Rinse, wash, repeat. Kentucky just won its 30th SEC tournament title and its 3rd consecutive as John Calipari joins Tubby Smith and Rick Pitino to tie them for their 5th overall title in their tenures at UK. But, the commonwealth of Kentucky doesn’t settle for SEC tournament titles. Hence, why they only hang banners for national championships. But, Kentucky is not the only SEC school who has a chance to claim a national title. Florida, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina join Kentucky in the big dance. While the likes of Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama continue their postseason in the NIT. The current state of the SEC looks weak while only getting five teams dancing, but the future of the SEC looks bright. I have said it all season, the plethora of good coaches will eventually propel this conference into the upper echelon of competition and bragging rights. Five teams in the SEC currently own top 30 recruiting classes for next year. The national media may constantly bash the SEC, but every team has the potential to win a game or two in the tournament. Plus, the impressive recruiting classes coming in next year should only make conference depth a lot stronger.
Player of the Week: De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky)
De’Aaron Fox got back to his old ways last week. Coming off of a few injuries, he did not look himself the couple weeks leading up to the SEC tournament. If you were watching Kentucky basketball the first quarter of the season, you noticed a completely different point guard. One that was quicker than everyone else on the court, a defensive menace, and despite his wiry frame, had great body control finishing around the rim. But, injuries slowed him down. Fox’s draft stock did not falter, people knew the upside he has and he would be a unanimous top-5 pick if it weren’t for his inconsistent jump shot. Fox either needed the time off to heal, or he just loves the big moment. He lit it up in Nashville. Throughout the season Kentucky was relying on Malik Monk’s ridiculous second-half performances to will them through games. Well, Monk struggled down the stretch and everyone claimed that if Monk was not hitting Kentucky would not be able to win games. And it showed. Monk’s point per game averages were lower in Kentucky losses compared to their winning performances. The last four games, Kentucky and more specifically De’Aaron Fox have proven that narrative wrong. Fox has been the one that Coach Cal calls on to get him a bucket in a close ball game, not Monk. Over the past 4 ball games, Fox is shooting 44% from 3, up from his average of 24%. Fox single handedly led the Wildcats to a semi-final victory over Alabama where he dropped 28, had 5 rebounds, and 2 dimes. Kentucky is starting to look good at the right time, and it’s not because of the variety of scoring options, it is because of De’Aaron Fox’s revival to take over ball games.
Who’s Hot: [Bam Adebayo] (Kentucky)
There were three possible options for this choice: Riley LaChance, Daryl Macon and Bam. All three made the all-tournament team and propelled their teams into the NCAA tournament, but Adebayo has made the Wildcats look like they have Final Four potential. All year the headlines have been about how quick and explosive Kentucky’s back court has been and there has been no love for Bam. Granted, Bam was quick to foul out and exclusively scored off of lobs from a driving Malik Monk or De’Aaron Fox. Now if you listen to the games you hear Coach Cal violently screaming to feed Bam on every position in the half court. He has even been quick to pull the guards who have not gotten the ball to him when he is sitting on the block. All three games of the SEC tournament Bam he either earned or neared a double-double (2 games he was a rebound away). Over the course of Kentucky’s 11-game winning streak, Adebayo has elevated his level of play and finally has grasped the concept of being a beast down. His draft stock is still kind of shaky where he is sitting near the end of the first round, but a strong NCAA tournament run can always drastically improve someone’s stock. Especially when Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox can make you look that much better.
Who’s Not: Arkansas’ Sportsmanship
I am surprised Kentucky is going into their game against Northern Kentucky unscathed when it comes to the injury report. Arkansas was throwing haymaker after haymaker in that SEC championship game. Dusty Hannahs took both his elbows to Dominique Hawkins on a screen and earned a flagrant 1. Following that play Moses Kingsley went to “block” De’Aaron Fox on a floater attempt and swatted both hands into his face which resulted in a pretty solid slap. Kingsley earned a flagrant 2 on the play and was ejected from the game. Coach Mike Anderson defended his players claiming Hannahs was defending himself and Kingsley’s attempt was just a hard foul. Dickie V thought otherwise as he went a long-winded rant discussing how they both deserved to be thrown out of the game. It got to the point where you thought Vitale was going to get out of his seat and go scold the players. But, it made for good entertainment. All I know is Seton Hall’s trip to the dance might be most remembered for one of their players getting clotheslined the way Arkansas is playing.
SEC March Madness Predictions:
Kentucky: Elite 8
I think Kentucky has the ability to win the national championship with the emergence of Bam Adebayo to combine with the way they are playing on the defensive end, but their draw is just brutal. A UCLA revenge game is even debatable, but a 2nd victory over North Carolina is just pushing it.
Florida: Sweet 16
Prior to the John Egbunu injury, Florida was looking solid and had the potential to play their way onto the 2-line. But, ever since the injury their hopes keep looking slimmer and slimmer. They’re just lucky they’re not in the same region as Vanderbilt. Nova should end their run in the Sweet 16.
South Carolina: First Round Loss
I wanted to pick South Carolina and SEC player of the year Sindarious Thornwell to at least get one victory in March, but I just can’t. I am a huge believer in how you look down the stretch, and South Carolina has been less than impressive. Also, drawing the best 3-point shooting team in the country in Marquette doesn’t help the cause.
Arkansas: First Round Loss
Arkansas made a run in the SEC tournament and have the potential to make it to the round of 32, but I think their draw against Seton Hall is a tough one. The best player on the court is Khadeen Carrington and it is tough to pick against him in this matchup.
Vanderbilt: Round of 32
Vanderbilt snuck in with 15 losses, thanks to those three victories over Florida and I don’t think the last victory over Florida is going to be their last. Sorry Northwestern Alumni of ESPN and CBS, but your celebration is going to end rather quickly. I think Vandy ends Northwestern’s first tournament visit rather quickly, but I can’t see them getting past Gonzaga the following round.