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1. What teams are locks, probables and bubble teams for the NCAA tournament? Why?
KingJamesIV: Locks: Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. All three are in the top 30 of most RPI and tempo-free rankings, plus they're all in the top 25. This may seem obvious, but they're there for a reason. All three teams are very good and have done a good job separating themselves from the rest of the SEC pack.
Probables: Tennessee is probably going to make it, though they haven't exactly solidified their spot. I would have thought that winning at Vanderbilt would have sealed the deal, but then they went out and lost to Mississippi State. They've got Kentucky on Saturday in Knoxville which could be the deciding factor.
Bubble Teams: Georgia, Alabama. Georgia is in a similar boat to Tennessee, without near the resume wins, though they split with the Vols and Kentucky this season. They probably need to win at least a game or two in the SEC Tournament to feel good about their chances. Likewise with Alabama. Their tempo free profile at KenPom is pretty good at 39 (as of games played through Sunday, February 27th), which tells you that this team has really improved since JaMychal Green returned from suspension. The Selection committee does take into account personnel issues; we just don't know how much of a factor that truly is. To be safe, Bama needs at least one win in the SEC Tournament. Their fans better hope that the East 4 seed beats whatever West team it faces, as playing an extra game against a bad RPI West team isn't going to help the Tide convince any unimpressed committee members.
2. What is your story of the year for the conference?
KJIV: As much as the schadenfreude of it all delights me, I think you have to go with Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA violations, an unexpected 8 game suspension by the commissioner, Tony Jones having a better SEC record than Pearl this season - so many forces at play here, all working to derail the Vols season. None of this is going away any time soon, either. How will the players cope with the scrutiny, the questions, and the torment at the hands of the opposing teams fans all while preparing for and playing in the post season? What will happen with Bruce Pearl (and perhaps Mike Hamilton)? There's a reason why scandals sell papers. They are pure entertainment...provided you aren't the subject matter...
3. Who is your player of the year? Why?
KJIV: I think the legit candidates are Chandler Parsons, John Jenkins, Terrence Jones, and JaMychal Green. I don't know that JaMychal Green will get as much credit simply due to the fact that he plays in the West, though he's probably the most valuable of the foursome. Parsons is a well rounded player, but he doesn't wow you the way Jenkins and Jones do. Terrence Jones seems to be a lock at Freshman of the Year, so I don't think he's going to sweep the awards, but he has been better than the hype with which he came. If Vanderbilt can beat Florida on Saturday, I think Jenkins edges Parsons in the voting. It's hard to go against the SEC's leading scorer, particularly when he elevated his scoring the way he did during conference season despite being the main defensive focus for opposing conference teams. It took Tennessee double and triple teaming him to limit him to his lowest SEC output this season. Will Jenkins and Parsons cannibalize each other's chance to win?
4. Who is the coach of the year? Why?
KJIV: It has to be Anthony Grant. Grant suspended star player JaMychal Green early this season for the Tide's preconference tournament in the Virgin Islands. While there, Bama played Seton Hall, Iowa, and St. Peters. They lost all three games. Bringing Green back into the fold, Alabama transformed themselves into one of the nation's best defensive teams. Their stats (thanks to KenPom, as of 2011/02/28):
Defensive Efficiency (Points per possession allowed per 100 possessions): 87.4 - 6th (of 345)
Defensive Effective Field Goal %: 42.2 - 3rd (of 345)
Defensive Turnover %: 23.9 - 23rd (of 345)
Defensive 3 Point Field Goal % (allowed): 30.8 - 19th (of 345)
Defensive 2 Point Field Goal % (allowed): 40.3 - 3rd (of 345)
Defensive Block %: 15.0 - 10th (of 345)
Defensive Steal %: 14.4 - 1st (of 345)
Alabama is a nightmare to play, and that's directly attributable to Coach Grant. Depending on the outcome of their game with Florida tomorrow night, Alabama could end up being the SEC Regular Season Champions. Provided they make the NCAA Tournament, the Crimson Tide may also be one of the nation's darkhorse teams. What a tremendous job by Coach Grant this season.
5. What SEC team will go furthest in the NCAA tournament? In one of the other post season tourneys?
KJIV: If Alabama does not end up making it into the NCAA Tournament, they will be instant contenders for the NIT title. So in that scenario, Alabama might have the greatest shot of any SEC teams of winning a post season title.
As for the NCAA Tournament, I honestly think Vanderbilt has the team best built for tournament success. They have a physical, dominating inside presence in Ezeli. They have an outstanding scorer in Jenkins. They have a steady point guard that is leading the SEC in assists. They have an elite defender and slasher in Jeff Taylor. And they have a bunch of complementary pieces that really fit together. Vanderbilt is the SEC's best scoring team. As far as efficiencies, Vanderbilt is 13th in offense and 60th in defense. Kentucky is slightly better at 7th in offense and 38th in defense, but their youth and lack of depth is certainly a question mark (just look at their conference road record). Florida has proven to be an outstanding team at finishing close games, but I'm not sure how much of that is simply luck (I lean towards "a lot"). So the Commodores are my horse. Take that with a grain of salt.
Bonus question: Does any team not currently in your NCAA tournament discussion have a team that could win the SEC tournament?
KJIV: I suppose Mississippi or Mississippi State, depending on what you get out of Renardo Sidney in the case of the Bulldogs. The Rebels are statistically the second best team in the West. Mississippi State should be much better than they are. If Sidney gets his head on straight for a few days, they could be a tough team to beat. I would be surprised if either actually cut down the nets in Atlanta this year.