Time to change SEC tournament? Not until offseason

Tennessee is ranked 15th in the country and went 11-5 in the

Southeastern Conference. So of course, the Volunteers are enjoying

a first-round bye at the league tournament, right?

Nope.

Tennessee (23-7) wound up as the Eastern Division’s No. 3 team

and playing Thursday against LSU, the sixth-seeded team from the

West. The Volunteers aren’t alone. Florida combined with Tennessee,

No. 2 Kentucky and 20th-ranked Vanderbilt to sweep all 24 games

they played against the SEC’s Western Division, and the Gators will

play Auburn on Thursday night.

The disparity and the first-round byes enjoyed by Mississippi

State (21-10, 9-7) and Mississippi (21-9, 9-7) have prompted talk

of reseeding teams one through 12 for the SEC tournament rather

than by divisions with the top two teams in each division getting

byes.

It’s a topic Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl will be happy to talk

about when the season ends.

“Today the format is we play LSU at 2:15 tomorrow. That’s the

only answer I have as it relates to the format today. In the

offseason, I’ll comment on how conference tournaments … how we

think their formats can be improved. Right now, we play LSU

tomorrow at 2:15. It’s a fair question. I just don’t want to answer

it right now,” Pearl said.

Pearl said he has noticed a discrepancy between the East and

West since he arrived at Tennessee in 2005. He noted the Vols

played before sold-out, or nearly sold-out, crowds while on the

road against the Eastern Division. Empty seats were quite

noticeable when playing against the Western Division.

“That opens the door for road teams to be able to come in there

and win. What’s impressive as being 24-0 is however many games,

12-0 I guess, on the road,” Pearl said.

That’s exactly what Auburn coach Jeff Lebo is using as

motivation for his Tigers in Thursday night’s first-round game with

Florida (20-11, 9-7) – win one for the West.

“We know there were a lot of close games with the top four

teams in the East,” Auburn senior Tay Waller said.

DESPERATION TIME: Tournament time means lose and go home for a

handful of teams here, but South Carolina and Georgia are among the

more dangerous opponents. South Carolina beat Kentucky and is

coming off a road win over Vanderbilt last weekend. Georgia knocked

off Tennessee and Vanderbilt this season.

“It’s do or die. We’re approaching every game as if it’s our

last,” Gamecocks senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross said. “We know

if we can get some wins and get some momentum, I think we’ll be

fine. We’re just going to approach it one game at a time and not

think about past events.”

The Georgia Bulldogs are very aware of what the program

accomplished two years ago at the Georgia Dome by winning four

games in four days, even despite the distraction of a tornado that

forced a mid-tournament move to a small arena. Now senior guard

Ricky McPhee redshirted that season, while sophomore forward Trey

Thompkins watched on TV as a signee.

Georgia coach Mark Fox said a photo of that team holding the

tournament trophy is in the Bulldogs’ locker room.

“I’m not going to pray for a tornado,” Fox said to laughs.

This team has 13 wins – just like that 2008 team. Now they start

Thursday night in the last game of the first-round against Aransas

(14-17, 7-9) and the No. 3 seed in the West to become the fourth

Georgia squad since the SEC tournament resumed in 1979 to reach the

title game.

“Outside of telling them to pack for a week, our entire focus

has been on playing well on Thursday night,” Fox said.

PLAYING FOR JOB SECURITY: Of the coaches needing wins, none may

need a victory or two here more than Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. His

Tigers are 15-16 (6-10 SEC) in his sixth season, and his record is

96-92 in that time. The worst stat is no NCAA tournament berths and

only one NIT appearance in 2009.

It won’t be easy with Auburn playing Florida with the Gators

needing a win or two to secure their first NCAA berth since their

last national championship in 2007.

“I’m focused on this team, focused on the tournament and

focused on Florida, and that’s my total. That’s where all my energy

has gone right now and to these kids. As in most cases, I think

when the season’s over I’ll sit down with my AD and when the

season’s complete we’ll have a conversation at that point,” Lebo

said.

Lebo later talked with reporters in the hallway when Georgia

coach Mark Fox walked by and patted Lebo on the shoulder.