SEC Tournament doesn't always reward the best

9:51 AM, Mar 13, 2013   |    comments
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By David Climer | The Tennessean

Is it easier to win the national championship than the SEC Tournament?

Of course not. That defies all logic. The NCAA bracket is a demolition derby. Danger lies at every turn.

The SEC Tournament is a different animal. Even with 14 teams now in the conference, the top four seeds get byes into the quarterfinals, where only three wins are needed to seal the deal.

But history puts up a pretty good argument here. Since the revival of the SEC Tournament in 1979, five conference teams have won national championships. How many of those won the SEC Tournament? Two -- Florida's back-to-back champs in 2006-07.

That's right. Three teams that failed to win the SEC Tournament came back to fight their way through the NCAA bracket and win the national championship -- Arkansas in 1994, Kentucky in '96 and Kentucky last season.

There are mitigating circumstances. Aren't there always?

Some coaches treat the SEC Tournament as a necessary evil and worry that a deep run is physically taxing and might impact how their teams play in the NCAAs. You can count Kentucky's John Calipari among those, although his three previous Wildcats teams won the SEC Tournament title twice and lost in the final once.

Former LSU coach Dale Brown once subscribed to that school of thought but later switched gears by saying he "owed it to our fans" to put more emphasis on the conference tournament.

But even with concerns about fatigue and injuries, there are plenty of examples of great teams that couldn't close the deal in the SEC Tournament.

The 1996 Kentucky team is the best I've ever seen in the SEC. With Rick Pitino as coach, it was untouchable in conference play, becoming the first team in 40 years to finish with a perfect record. The 'Cats sprinted through the first four games of the NCAA Tournament, winning by an average of 28.3 points. Then they beat UMass in the national semis and defused a late Syracuse rally in the championship game.

Nine players from that team eventually played in the NBA.

But you know what? As good as that Kentucky team was, it didn't win the SEC Tournament. The 'Cats ran into Dontae' Jones, whose 28-point, 11-rebound game for Mississippi State in the final is the best individual performance I've ever seen in the event.

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