Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post 5th Annual SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview

Thursday March 3, 2011

I’m off to Nashville for the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament this weekend, so it’s preview time again.  The big story this year has to be the down year for the conference.  There are only two SEC teams ranked, only one with fewer than five conference losses, only five teams projected to earn an NCAA bid (one of them by the skin of their teeth), and only two teams projected higher than a #8 seed.  Tennessee is strong as almost always, but even they’re having to compete for attention among national pundits. 

Conventional wisdom says it should be a pretty easy go of it for Tennessee, but fortunately tournaments always seem to have a few surprises in store.  There could be some interesting Thursday games as even the #11 and #12 seeds have little reason to fear their opponents. There are also the stories of teams trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.  LSU simply can’t afford an early loss.

We’ll have updates throughout the weekend from Nashville on Twitter.

Georgia has lost three in a row after posting a 10-3 start in conference play, but they can easily regroup and earn another shot at Tennessee on Saturday.  We’ve seen them play outstanding ball at times, but we’ve also seen consistent and repetitive mistakes that makes almost any game they play a toss-up.

Several Lady Dogs were recognized this week in the postseason conference honors.  Senior forward Porsha Phillips was named to the All-SEC first team.  Guard Jasmine James merited second-team honors, and Meredith Mitchell was selected for the All-Defensive team.  It’s also no surprise that impact freshman guard Khaalidah Miller was named to the All-Freshman team.

Georgia’s path through the tournament

  • Friday:  7:30 PM vs. #5 South Carolina or #12 Ole Miss (FSN)
  • Saturday: 4:00 PM Semifinal (ESPNU)
  • Sunday: 5:30 PM Final (ESPN2)

On to the teams (get the bracket here):

Runaway Favorite

1. Tennessee (16-0): Tennessee might be just short of UConn or Baylor as national contenders, but there’s no questioning their dominance of the SEC.  UT has lost just once in conference play over the past two seasons, and the gulf between them and the rest of the field has only widened in this down year for the league.  That’s not to say the Lady Vols can’t be upset along the way.  LSU, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt came within single-digits of beating Tennessee during the regular season.  But those were all true road games for UT, and the crowd in Nashville figures to be as partisan as ever for the ladies in orange. It’s also worth noting that Tennessee wouldn’t face any of those teams until the final.

The Pips

The next three teams are decent backup acts to Tennessee’s headline act, but it would be a big surprise if any of them ended up with top billing on Sunday. Each of these teams has been ranked at some point, but currently only Kentucky merits a top 25 spot.

2. Kentucky (11-5): It was a big surprise when Kentucky stormed to the #2 spot in the league last year with an 11-5 record, but no one is doing a double-take this year.  They’ve followed up last year with another solid season featuring a win over #7 Notre Dame and a sweep of Vanderbilt. They also have a few questionable losses that had them lower in the standings until they finished with three straight SEC wins. UK’s stars are familiar names by now:  forward Victoria Dunlap is a perennial player of the year candidate, and they get backcourt scoring from A’dia Mathies.  The Cats need help from another player if they’re going to go far in the tournament, and they’ll look to Keyla Snowden for that extra punch.

3. Vanderbilt (10-6): For as young as this team is, it wasn’t a bad year for Vandy.  Nine of Vanderbilt’s 14 players are underclassmen, and it took them a while to get going.  They had some bad early losses to the likes of Denver, Virginia Tech, and Ole Miss, but they got it going during an early February stretch that saw five wins in six games.  Despite the young roster, the team is led by its senior duo of guard Jence Rhoads and forward Hannah Tuomi. Rhoads is a calming presence who always seems to have the offense under control, and the undersized Tuomi won’t back down from anyone inside.  Even if they’re outclassed in terms of talent, Vandy is well-coached, playing in their home town, and should be in any game they play in the tournament – even against Tennessee.

4. Georgia (10-6): We’ve followed the story of Georgia’s rough final week, so we won’t rehash it here.  This is a team that build a decent record by getting it done against the bottom half of the league. Thanks to the sweep of Kentucky, Georgia is a shaky 3-4 against the top six seeds. 

The Logjam

Four teams finished the year 8-8 or 7-9.  In most years, that would qualify them for the NCAA Tournament with the strength of the conference on their side.  That’s not the case this year.  Only a couple of these teams have a prayer of earning an NCAA bid, and it might take a deep run in Nashville for that to happen.

