The two ranked teams of the SEC, Arkansas (#21) and Kentucky, undefeated and probably the best in the nation, make it to the SEC Tournament championship game at the expense of Georgia (the Razorbacks winning (60-49) and Auburn, going down 91-67 against the drastically superior Wildcats.
Auburn had no chance of getting picked for the NCAA Tournament, so winning the conference tourney was their only way into the final 64 on Bruce Pearl’s first year with the Tigers. However, Kentucky had no problem beating them in the regular season and nothing changed in the conference tournament, leading by 18 points at half time and carrying on with their recent trend of finishing off games very early, showing they’ve learned a thing or two since the beginning of the season.
Kentucky dominated in every possible way, from transition points (including going 8-of-8 on those opportunities), points in the paint, second chance points and even hitting almost every contested shot. Willie Cauley-Stein led them with 18 points while Auburn made sure Karl-Anthony Towns kept going to the line (had just one shot from the field). Andrew Harrison finished with 15 points and joined in the double figure zone by his brother, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker scoring 12 points each.
Did we learn something new about Kentucky? Not really. Their defense is performing at a historic level and it creates so many easy opportunities for them offensively. Their size, athleticism and depth seem almost impossible to handle. Arkansas might be the next best thing in a depleted conference, but in the regular season it didn’t work out all that well.
The Razorbacks looked tired in the early goings of their game against Georgia, but seem to shake off the sluggishness in the second half and walk away with the tournament final berth. One thing they do hope to shake off in time for the final is Bobby Portis’ form, shooting just 1-of-14 from the field in the victory and looking like someone who could use a day off. Battling Cauley-Stein and Towns underneath the basket isn’t exactly “resting.”
Besides Portis it was Michael Qualls that led the way against the Bulldogs, who make it into the NCAA tournament even without going all the way in the local version. Qualls scored 15 points but was a lone bright spot in a bad offensive game for both teams, both shooting below 40% from the field. Some teams are worn out from conference tournaments with hardly 24 hours of rest between games. Kentucky, with the best roster in college basketball, can afford to spread the minutes, which is one of the things giving them a huge edge heading into the championship game.