The 2021 SEC Basketball Tournament begins Wednesday, March 10th, and I couldn’t be more excited, but I am also bitter.
March is a bittersweet month. While March Madness is my favorite time of year, I have to realize that college hoops is coming to an end. Looking back, the season always goes by too fast. It felt like yesterday we were talking about the Vols starting the season 7-0 with back-to-back 100+ point games.
Now is SEC Tournament time.
The NCAA Tournament gets all the glory, and rightfully so, it is always an incredible couple of weeks. However, the conference tournaments are just as fun to watch.
Some of my fondest memories are going to SEC Tournaments with the boys. I remember the 2009 SEC Tournament down in Tampa, FL, when the Vols made a run to the Championship Game. I still hate Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart to this day.
After the 65-54 win over the Gators, Tennessee wraps up the four seed in the 2021 SEC Basketball Tournament.
Here is a look at key players that could impact the tournament and a few teams that could hoist the trophy. Furthermore, I might throw in a prediction or two.
SEC Basketball Tournament Key Players
Moses Moody – Arkansas #5
You could argue the 6-foot-6 freshman is the SEC Player of the Year. If I had a vote, Moody would get it, but he is not a clear runaway like Grant Williams was a few years ago. There are a couple of other guys I will mention.
However, Moody is a huge reason why the Razorbacks finished the season on an 8-game win streak with a 21-5 record overall and 13-4 in the SEC.
In three of the last four games, Moody has scored over 20 points and has been effective from all three points of the floor.
If Arkansas wants to sustain its success and win an SEC Tournament Championship for the first time since 2000, Moody must continue to dominate games like he did to end the season.
Jahvon Quinerly – Alabama #13
You could go with multiple Alabama players, but when Jahvon Quinerly is at his best, so are the Tide.
The transfer guard from Villanova is shooting a team-high (min 50 attempts) 44.1% from the 3-point line, which is 77th best in the nation, according to KenPom. In SEC play only, Quinerly is shooting 50% from deep on 66 attempts.
When Quinerly is knocking down the outside jumper, he opens the offense up for guys like John Petty and Joshua Primo to take over. I know Petty is usually the talk of the team since he has been there 37 years, but watch out for Quinerly to make a huge impact on the tournament.
Cameron Thomas – LSU #24
Not only has Cameron Thomas been one of the best players in the SEC, but he’s also been one of the best in the nation.
Thomas has been used a lot this season. In fact, according to KenPom’s rankings of possessions used, Thomas ranks 47th. The impressive note about that stat is Thomas has one of the lowest turnover rates in the nation.
Thomas is a scoring machine, and no one has had any success stopping him. Other than the Ole Miss game where Thomas only played four minutes, his lowest scoring output of the season was against Louisiana Tech on December 6th. Thomas scored 16 points that game on 5-of-11 from the floor, including 0-for-3 from deep.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see LSU win the tournament with an MVP award from Thomas.
John Fulkerson – Tennessee #10
We’ve discussed ad nauseam John Fulkerson’s senior season. I have many thoughts on why the preseason First-Team All-SEC selection has not had that type of season. However, Fulkerson can still lead the Vols to a deep run in March.
Tennessee is 13-1 this season when Fulkerson scores in double figures. If you use SEC play plus Kansas and Colorado, the Vols are 8-1 when Fulkerson scores in double figures.
As good as Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson have been this season, I still think the Vols go as Fulkerson does. Getting him more involved in the offense, especially early in the game, will help the Vols make a run at an SEC Basketball Tournament Championship.
SEC Basketball Tournament Favorites
1. Alabama Crimson Tide 21-6 (16-2 SEC)
Alabama was the best team in the SEC all season.
In just two years after a .500 Avery Johnson era, Nate Oats has taken the Tide to an SEC Regular Season Title.
Oats has a very analytical mind, which I appreciate, and it shows with the quick turnaround in Tuscaloosa. Everyone will talk about the Tide’s offense and how they take and make a lot of three-point shots. Many people will tell you how impressive it is that the Tide gets 40.2 percent of their points from deep or how remarkable their tempo of play is at eighth fastest in the nation.
I don’t want to sound like an old head here. However, maybe the most impressive part of Alabama’s season is the Tide finished third in adjusted defense efficiency, only giving up 86.6 points per 100 possessions. The only two teams better were Loyola-Chicago and Memphis. For comparison purposes, the Vols gave up 87.5 points per 100 possessions.
