The SEC put half of its four NCAA Tournament teams in the Sweet 16 as Kentucky and Florida won their second round games while Vanderbilt fell just short.
On what was one of the crazier first weekends in memory, it's worthwhile to say that none of the conference teams were upset victims. Alabama and Vanderbilt lost to teams seeded one line above them. Kentucky won its games by 15 and 16 points, while Florida romped to 26- and 34-point victories. The Big Ten probably had the best first couple of rounds of any conference, but you could do a lot worse than the SEC did these past four days.
It's hard to draw too many lasting conclusions from Kentucky's opening rounds, but that's a good thing for any 1-seed. The Wildcats put their 16-seed away with authority, and after getting pushed some by Iowa State, they closed that team out well too. Probably the most important thing was not the game margins but rather Marquis Teague's performance. He had little impact in the SEC Tournament final loss to Vanderbilt, but he had a decent game against WKU and a superb game against Iowa State. It is a little worrying that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist barely broke double-digits in points across the two games combined, but again, you can't draw too many conclusions off of games versus overmatched opponents.
Florida, meanwhile, looked nothing like a 7-seed. It had issues with Virginia for less than a half, and it had about five minutes of trouble with Norfolk State before going on a 25-0 first half run. This team looks like the one that has been ranked in the top 10 at times during the year and was once thought of as a Final Four contender. Just like with UK, you don't want to make too many lasting statements after games against inferior competition. However, Florida is the only Sweet 16 team to win both its games by 20+ points and owns the two largest margins of victory in this tournament. The UF team that has been showing up since its SEC Tournament loss to Kentucky is vastly different and far better than the one that limped down the stretch of the regular season.
Finally, Vanderbilt bowed out as much as anything due to the tough draw the selection committee gave it this year. Playing Wisconsin is usually really tough on shooters, and that was the case with Vandy. It's difficult to believe that the core of seniors on that team are finishing their careers with only a single NCAA Tournament win, but it just goes to show how difficult winning in March can be. This was a big year for that program, winning the SEC Tournament and getting past the first round in the NCAAs. It will undoubtedly go through some growing pains next year after losing so many veterans, but the real story will be in the subsequent years as we see just what kind of foundation was laid with this team.
With Vanderbilt bowing out, the SEC won't have a chance to have two teams in the national championship game in basketball after having done that for baseball and football in the past year. The best it can get is a fourth Kentucky-Florida game in the Final Four. Neither half of that is secure, mind you. Kentucky has a loss to its Sweet 16 opponent Indiana already, and Baylor has the athletes to hang with the 'Cats. Florida is certainly capable of losing to anyone still left in the West bracket, and Michigan State is a particularly bad matchup.
The last time the SEC put two teams into the Final Four was 2006, when Florida and LSU made it that far. It won't be easy and might not even be likely, but the conference could repeat that this year. That's a pretty good place to be after two rounds.