The 2014 SEC Tournament bracket is set, and while it may feel like Florida against the field, there still is plenty of intrigue to go around.
The Favorite: Florida
Any time a team runs the table in the regular season, it's going to be the top pick for the conference tournament. The Gators seemed to lose interest there for a while in late February, logging single-digit wins over Auburn, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt. However since the calendar turned to March, they've had wins of 18 over LSU, 26 over South Carolina, and 19 over Kentucky. If anyone else wins this thing, it'll be an upset.
The Backup: Tennessee
The Vols are arriving in Atlanta with the conference's second-longest winning streak and perhaps as its second best team at this point. Big Orange doesn't have a particularly favorable draw, as its first two games are likely to be against Arkansas and then Florida, but it's playing the best ball in the league right now outside of UF. Again, it would be an upset if Florida lost at some point, but if they do, it wouldn't be a total shock to see UT be the squad that knocks them off.
A Tale of Two Halves
Thanks to the way the standings shook out, the two halves of the bracket have drastically different difficulty curves. In the top half, you've got Florida and the three NCAA Tournament bubble teams in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. In the bottom half, only Kentucky is in Big Dance at-large bid contention. The setup is friendly to the Selection Committee, which will get to see the bubble guys play some decent competition and perhaps knock each other out, but it's not conducive to maximizing the league's number of bids.
Best Draw: Georgia and then LSU
The surprise 3-seed UGA is in pretty good shape with where it landed. The Bulldogs have defeated everyone in their half of the bracket except for Vanderbilt, who they likely won't play, and Kentucky. That said, the Cats are reeling and just lost to South Carolina not long ago. Should Georgia get past its first game, it might not even have to face UK in the semifinals. It's a cushy draw, all things considered.
I can't go without mentioning LSU here too. It's in the same half of the bracket as UGA is, and it too has played well against most everyone in it. If you're looking for a lower seeded team to potentially make a big run, you could do worse than betting on these Tigers. They could have been a real March Madness bubble contender with just a couple of game results reversed, so they could be a dangerous team in Atlanta.
Worst Draw: Missouri
These Tigers are limping into the field having just been crushed by fellow bubble team Tennessee. At this point, I doubt any bracketologist has Mizzou in the Field of 68, and this tournament draw is not helping the cause. The first game MU gets is against Texas A&M, a contest which will do nothing for it if it wins and will end their hopes if they lose. Should they win, they get to play Florida. I guess that could be good news in that there's no bigger win to get here than that one, but a friendlier opponent would be someone like Arkansas (who Mizzou swept). It's climb Mount Everest or go to the NIT. Good luck, guys.
The Long Shot: Alabama
If someone from the 9-seed or below is going to make a surprise run here, the 10-seeded Tide seems like the best bet. It's in the Kentucky-Georgia half of the bracket, which is a prerequisite for this premise. It already beat its opening opponent LSU. UK in the next game doesn't appear certain to beat anyone with as poorly as it has played of late. Potential semifinal opponents Georgia and Ole Miss aren't so far ahead of Bama that a win there is unimaginable. With Anthony Grant potentially coaching for his job and a good player in Trevor Releford who might catch fire and carry the team, these guys just might shock everyone and go deep. They also could lose by 20 to LSU. That's SEC basketball for you.