It’s always tough to predict conference tournaments because winning a National Championship is the end goal. However, it’s hard to see Bama not making a run to the Championship.
2. Arkansas Razorbacks 21-5 (13-4 SEC)
Like Nate Oats, Eric Musselman has exceeded expectations in year two. The Razorbacks finished the season with eight straight wins and eleven straight SEC wins.
Dating back to his days at Nevada, Musselman is unique with the way he constructs his roster; this year’s Razorbacks squad is no different.
Only Desi Sills and Ethan Henderson played for Arkansas last season. Henderson saw action in 20 games, but over half were under 10 minutes.
I heard a recent interview where Musselman was explaining why he loved the transfer market. He said he would rather have a guy who has shown him something on the college level over an incoming freshman. This way of recruiting worked at Nevada with three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, and it has worked at Arkansas thus far.
It’s hard not to root for Musselman and a likable Arkansas team. If the Vols don’t make a run at the Championship, I wouldn’t mind jumping on the Muss Bus for a game or two.
SEC Basketball Tournament Mid-Seed Scares
5. Florida Gators 13-8 (9-7 SEC)
Imagine how good the Gators would be if Keyontae Johnson didn’t go down with a season-ending medical condition. Life is more important than basketball, but I hate such a talented kid might lose an opportunity to play the game he loves.
Despite losing Johnson, Florida still had a decent season. They were able to beat the Vols down in Gainesville by 26 points and pulled upsets over LSU and West Virginia.
It feels as if Mike White always pieces together wins in March. Can he do it again?
The Gators get the winner of Vanderbilt/Texas A&M on Thursday afternoon. A win would move them into the Quarterfinals with a third game against the Vols.
Tennessee struggled to beat Florida on Sunday even though the Gators point guard Tre Mann didn’t play. Florida could get hot and do some damage in the tournament.
7. Missouri Tigers 15-8 (8-8 SEC)
The Missouri Tigers finished the season with the seventh seed in the SEC Tournament. For a moment, it appeared Cuonzo Martin had a top-10 team, but the loss to Ole Miss turned the season upside down. Including that loss to the Rebels, Missouri dropped five of their last seven games.
However, led by guard Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith, Missouri could make a run and win the SEC Tournament.
Neither Pinson nor Smith does anything exceptionally well. However, both guys have a tone of experience, which bodes well in March.
The Tigers also have senior Jeremiah Tilmon, who can be an All-SEC type of player at times. If Cuonzo can rally his guys, don’t be surprised if Missouri makes a run to the Championship Game.
SEC Basketball Tournament Prediction
It’s hard to see a team outside the top-4 winning the tournament. It could happen, though.
Alabama could end up playing Kentucky in the Quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. The Tide are the better team. However, the last time Alabama beat Kentucky in March was 3/11/1983. During that period, the two teams met 14 times, and Kentucky has won every single game.
I believe the Tide has already wrapped up a two seed in the NCAA Tournament, so an early exit to Kentucky won’t mean anything but extra rest.
Arkansas is hot, as I mentioned earlier, as winners of eight straight. Can that continue? The Razorbacks would draw the winner of the Georgia/Missouri game in the Quarterfinals. With a win, a matchup with LSU could be looming in the Semifinals. Arkansas is good, and a team I believe can make a deep run in March, but they have to lose at some point, right?
That leaves LSU and Tennessee as the other double-bye teams, and out of those two, give me LSU. The Tigers have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. Only Gonzaga, Iowa, Baylor, and Ohio State have scored more points per 100 possessions than the Bayou Bengals.
The problem with LSU is they have a horrible defense. However, when the offense is clicking, they are tough to beat.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Vols. The season started with seven straight wins, and two came against top-50 teams in Colorado and Missouri, according to KenPom’s rankings.
Ever since the loss to Florida down in Gainesville, the Vols are 7-5 with losses to Missouri, Ole Miss, LSU, Kentucky, and Auburn.
Tennessee has the talent to make a deep run in the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, but they have to find consistent scoring. The Vols rank 74th in the nation in offensive efficiency, and at times that number has seemed much lower. However, the defense has kept them relevant, coming in at fifth-best in the nation.
This Tennessee team hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype, but the season isn’t over, and there is still a chance to make some noise. I don’t know if that will be in the SEC Tournament.
I’m not going out on a limb, but you have to think Alabama wins the tournament with how they’ve been playing. I hope that I’m wrong and the Vols make a run, but it’s unlikely.
However, it’s March, and madness happens in March.
2021 SEC Basketball Tournament Bracket