COLUMBIA — Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I can hear Clark Kellogg, Greg Gumbel and Luther Vandross' "One Shining Moment." Surely, March Madness must be near. My heart is aflutter.
Here's a look at the SEC's NCAA Tournament watch. But, first, a general guide. If a team has 10 regular season conference wins entering the SEC tourney, it's probably in. Anything less is extremely dicey territory.
RELAX, YOU'RE IN
Louisiana State (21-4, 9-1): Folks were down on the Tigers for a weak non-conference schedule. But, in the SEC season, everything seems to be going just fine for first-year coach Trent Johnson. He's got a balanced team of stars — led by Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell — and the Tigers have got a pretty good shot to play deep into March. Seriously, don't be surprised if this team winds up in the Elite Eight, depending on the type of draw the Tigers receive.
FEEL GOOD, BUT NOT TOO GOOD
Kentucky (18-8, 7-4): Jodie Meeks put the team on his back last week when big man Patrick Patterson went down with an ankle injury. Those were important wins, against Florida and at Arkansas. This is a very good team when both Meeks and Patterson are healthy and clicking. But the Wildcats didn't help their cause with a 77-64 loss at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. A win would have given them a (perhaps brief) half-game lead in the division.
South Carolina (18-5, 7-3): The Gamecocks are finding ways to win late in games, a complete departure from a year ago. This team believes it can win, a complete departure from a year ago. If USC finishes with a winning SEC record, it would be the first time in a decade. Times are a-changin'. Darrin Horn already deserves an abundance of credit.
Florida (19-6, 6-4): With a triple-double at Georgia and 30-plus points at Kentucky, Nick Calathes had a fantastic week. But the Gators didn't, dropping both games on the road. That hurts, but this team still has plenty of ability to motor into the NCAAs. Calathes can't do it all. But he can come close.
TREMBLE IN FEAR
Tennessee (16-8, 7-3): Bruce Pearl became his own worst nightmare by scheduling such a devilish non-conference schedule. Two of UT's eight losses, for instance, came to nationally ranked Gonzaga. The Volunteers have plenty of athletic bodies to help them win enough games to get to the Dance. But here's the problem: There's little room for error, considering the number of overall losses. Road games at Kentucky and South Carolina are among the remaining schedule.
IS IT FOOTBALL SEASON?
Mississippi State (16-9, 6-4): This is a good team. This is a team that should be in the tourney. But it won't be. Because of catastrophic losses such as this past Saturday at Auburn. And one earlier in the year at home to Ole Miss. The Bulldogs are looking at 11 or 12 regular-season losses, and the selection committee frowns on such things.
Auburn (16-9, 5-5): The Tigers are playing better. That's good, since it'll save Jeff Lebo's job. But don't look for the recent stir of winning three straight to do anything more than earn an NIT bid.
Some others, quite obviously, belong in this category. Hello, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
Because of an application glitch, South Carolina's Devan Downey isn't being considered this season for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the best point guard in the country.
Horn and the new USC staff weren't aware they needed to apply for the award; the group in charge of the award didn't recognize Downey's name wasn't in the mix.
It's a shame, really. He'd certainly be a finalist, along with the likes of North Carolina's Ty Lawson and Kansas' Sherron Collins.
Maybe next year?
1. Jodie Meeks, Kentucky 25.8
2. Marcus Thornton, LSU 20.0
3. Devan Downey, USC 19.9
4. David Huertas, Miss. 19.1
5. Nick Calathes, Florida 18.6
3-pointers a game
1. Jodie Meeks, Kentucky 3.76
2. Tay Waller, Auburn 2.84
3. David Huertas, Miss. 2.75
4. Ravern Johnson, Miss. St. 2.40
5. Rotnei Clarke, Arkansas 2.39
1. Michael Washington, Ark. 9.7
2. Jarvis Varnado, Miss. St. 9.3
3. Korvotney Barber, Auburn 9.2
4. Patrick Patterson, Kentucky 9.1
5. Wayne Chism, Tennessee 8.5
1. Nick Calathes, Florida 6.6
2. Courtney Fortson, Ark. 6.5
3. Devan Downey, USC 4.4
4. Dee Bost, Miss. St. 4.3
5. Garrett Temple, LSU 4.2
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