The 2016 SEC Tournament is set. Let's dig into the bracket to see what we can find.
The most important aspect of any tournament is the draws. Matchups matter, so I'm going to focus in on those.
Best Draws: Kentucky and Vanderbilt
The Kentucky Wildcats are a perfect 6-0 this year against every team on their side of the bracket. They may have dropped five SEC games on the season, but all five of those losses are to teams that they can't face until the tournament final. Not bad.
On the other half, the Vanderbilt Commodores actually have the best draw. Vandy is 8-2 against everyone on its side of the field. It swept three of the teams over there, including both of its potential opponents in its first game. The hitch with the 'Dores is that their second game would come against LSU, who they're 0-1 against, and then probably the next game would be against Texas A&M, who gave them their other loss. Even so, Vandy holds the best cumulative record among teams on that side.
The runners up on each side are the Georgia Bulldogs and Texas A&M Aggies. UGA is 5-2 against teams on its side, including a sweep against its second opponent (should it get past the Mississippi State Bulldogs), the South Carolina Gamecocks. A&M is 6-3 against all others on its side of the field, and it logged a win against every potential opponent.
Worst Draws: South Carolina and Alabama
I mean, the Auburn Tigers have a terrible draw as they're 2-6 against opponents on their side of the bracket, but they're also the lowest seeded team in the field. The Tennessee Volunteers are an only slightly better 3-6, but they're also playing in the first round game. Let's put those two aside.
The SEC Tournament bracket is a disaster for South Carolina. The Gamecocks are just 3-5 against teams in their half, and they're the only one of the top six seeds to be below .500 in their draw. Georgia is their most likely first opponent, and the Bulldogs swept them this year. They're on Kentucky's half of the field, and they didn't come close in a 27-point loss to the 'Cats in Columbia. The only team they haven't lost to in their draw is the Ole Miss Rebels, but that took overtime—and the Rebels would have to beat Kentucky in order to face Carolina. Among teams that should be contenders, the Gamecocks got the rawest deal.
The Alabama Crimson Tide might harbor hopes of winning the tournament, since that's the only way they can make the Big Dance, but the draw didn't help them. The Tide is only 2-6 against the teams in its half of the field, and it can play at maximum one of the two teams it has defeated (South Carolina and Mississippi State). It also would run into Kentucky in its second game should it beat Ole Miss. It's not ideal.
Honorable mention on worst draw goes to the Florida Gators and Mississippi State Bulldogs, as they both are 3-5 against the teams in their respective sides of the bracket.
Play Your Way In: Florida
The caveat with UF is that it needs wins in order to eke out an NCAA Tournament bid, and it does have some chances. The Gators begin with the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team they've owned in recent years. With a win they're guaranteed a date with Texas A&M, the second best win available in the field and a team they came within three points of beating on the road.
Florida may be on the bubble in part because it's 3-5 against the teams on its side of the SEC bracket, but it will have opportunities to right those wrongs.
Dark Horses: Vanderbilt, Ole Miss
Vandy's favorable draw makes it a top contender among those teams that did not get a double bye. Seeing as how the Commodores are presently on the right side of the Big Dance bubble, though, it's hard to label the team a true dark horse.
Thing is, I don't really see anyone seeded worse than Vandy as being able to win the tournament. Since people love to look for a dark horse, I'll toss Ole Miss out there.
The Rebels are 1-0 against their first opponent, Alabama. Their quarterfinal opponent of Kentucky is not great, given that they fell behind 46-22 at halftime on the way to an 83-61 loss in the teams' only game this season. That was in Rupp, though, so a big loss there doesn't mean as much as a big loss in Oxford would.
This year's Kentucky team has been known to have lapses, and maybe they won't show up sharp for their first game. Stefan Moody is the kind of singular scorer who can carry a team to conference tournament victory, so maybe he'll spark the upset. Ole Miss has defeated UGA and MSU already this year, and it took South Carolina to overtime despite being shorthanded due to injury. Get past the semifinals, and then anything can happen in one game.
Again, I don't see anyone below Vandy at the 5-seed line as winning this thing. Ole Miss is just my, "if you had to pick one, who would you pick" team.
False Dark Horse: Georgia
UGA is a tempting dark horse pick because of its nominally favorable draw. The problem with the Bulldogs is that they didn't come close to beating Kentucky in their one game this year, with the final score ending up 82-48. The most likely team they'd face in the final would be Texas A&M, who beat Georgia 79-45 in Athens. They at least only lost to Vandy by 13, I guess.
They Bulldogs have a great shot at the semis in light of their season sweep of South Carolina, but getting further than that is improbable.
Tennessee has really been struggling of late, especially without Kevin Punter. I'll take Auburn in an upset in the first round game. In the second round, I'll go with all four favorites to win: Florida, Vandy, Ole Miss, and Georgia. In the quarterfinals, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Georgia will prevail. The semifinals will set up an A&M-UK finale, which the Wildcats will win in a classic.