Outright SEC regular-season champion Auburn travels to St. Louis as the team to beat in the postseason conference tournament.
But the Tigers are behind Tennessee and Kentucky in the Basketball Power Index, and need a strong showing to nail down a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The door is open for Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and perhaps even LSU and Alabama to make a stronger statement in the SEC tournament.
Starting with an overtime loss at Arkansas on Feb. 8, Auburn is 4-3 including a loss at Florida. The Gators could be the first postseason test for the Tigers this week.
Our pick: Auburn. As the #1 seed, the Tigers dodge the trickiest path to the championship game in St. Louis but haven’t shown an undisputed favorite look since grabbing the top ranking in the country. At 28-4, Auburn’s only non-league loss was in double overtime to UConn in November.
Underdog to watch: Alabama. A win over the Vandy-Georgia victor would set up a clash with Kentucky. The Crimson Tide can run and shoot, and they built a lead over 20 points at Kentucky last month only to lose the lead and game with a late collapse. While dangerous, Alabama is a #6 seed here for a reason: wild inconsistency and iffy defensive effort. If your appetite for risk is lower, take a peek at #4 seed Arkansas.
Projected NCAA Tournament bids: 8. It’s a solid league with better depth and heavyweights with Final Four potential up top.
Next stop, New Orleans: Kentucky (+700) and Auburn (+1200) are among the top five to make it to the Final Four, although neither appears to be completely bulletproof, a class we’d reserve for Gonzaga and Arizona at the moment. Longer odds on Tennessee (+3500), Arkansas (+5000) and Alabama (+6000) could be more inviting.
SEC tournament schedule
First round — Wednesday, March 9
Game 1: #12 Missouri vs. #13 Ole Miss | 6 p.m. on SEC Network
Game 2: #11 Vanderbilt vs. #14 Georgia | 8 p.m. on SEC Network
Second round — Thursday, March 10
Game 3: #8 Texas A&M vs. #9 Florida | Noon on SEC Network
Game 4: #5 LSU vs. Game 1 winner | 2 p.m. on SEC Network
Game 5: #7 South Carolina vs. #10 Mississippi State | 6 p.m. on SEC Network
Game 6: #6 Alabama vs. Game 2 winner | 8 p.m. on SEC Network
Quarterfinals — Friday, March 11
Game 7: #1 Auburn vs. Game 3 winner | Noon on ESPN
Game 8: #4 Arkansas vs. Game 4 winner | 2 p.m. on ESPN
Game 9: #2 Tennessee vs. Game 5 winner | 6 p.m. on SEC Network
Game 10: #3 Kentucky vs. Game 6 winner | 8 p.m. on SEC Network
Semifinals — Saturday, March 12
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner | 1 p.m. on ESPN
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner | 3 p.m. on ESPN
Championship — Sunday, March 13
Game 13: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner | 1 p.m. on ESPN