By Marc Lawrence
PROJECTED FINAL FOUR:
Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Mississippi State
THE WAY WE SEE IT:
KENTUCKY enters as the No. 1 seed for the first time since 2005 and we'll look for them to continue their dominant play in this event. Since 1992, the Wildcats are 38-8 SU and 31-13-2 ATS, including an amazing 28-8-1 ATS as favorites of more than four points in this tourney. The top rebounding team (+10.6 margin) in the land also brings the nation's 7th-stingiest Defensive Field Goal Percentage (36.1). That combo is a formula for SU and ATS success. Though this site favors VANDERBILT, keep in mind that the Commodores are only 1-3 SU and 0-4 ATS the last four times they played a SEC tourney game in Nashville. However, the feeling here is home cooking and five returning starters should get them to the title game. One of three teams in this loop with five returning starters, TENNESSEE has kept it together all season despite many off-court distractions. We can expect the usual all-out effort from Bruce Pearl's bunch but their 5-13 ATS mark in their last 18 tourney games, along with their brutal 1-7 ATS log as favorites vs an opponent off a SU win this season, may have them singing the blues in Music City, USA. Shot-blocking sensation, Jarvis Varnado, the NCAA all-time leader in swats, leads the way for MISSISSIPPI STATE. The defending champs won four games in four days last year to claim the title. With their 12-7 SU tourney record since 1996, including a perfect 4-0 SU and ATS in their last four as tourney dogs, another deep run wouldn't surprise. Don't overlook this five-returning starter unit.
THE SLEEPER: Florida
Gators were up and down this season but their pedigree in this tourney (10-2 SU and 8-3-1 ATS last five years) is too much to overlook. Toss in Billy Donovan's 44-20 career mark in post season games, including 14-3 SU and 13-4 ATS against greater than .777 opposition, and suddenly UF is one opponent no team in this league is anxious to take on.
KEY TOURNAMENT BEST BET: Play On Tennessee vs Vanderbilt
Vols took it on the chin twice this season against rival Commodores and will be kicking their heels for the chance at a third showdown. Series history is on their side as UT is 9-3-1 ATS in revenge, including 7-1 ATS when Vandy is off a win. Bruce Pearl's 20-5-1 ATS mark as a dog against .774 or greater competition seals the deal.