Rebs, MSU ready for tourney

Published 4:42 pm Thursday, March 8, 2007

Ole Miss and Mississippi State both had .500 records in the SEC, but they received a bye in the opening round of the tournament.

But Tennessee, which went 10-6, and Kentucky, at 9-7, both have to play Thursday. Is that fair?

The league may have to give its seeding system another look after the Eastern teams put up much better numbers than those West.

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Ole Miss and Mississippi State shared the SEC West title despite going just 8-8. Georgia had the same conference mark and finished fifth in the East.

Florida, the overall league champion, went 13-3 in the league, while fellow East teams Vanderbilt (10-6), Tennessee and Kentucky also had better records than anyone in the West.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith expects the SEC to discuss a revised formula that would lump all the teams together, giving the top four a bye regardless of which division they’re in.

“That’s something that I’m sure will be discussed,” he said. “It probably would be beneficial to evaluate and see if that’s possible.”

The event starts Thursday with four games: Alabama (20-10, 7-9) vs. Kentucky (20-10, 9-7); South Carolina (14-15, 4-12) vs. Arkansas (18-12, 7-9); Georgia (17-12, 8-8) vs. Auburn (17-14, 7-9); and LSU (16-14, 5-11) vs. No. 22 Tennessee (22-9, 10-6).

The other four teams will be waiting Friday in the quarterfinals. Sixth-ranked Florida (26-5, 13-3) and Vanderbilt (20-10, 10-6) finished 1-2 in the East, while Mississippi State (17-12, 8-8) and Ole Miss (19-11, 8-8) were the top two teams out West.

Still, there’s a sense that this conference is nothing more than Florida and Everyone Else. When the NCAA invitations are handed out Sunday, a few hours after the tournament champ is crowned, it will be interesting to see how many SEC teams wind up in the field of 65. Florida, Vandy, Tennessee and Kentucky will definitely hear their names called, but no one else is a sure bet unless it wins the tournament and the automatic NCAA bid. Several coaches arrived in Atlanta on the hot seat, with Smith at the top of the list. Less than two weeks ago, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart released a statement that acknowledged all the discontent in the Bluegrass State, but also urged fans to wait until the end of the season before they decided if the program had met its lofty expectations.