By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
The confetti has now all fallen in Nashville. The Auburn Tigers walked away with the big SEC Tournament Championship trophy after spanking a lethargic Tennessee team 84-64. The NCAA Selection Committee has handed down its verdicts and the seeds are all decided for all four regions on the NCAA Tournament brackets.
So the question is: Did the the playing of the SEC Tournament have any impact whatsoever on the seeding process for SEC teams?
Based on the comments I heard from the head of the committee, Stanford’s Athletic Director Bernard Muir, it appears that most of the teams were already penciled into their spots earlier in the week before the SEC Tournament started. Muir also went on to say that that the bracket is actually finalized on Saturday night and is only “scrubbed” if needed on Sunday if any significant upsets occur in the tournaments that hold their championship games on Sunday.
In other words had Kentucky won the entire tournament they would have most likely been slotted as the overall 5-seed that Tennessee received in the South Region. As the 2-seed in that region Tennessee will potentially meet 29-3 Virginia in a regional final at the Yum Center in Louisville. It would appear that was the pathway the committee had potentially set for UK until they lost to the Volunteers on Saturday.
Muir went on to say that had the Volunteers won the SEC Tournament they likely could have jumped Gonzaga as the 1-seed in the West Region. If that is a true statement, and we will never know now because Tennessee lost, then Tennessee could have avoided a potential matchup with the 1-seeded Cavaliers down the road. But even after the UT loss if the Committee had seeded the tournament fairly UT as the overall 5-seed wouldn’t have been matched up in Virginia’s bracket but would have been assigned a 2-seed and Gonzaga would have qualified as a 1-seed in the same bracket.
That would provide the same result as what Bernard Muir was proposing had the Volunteers won the whole SEC Tournament. Which means virtually no benefit to Tennessee had the committee seeded fairly on a S-curve and had the Volunteers won the entire SEC Tournament.
Either way UK lost to the Rocky Toppers on Saturday, gained an additional day of rest and drew the number 2 seed in the Midwest Region with North Carolina as the opposing one seed. Along the way UK could meet a 29-4 Wofford team that is phenomenal at shooting the 3-point shot and a very long and athletic 31-3 Houston team before they would get a shot at the Tar Heels. Houston is a team that only gives up 61 points per game which is good enough to be the 10th best scoring defense in all of Division 1 college basketball. UK ranks 38th giving up only 65 points per game so if UK were to beat Abilene Christian and Wofford to meet Houston in the Sweet 16 fans would be treated to a titanic defensive struggle between those to teams. It probably would be a game similar to the UK game against Kansas State last year. Ugly and unproductive with a lot of free throw shooting.
So it appears that with UK remaining as a 2-seed and Tennessee remaining as a 2-seed after their losing performances in the SEC Tournament their was very little impact on the seeding process. Also it appears that Auburn winning the entire tournament and still drawing a lowly 5-seed — after beating an LSU team that was seeded as a 3 in the East Region, a Florida team that was seeded as a 10 in the West Region and the aforementioned Volunteers that received a 2-seed in the East as the overall fifth best team in the tournament — the SEC Tournament has proven that it is totally irrelevant and meaningless to the seeding process for any SEC team that has already qualified for the NCAA field.
The bottom line is that since the UK National Championship teams from 1996 and 2012 did not win the SEC Tournament, but went on to win the entire NCAA Tournament, it might even be detrimental to the team to have to play three games in a row ending on Sunday, travel home and then turn around and play again on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament. Not an ideal scenario for any team preparing to play the best teams in the country after a long 33 game season.
It looks like the SEC Tournament should really be a qualifying event for those SEC teams that are on the bubble or have no shot at getting into the tournament any other way. Kind of like track and field where if a participant has already qualified with a great time in their heat they can pass on the next heat to save their strength for the finals. That would allow teams like UK, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State to skip the tournament because they have already qualified.
That would help all the teams left in the SEC Tournament who are trying to qualify and also help the teams that have done enough to prove they should still be in. Unfortunately in this world that we live in money talks the loudest and what it says is, “we can draw thousands and thousands of fans to a city to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and gain millions from television advertising dollars while we pretend that this tournament has real meaning.”
That is what fans have been led to believe and so far it is still working. It worked again this year in Nashville.