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.