The Southeastern Conference Tournament tips off in less than two hours at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Before the games get underway, let's take a look at who's the favorite in this week's tournament, who could surprise some people, who has the most to prove and more.
The favorite: Florida
When you win 23 games in a row, sweep the regular-season conference schedule and are being talked about as a favorite to win that other tournament that starts next week, yeah, you're the prohibitive favorite. The real question for the Gators this week isn't whether they can actually win the SEC Tournament; it's do they need to -- or even should they? There's been a debate over the years whether a team that's on a run and is one of the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament needs to lose before the Big Dance. According to research from the Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker, no team has won more than 13 games in a row going into the NCAA Tournament since Indiana did so in 1976. That team just so happened to go undefeated the entire season. Favorites? Yeah. But would a disappointing exit be so bad? It wasn't for the 2012 Kentucky team.
Watch out for: Tennessee
Other than Florida, no team in the conference is playing as well as Tennessee. The Volunteers, who are out to show they belong in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, have won their last three games by an average of 31 points. And that's no typo. Tennessee has 11 losses on the season but several of those came against top competition. Many of them were close games. The Vols have as much talent as anyone in the conference, and when they're playing well, it's a team that nobody wants to play. Just ask the last three teams Tennessee has played or ACC champ, Virginia. The Vols bludgeoned the Cavailiers by 35 points.
The sleeper: Georgia
Maybe it's unfair to call a team that tied for the second-best record in the league a sleeper, but the Bulldogs are certainly the team no one is talking about in Atlanta. Doing a 180 from its nonconference start, Georgia quietly navigated through the SEC with a 12-6 record, including an 8-2 record in its last 10 games. The Bulldogs don't jump off the page in any facet of the game, but they get the job done more times than not. For a team that is still entertaining hopes of making the NCAA Tournament, don't count out Mark Fox's club.
Team with the most to prove: Arkansas
Arkansas was one of the hottest teams in the SEC until Saturday. Once well outside the NCAA Tournament picture, Mike Anderson's team turned its season around in February by winning eight-of-nine games, including six straight down the stretch. Included in that winning streak were victories over LSU, Georgia, Kentucky and a 30-point stomping of Ole Miss. The 110-point outing against the Rebels was enough to move the Razorbacks on the right side of the at-large bubble, but a shocking 25-point loss to Alabama on Saturday saw the Hogs' momentum come to a screeching halt. Chances are Arkansas would be in the Big Dance if the invitations were sent out today, but a one-and-done exit from the SEC Tournament wouldn't look too good in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee. The Razorbacks are out to prove they are the team that ran through its February schedule and not the one that ran into a brick wall over the weekend.
What's in it for Kentucky?
Arkansas may need this week to prove it belongs in the NCAA Tournament, but nobody needs it more for momentum than Kentucky. Losers of three of their last four games, the Wildcats' are in a crisis-level funk heading into the most important time of the year. Coach Cal has never been a fan of conference tournaments, noting that winning the 2011 NCAA Tournament did nothing for UK's seeding, but in an ironic twist of fate, Calipari's team needs this week to get back on track. As Coach Cal said earlier in the week, "We've got to get our mojo back. ... Let's get back ... to where we were." A potential matchup with LSU on Thursday, a team that has given UK problems in both meetings in the regular season, looks to be dangerous and yet also potentially uplifting. A good showing against the Tigers might prove that Calipari is indeed on to something with this "tweak" that has "changed everything" and get the Cats rolling for the time of the year that will ultimately define them.
If you're going ...
- Tickets are still available at Ticketmaster.
- The Greater Atlanta UK Alumni Club will hold a pep rally prior to Kentucky's quarterfinal game on Friday. The pep rally will take place at 2 p.m. at the "Hawk Walk" area of Phillips Arena near the CNN Center. The cost is $15 per person and $10 for UK students with a valid UK ID. Children ages 10 and younger will receive free admission. Admission will be taken at the door of the event. Cash food and drink options will be available to event attendees. Details here.
- The weather in Atlanta is supposed to be pretty good on Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday doesn't look nearly as good, but hey, you're going to watch basketball inside a dome. The forecast: Thursday - sunny, 0 percent chance of precipitation, high of 53 degrees, low of 34; Friday - sunny, 0 percent chance of precipitation, high of 65, low of 44; Saturday - showers, 30 percent of precipitation, high of 62, low of 50; Sunday - showers, 70 percent chance of precipitation, high of 58, low of 37.
- The Sunkist Soda SEC Fanfare will be held in conjunction with the tournament. The SEC FanFare, which is designed for all ages and features interactive games, live entertainment, displays and interviews with former SEC basketball stars, will be held on International Plaza, Outdoor Area between Phillips Arena, GWCC and the Georgia Dome. Admission is free. The event will be open Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- If you're looking for other things to do in Atlanta, this should help find something to do.
- And finally, here is seating info and parking info at the Georgia Dome.