It’s tournament time
The SEC women’s basketball tournament begins Wednesday, so it’s going to be a fun week.
So, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Texas A&M are the top 4 seeds, and do not play until Friday. The bottom four seeds, who will open up the tournament Wednesday, are Ole Miss, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Missouri.
The biggest questions heading into the tournament are: Will South Carolina regain the title? What contenders can make them sweat? Will anyone make a deep run like the Razorbacks did in 2019?
Here are some things to watch for during the 2020 SEC women’s basketball tournament, which will take place in Greenville, S.C. at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
South Carolina is the team to beat
The word stalwart has been used to describe the Gamecocks this season: loyal, reliable, hardworking. They can beat you in so many ways, thanks to its talented freshmen class and senior leaders who run the ship and anchor the paint.
South Carolina is not only the No. 1 team in the country but is going into the SEC tournament as the No. 1 seed – for the first time since 2017. For the last two seasons, the top seed has gone to Mississippi State, and last year, the Bulldogs won the tournament title.
But this year, South Carolina is the No. 1 team in the country. While other teams in the conference have been up and down, due to injuries, exits and failure to live up to expectations – the Gamecocks have had it together and dominated league play, remaining undefeated. They’ve only had one close game – a two-point win over then-No. 9 Mississippi State.
That’s why South Carolina is the team to beat in the SEC tournament.
What low seed will make a deep run?
Last season, Chelsea Dungee and Arkansas made the tournament finals as a No. 10 seed. Who could make a deep run like that this year? Of course, Arkansas could do it again – they are a No. 5 seed and play Thursday, with a path to take on the Gamecocks in the semifinals if otherwise successful. But my eyes are on Alabama, who seemed to have peaked at the right time. To close out the 2020 SEC regular season, Alabama upset both Mississippi State and Texas A&M and finished the regular season with 18 wins and four straight SEC wins, things the team hasn’t done since 1997-98. The Crimson Tide’s 8-8 finish in the SEC is also its best since 2001.
Despite that, it’s a tough setup for Alabama to go deep into the tournament, since it is a No. 8 seed. The winner of the game between No. 8 Alabama and No. 9 Georgia go on to play No. 1 South Carolina the next day.
For that reason, I’m also keeping my eye on No. 6 seed Tennessee. If Lady Vols win their first game, both Kentucky and Mississippi State (if Bulldogs win their first game) are in Tennessee’s path to the tournament final.
Those teams have been upset in the regular season, and the tournament environment is better suited for upsets, which could benefit a team like the Lady Vols.
How Kentucky, Mississippi State and Texas A&M could be upset
Three of the top four seeds in the tournament have been inconsistent over the last month. And depending on what version of each team shows up, a quick exit could be possible.
Other than the two-point win at Tennessee, Texas A&M lost to Mississippi State and closed out the season with back-to-back losses to Alabama and South Carolina; those games with Chennedy Carter back on the court.
Then, Gary Blair didn’t play Carter during the first quarter of the finale at South Carolina. She finished with 12 points in 26 minutes, but if another benching happens during the SEC tournament, the Aggies could be in trouble.
Vanderbilt showed the blueprint to upsetting Kentucky: shut down Rhyne Howard when it matters. The SEC’s leading scorer had 26 points in the first three quarters of the regular season finale in Nashville, but Vanderbilt held Howard scoreless in the fourth quarter in its upset of the Wildcats on Sunday; Howard went 0-5 from the floor in the last 10 minutes, including 0-4 from three. Vanderbilt outscored Kentucky 24-9 in the final period.
Mississippi State has also been on a rocky road in February. The Bulldogs opened the month with three straight wins, then fell to Kentucky, needed overtime to escape Auburn and loss to Alabama on a buzzer beater. It seems to have balanced things out with a win at Arkansas and closed out the season with a win at Ole Miss, but that’s a team that finished conference play with zero wins. If the version of Mississippi State that rallied from behind to beat Texas A&M (though that was without Carter), shows up, the Bulldogs could be just fine.
But as the regular season has proven, anything is possible.
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