5. South Carolina (8-8):  Dawn Staley’s program took another small step forward this year and notched wins over Georgia, LSU, and Kentucky.  Their 8-8 finish could have been even better if not for a pair of overtime losses in the final week of the season.  SC’s season is more impressive considering the offseason transfer of dominant center Kelsey Bone. That transfer left South Carolina very thin inside, and they were dealt another blow when sharpshooter Valerie Nainima was lost for the first half of the season with a knee injury.  You look at South Carolina and don’t see any real standout players or dominant stats, but they find a way.  Their games are likely to be low-scoring and grinding, reflecting the tenaciousness of their coach. Guards Ieasia Walker and La’Keisha Sutton lead the way.

6. Auburn (8-8): Auburn struggled with a tough early schedule, and it seemed to pay off as they started SEC play 5-1. They hit a wall soon after MLK Day and have won only three games since late January.  The Tigers don’t have an especially strong frontcourt, but they are carried by senior guard Alli Smalley. They might have enough to get by Mississippi State, but the two teams split during the regular season.  If MSU’s backcourt can frustrate Smalley, Auburn could be an early exit.

7. LSU (8-8): Few teams in the tournament have as much to gain as LSU. At 8-8 and 18-12 overall, the Tigers – regular Final Four contenders just a few years ago – are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. They do have a nice win over UCLA, but there might be too many losses if they can’t win a couple in Nashville. All-SEC forward LaSondra Barrett leads the Tigers in scoring and rebounding in league play, and guard Adrienne Webb has knocked down 70 three-pointers.  LSU is known for lockdown defense, but they struggle to score at times themselves.  They’ve lost 3 out of 4 heading to Nashville.

8. Florida (7-9): Florida notched big wins during the final week against Vanderbilt and Georgia to separate themselves from the bottom tier of the league.  They enter the tournament winners of three in a row and have to be feeling good about a rematch with Arkansas in the 8-9 game. Only one Florida player, guard Jordan Jones, is averaging double-figures.  But the Gators have an astounding nine players averaging at least five points per game.  It’s truly been a team effort for Florida this year, and it’s starting to pay off at the end of the season.  Their late-season surge has probably earned them a spot in the WNIT.

Long Shots

9. Arkansas (6-10): It’s about as predictable as anything can get in sports.  Arkansas runs out to an impressive record in December, maybe even earns a spot in the rankings, and then tanks as the conference grind wears on them.  The Hogs started the year 14-1 and boasted wins over Oklahoma and Kentucky.  A close home loss to Georgia started a slide in which they lost 7 of 9.  They ended up losing 10 SEC games, but they have had a number of close calls.  Both losses to Georgia could have gone either way.  They have two overtime losses and four others by five points or less. Wing C’eira Ricketts leads them in scoring, but to advance they’ll have to have big games from versatile forward Sarah Watkins and three-point specialist Lyndsay Harris.

10. Alabama (5-11):  It looked as if Bama was again headed for the SEC cellar when they started league play 0-9.  But they’ve finished with five wins in their last seven games to enter the tournament as one of the hotter teams in the league.  First team All-SEC selection Tierney Jenkins has raised her game this year and leads the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and steals.  McDonald’s All-American freshman Kaneisha Horn has made an impact, and guard Ericka Russell can do damage from outside.  Bama lost by 29 in their only meeting of the year with first-round opponent LSU, but that was two months ago and long before Bama found their stride.

Probably attending class on Friday

11. Mississippi State (4-12): The Bulldogs were the #3 seed a year ago but had a massive talent drain leading to this season’s rebuilding effort.  Interestingly though, MSU draws an Auburn team that they’ve played very evenly this year.  Auburn won in Starkville 45-41, but Mississippi State controlled the rematch 57-45.  If they can hold Auburn in the 40s again, the potential is there for a first-round upset.  MSU leans heavily on its senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero, and her outside shooting can keep the Bulldogs in a game. 

12. Ole Miss (3-13): Ole Miss likewise lost several key players highlighted by All-SEC star Bianca Thomas.  This year they’re led by one of their few experienced players, senior guard Kayla Melson.  Melson gets help from All-Freshman team guard Valencia McFarland.  As with MSU, Ole Miss’s first-round opponent isn’t necessarily an automatic loss even for a team at the bottom of the standings.  They beat South Carolina only a week ago.

Comments are closed.