. They were right there until the final 4 four minutes against SEC champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The SEC is a balanced group. I’ll repeat what I wrote earlier: If every SEC game is close to a coin-flip, the Wildcats’ chances of winning in Nashville are essentially 6.25% — 0.5 times 0.5 times 0.5 times 0.5.
Bart Torvik’s basketball analytics formula suggests that I’m a tad optimistic. His SEC Tournament simulator puts Kentucky’s win probability at 3.7%, behind Alabama (27%); Arkansas (18.6); Tennessee (15.3); LSU (13.8); Florida (8.7); Missouri (5.9) and Ole Miss (5.0)
3. What happened the last time UK played Mississippi State?
Kentucky needed seven 3-point field goals from Dontaie Allen as well as a pair of overtimes to beat the Bulldogs, 78-73, in Starkville in UK’s SEC opener.
Allen has made six shots from distance in UK’s last 10 games. The word from Kentucky’s media availability Tuesday was Allen had a terrific practice. But Allen has not made a field goal since Feb. 13.
Kentucky won’t get 23 points from Allen. But they need to get something, because State packs its defense near the rim.
As for State, the Bulldogs have won three of their last five while playing Alabama to a five-point game. State ranks 12th in the SEC offensive efficiency but fourth in defensive efficiency. Ben Howland likes to keep games in the 60s.
4. Who’s Hot?
I believe Arkansas qualifies. The Razorbacks played a tasty nonconference schedule, declining to leave Fayetteville without playing a Top-75 opponent. Then they lost four of their first six SEC games.
After that? Perfection.
Arkansas has won 11 straight SEC games. The Hogs’ only loss since Jan. 16 was at Oklahoma State.
5. Who’s Not?
For a team that Torvik’s formula ranks at the third-favorite, I believe Tennessee qualifies.
The Vols have lost half of their last six games as well as four of their last nine and six of their last 13.
And Tennessee did not play Alabama and Arkansas during that stretch. They lost to Auburn, Kentucky and Ole Miss.
Rick Barnes has work to do. Tennessee has not won the SEC Tournament since 1979.
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