For SEC baseball fans, there is no better time of the year.
Regions Park is buzzing and Hoover, Alabama has once again become more than "that town from the MTV football show" as the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament kicked off play on Tuesday. The first day of action saw Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida, and Vanderbilt all advance into the winner's bracket as Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia, and Arkansas moved one loss away from elimination. South Carolina and LSU, recipients of the first-ever bye slots of the new 10-team tournament, will begin their postseasons later today.
These brackets were set up by a tumultuous week of SEC play. Kentucky and Ole Miss both ceded seeds thanks to sweeps at the hands of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, respectively. These wins carried Vandy, a team that looked like a candidate to miss the tournament entirely just a month earlier, all the way to the fifth spot in the bracket. Meanwhile, LSU clinched the conference's regular season title by winning two of three games at South Carolina to finish their SEC slate 19-11.
With the 2012 season in the books, we now have a clearer view of what the SEC looks like as a whole. The conference has produced a trio of elite teams (LSU, USC, Florida) and a handful of talented teams that are all capable of making a run to Omaha. As seems to be tradition, the league appears set to send at least eight squads to the NCAA Tournament. That number could even increase as the conference's bracket shakes out over the next few days.
To honor the action in Hoover, we included some half-assed championship odds to shake up the rankings a bit. LSU is the top dog right now, but Florida and South Carolina are nipping at their heels. Vanderbilt's strong move over the last four weeks has them closer than ever to jumping up to that top line and making this year's SEC look like a familiar retread of last year's. On the other end of the spectrum, Auburn and Georgia are battling just to keep their seasons alive. The loser of today's matchup between the two is likely done for the season, barring some divine intervention from the NCAA Selection committee.
Check out our rankings after the jump, and be sure to mock my poorly assembled tournament odds in the comments...
|SEC Tournament Odds
|The Prohibitive Favorites
|Went to Columbia and out-grinded South Carolina, winning what may have been the SEC's best weekend series of the year. A first-round bye gave them a bit of recovery time after playing 28 innings in 36 hours, but they'll have their hands full with a Mississippi State team that has caught fire in the past week.
|Florida may not have earned a first-game bye despite their excellent season, but last night's win over Auburn gave them Wednesday off in the new SEC Tournament format. They'll sit and watch Vandy and Carolina beat each other up before taking on the winner.
|LSU ended their in-conference series winning streak, and now the Gamecocks will have to get on track against a Vanderbilt team that is starting to look like the top 10 squad that they were projected to be in the preseason. If SC loses that one, it's a safe bet that it will be a close game; 11 of Carolina's 15 defeats have come by one run.
|Safely in the NCAA Tournament
|A big sweep of Kentucky and an opening round win over Arkansas has the Bulldogs peaking at the right moment. A big showdown with LSU looms, and a couple of RPI-boosting wins in Hoover could be enough to make Starksville a hosting spot for some NCAA Tournament festivities.
|The SEC's hottest team will be put to the test this week. If they can get by South Carolina tonight, they'll face Florida tomorrow. That'll be the toughest slate this team has faced all season, but Tim Corbin's young squad has made a name for themselves by surprising people once May rolled around.
|UK's fade from top-ranked team to potential #2 Regional seed had been documented even before their sweep at the hands of Miss. State. A tight win over Ole Miss should have given them the final piece they needed to host a four-team pod in Lexington, but they'll need to keep grinding if they want to regain the momentum that they have lost over the past month.
|Beat the team they should have beat (a sweep against Tennessee) and then got trounced by a Mississippi State team that is closer to their level. If the Razorbacks want to host a Regional, they've got to string together some wins now that they are playing for their SEC Tournament life.
|The Rebels have lost five straight games and have played themselves out of a top seed for the NCAA Regionals. However, their resume is strong enough to carry them into the tournament without much question, and they should be a strong #2 seed wherever they end up.
|One Foot in the Grave
|Kentucky's fade has kept Georgia out of the headlines, but the Bulldogs, once thought to be a top 15 team, have struggled mightily down the stretch and now sit on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The 'Dawgs have only won two of their last nine series.
|The Tigers are limping to the finish line, though that's an expected effect of having to play Florida four straight times at the end of May. Today's showdown with Georgia will likely eliminate the loser from all forms of postseason play.
|Done for the Summer
|Tennessee closed out their season with seven straight losses. What's worse is that they lost by six runs or more in their final four games of the year.
|Messed up both Auburn and Georgia's seasons. There's your silver lining.