A preview of tonight’s SEC Tournament opening round, being played at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville:
Mississippi State was 2-0 vs. LSU this year (95-78 on January 7 in Baton Rouge and 88-76 in Starkville in the final game of the regular season on Saturday). Their win four days ago ended a seven-game skid that saw them plummet down the SEC standings. LSU, meanwhile, snapped a 15-game losing streak with a victory over Tennessee on March 1 but saw a new one start with their loss to the Bulldogs. Johnny Jones might be a dead coach walking as rumors have swirled of his pending termination - the Tigers have gone from a 22-win team two years ago to 19 last year and to 10 this year.
Who to watch: Antonio Blakeney, who leads the way in scoring for LSU, and Duop Reath, who’s carried the rebounding mantle after Craig Victor’s dismissal from the program early in the season. For the Bulldogs, Quindarry Weatherspoon has been held to single digits in scoring just four time this year (including a season-low five points against South Carolina on February 11).
Winner plays: Fifth-seeded Alabama after Tennessee/Georgia tomorrow. The winner of the Alabama vs. LSU/Mississippi State tilt takes on fourth-seeded South Carolina in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The second game of the opening round is going to look a little weird. That’s because Kim Anderson has already been told that he won’t be retained after the season ends. Not surprising, especially after winning just 26 games in three years in Columbia West. (For comparison, 20 teams in Division 1 have won 26 games this year alone, so far.) On the other sideline, Bruce Pearl has been steadily improving things for Auburn despite managing an 11th place finish in conference. They were able to sweep Mizzou in the regular season (77-72 in Columbia on January 10 and 89-78 on Sunday at Auburn Arena).
Who to watch: Highly-touted Auburn guard Mustapha Heron found himself on the conference’s all-freshman team after recording 15.2 ppg and 5.8 rpg in 31 games. Jordan Barnett (12.1 ppg/5.8 rpg) and Kevin Puryear (11/6 per outing) are the key contributors for Mizzou.
Winner takes on: Sixth-seeded Ole Miss in the final game of the night session - after Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
TV: SEC Network (Tom Hart, Jon Sundvold, Laura Rutledge)
Live Stream: WatchESPN.com