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Two SEC Teams In Sweet Sixteen (But Not The Two We Expected)

It hasn’t been a stellar year for Southeastern Conference basketball.  First, Kentucky ran away with the regular-season race.  Second, Vanderbilt — which seemed to be putting things together in the SEC tourney — had more ups and downs than anyone expected.  Third, Alabama had more suspensions than anyone ever dreamed.  And finally, Florida had more injuries (especially a year-ender for Will Yeguete) than might have been projected.

So when we broke down the Sweet Sixteen chances for each SEC team in the NCAA tourney field last Tuesday, we projected just two teams surviving.  One — the obvious one — we got right.  The other, not so much.

Here’s how things stand moving forward:

Alabama – We didn’t see the Crimson Tide advancing from a pod that included Missouri Valley champs Creighton and #1 seed in the Midwest North Carolina.  They didn’t.  Bama fell 58-57 in the first round despite holding the high-scoring Blue Jays well below their 80-point average.  Tide fans will tell you a foul should have been called on a late Bama attempt to take the lead, but we’ll tell you what we always say when it comes to officials’ decisions: Teams have 39+ minutes to take the game out of the refs’ hands.

Vanderbilt — We expected Vandy to slip past Wisconsin and into the Sweet Sixteen.  Barely.  In fact, here’s what we wrote of the Commodores: “If VU’s hitting their shots, they can make a long run.  But if they’re cold — as we’ve seen in previous tourneys — they can exit early.”  We gave Vandy the benefit of the doubt that their shooters would stay hot for two games.  Wrong.  In their 60-57 loss to Wisconsin, the Dores shot just 26% from 3-point range (5-of-19) and were adios’d.  Top gunner John Jenkins was just 3-of-13 from the field and just 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.  When you live by the three, you die by the three.  Vandy does so every year.

Kentucky — Big whoop, we had the Wildcats reaching the Sweet Sixteen.  Who didn’t?  Thanks to Iowa State’s win over UConn, the Cats avoided one of few teams analysts thought might – might – be able to give them some trouble.  Now the bracket is really setting up nicely for them.  UK should be plenty motivated for their next game as it’s a rematch with Indiana, a team that nipped the Cats on a buzzer-beater in December.  Win that and they’ll face either 3-seed Baylor or 10-seed Xavier.  The #2 seed in the region — Duke — was ousted in the first round.  Another #2 is gone in Missouri.  And UK’s rival #1 seeds are having their own issues — a suspension at Syracuse and a broken wrist at North Carolina.  This is looking more and more like John Calipari’s year.  At least on paper.

Florida — The Gators are the surprise SEC team left in the field.  A #7 seed due to their poor finish (they lost four of their last five entering the tourney), Florida pounded 10-seed Virginia in the opening round 71-45 and then crushed #15 Norfolk State 84-50 yesterday.  Minus Yeguette, the Gators’ had struggled in the frontcourt at year’s end.  Not in the tourney.  As is the case in all tourneys, the Gators had to have a little luck go their way, too, however.  Instead of playing #2 Missouri, they played Norfolk State the team that upset Mizzou.  Against the Tigers, NSU shot 54.2% (32-of-59) and connected on 10-of-19 3-pointers.  Against the Gators, they shot 27.3% (18-of-66) and were just 4-of-24 from 3-point range.  Credit Florida’s defense for some of that, but let’s face it, basketball’s all about who’s hot on a given night.  Norfolk State couldn’t miss a shot on Friday.  By Sunday, they couldn’t throw a ball in the ocean.  So now the Gators will face West #3 Marquette in Phoenix with the winner of #1 Michigan State and #4 Louisville waiting for the victor.  By seeds, those are the best teams Florida could possibly have remaining in their path — #1, #3 and #4.  Rough draw.  But UF’s surprised us once already.  So we’re not going to right them off just yet.




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