2021 SEC Tournament Preview
As if dominating the football landscape was not enough, Alabama’s basketball team excelled on the hardwood this season and finished first in the conference for the first time in twenty years. Nate Oats has built a title contender in Tuscaloosa, and they will earn a top seed in March Madness.
The SEC had other surprises this season. After a rough start in conference play, Arkansas won 11 of 12 and finished second in the league. On the other hand Kentucky, a perennial national contender, had one of its worst seasons in recent memory. Nashville will be the sight what shapes to be a great tournament this weekend.
The Tide did in fact “Roll” this season. Nate Oats has an efficient team that shoots, defends, and rebounds extremely well. Alabama has a nice mix of youth and experience on their team. Their leading scorer is Jaden Shackleford, averaging 14.4 points-per-game; complimenting him are John Petty Jr. and Javon Quinerly, both excellent scorers who have shot well this season. Forward Herb Jones does about everything else, leading Alabama in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game. The Tide are fun to watch, and they are on, they can beat any team in the nation.
Eric Musselman has turned the Arkansas program around in just a short time there. Muss’ built a powerhouse at Nevada, and has brought his winning ways to the SEC. This revival has been fueled by a star freshman guard, Moses Moody. Moody is averaging 17.5 points per game, and has been projected in the top 10 of NBA mock drafts. The Hogs have a balanced lineup to compliment Moody, including Indiana transfer Justin Smith; Arkansas is 20-2 when he plays. Arkansas has a split with Alabama, and they might meet for a third time down the road.
Sticking with star freshman guards, Cameron Thomas of LSU has been an absolute bucket-getter in his first season with the Tigers. Thomas is a high volume shooter, but he makes plenty of those shots, enough to average 23.1 points-per-game. LSU comes into the tournament playing its best basketball of the season and will look to carry this momentum to a possible conference tournament championship. The Tigers can score, but the question will be defense.
If defense was the only factor that went into winning championships, the Vols would be a national title contender. Unfortunately, this is not the case, but Tennessee’s defense is outstanding, 5th best according to KenPom ratings. Tennessee has several guys who can lead the team any given night, including Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, two likely first-round draft picks. Yves Pons and John Fulkerson are two key pieces who have been apart of the best teams in the Rick Barnes era. Tennessee has the pieces to win, but they need to score consistently to stay alive in the postseason.
Florida has battled a lot of adversity this year, most notably with the incident involving Keyontae Johnson’s collapse against Florida State. However, the Gators have pushed through and will have a spot in March Madness. Tre Mann leads Florida with 15.0 points-per-game and 3.4 assists per game. Defensively, the Gators protect the rim well and block a lot of shots. A mentally tough team, they will give teams headaches this postseason.
Missouri started the season strong and built a noteworthy resume in the non conference. Missouri beat Oregon, Illinois, Wichita State and Liberty, all teams who are projected in the tournament. The Tigers faded late, however, and have dropped in terms of their seedline. This team is experienced though, led by senior guard Dru Smith and junior guard Xavier Pinson, who both average about 14 point-per-game. The Tigers can hang with and beat the best teams in the country, but they also have not shown they can play at that level consistently.
The Runnin’ Rebels sit at the fringe of the bubble, but they will look to make a run in Nashville this weekend. Ole Miss has good wins against Missouri and Tennessee, but their resume has damaging losses as well. The Rebs will rely on senior guard Devontae Shueler to carry the offensive load, as he is the leading scorer and assist-getter on the team. Ole Miss defends very well, so stopping their opponents should not be a concern. If they can find offense outside of Schueler, they can make a run.
I feel like the SEC is underappreciated in terms of champ week tournaments, and I am excited to see how things play out. Alabama is the best team in the league, and I think they will use this tournament to remind the committee how good they are. Arkansas will come out of the bottom of the bracket, but they will fall to the Crimson Tide in an exciting SEC title game.