The SEC in March Madness (So Far): The Good, Bad, and Ugly
The 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is currently underway and the first two rounds of it have lived up to the "madness" of its famous nickname, March Madness. The SEC had six teams representing the conference in the tournament, those teams being Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, and Tennessee.
Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of the SEC in March Madness:
The Razorbacks entered the tournament as a No. 4 seed in the West Region, and were matched up against No. 13 Vermont and No. 12 New Mexico State, winning both games in their first weekend of play. Even though Arkansas won both games by only nine combined points, they were the only SEC team in the tournament to advance to the second weekend of play, and will play in the Sweet 16 for the second straight season. Arkansas' reward: playing Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, on Thursday, March 24 at 6:09 p.m. CT on CBS.
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman spoke after the game Saturday on taking Arkansas to their second straight Sweet 16.
"It's a culture of work," said Musselman. "It's a culture of trying to get maximum effort every day, but to make two Sweet 16s back-to-back, it's not easy. There's very few teams that are able to do it."
The Tigers came into the tournament as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region after losing their opportunity of claiming one of the four coveted one seeds by losing to Texas A&M in their first game of the SEC Tournament. They were pitted against another team from the state of Alabama, No. 15 Jacksonville State, where they used a late first half run to separate from the Gamecocks and win 80-61. However, Auburn faced problems in the second round against No. 10 Miami, where two of their top players, Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, went 3-16 and 0-6 respectively, and ultimately lost to the Hurricanes 79-61.
The Tigers came into the tournament with high hopes of possibly repeating the success of their 2019 tournament run, where they made it to their first ever Final Four in program history. Instead, they were stunned with a second round exit. Smith, arguably Auburn's best player this season, is currently noncommittal on his future, though he is a projected top five pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
The Volunteers came off of a SEC Tournament championship and received a No. 3 seed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee handled their first opponent, No. 14 Longwood, with ease, shooting 60% from the field and winning 88-56. They ran into a roadblock, however, in the second round against No.11 Michigan, shooting only 41.8% from the field and losing to the Wolverines 76-68 after getting outscored 22-8 in the final 8:27 of the game.
Many believed that the Volunteers deserved better than a three seed in the tournament after winning the SEC Tournament, but that didn't prove to matter much as they lost in the first weekend to a 14 loss Michigan team that hadn't won back-to-back games since Feb. 8-10. Ironically, they lost at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Saturday, the same exact place they lost last year in the first round of the tournament to Oregon State.
Coming into the tournament, the Tigers was given the No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region, where they were matched up against No. 11 Iowa State in the first round. Though LSU kept it close for the majority of the game with the Cyclones, the Tigers never led in the second half and ended up losing to Iowa State 59-54, in a game in which Darius Days and Tari Eason scored 32 of the team's total 54 points.
The Tigers were coached by interim coach Kevin Nickelberry in their tournament loss to Iowa State after head coach Will Wade was fired just a day after their SEC Tournament loss to Arkansas after being accused of violating at least five Level I NCAA violations.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Though they came in on a three game losing streak, the Crimson Tide secured another No. 6 seed in the tournament for the SEC, and was placed in the West Region along with Arkansas. Alabama had to play against No. 11 Notre Dame in San Diego, a team who played in a double OT game against Rutgers in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio just two days before the first round matchup. Alabama proceeded to lose to the Fighting Irish 78-64, after a combination of being plagued by double digit turnovers for a sixth straight game with 14 and Notre Dame's Cormac Ryan scoring a career-high 29 points, which included seven 3-pointers.
Alabama lost star player Jahvon Quinerly early in the first half to a left knee injury that head coach Nate Oats described as "significant". After reaching the Sweet 16 last season and pulling off early season wins against Gonzaga and Houston this season, many fans had high hopes that the Crimson Tide would be able to have similar success, but turnovers and a lack of leadership were ultimately the team's downfall.
The Wildcats locked up a second No. 2 seed in the tournament for the SEC, and was pitted against No. 15 Saint Peter's in the first round of the East Region. In one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, Kentucky lost their first round game to the Peacocks in overtime, 85-79, after coming into the game as an 18.5 point favorite. Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe, had 30 points and 16 rebounds while Saint Peter's Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert combined for 47 points.
Kentucky became just the tenth No. 2 seed to lose to a No. 15 seed since 1991. It was also Kentucky head coach John Calipari's first opening round tournament loss with the Wildcats. Kentucky outranked Saint Peter's in basketball budget, with $18.3M being spent compared to $1.6M, a home gym capacity of 20,545 compared to 3,200, and a total of three 5-star recruits compared to zero for the Peacocks.
Just like Auburn and Tennessee, Kentucky had high hopes coming into the tournament, especially after missing the tournament last year, but they instead ended up suffering the worst loss in the 2022 NCAA Tournament by far.
"At the end of the day, every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament deserves to be here," Saint Peter's head coach Shaheen Holloway said. "Every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament believes they can advance."
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