Commentary

SEC primer: A return to the Dome

Originally Published: March 10, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Georgia and Alabama might have more at stake than any other teams at the SEC tournament in Atlanta's Georgia Dome this week.

After finishing with identical 20-10 records, both squads are firmly sitting on the NCAA tournament bubble. As of Wednesday, ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi had the Bulldogs as the last team in the NCAA field, while the Crimson Tide were the first team left out of the 68-team tournament.

Georgia, which plays Auburn in Thursday's opening round, had an RPI rating of No. 38 and a strength of schedule rating of No. 32 on Wednesday. The Bulldogs finished 9-7 in SEC games and were 7-4 in road contests. The bad news? UGA went 1-7 against RPI top-25 foes and 3-9 against the top 50.

"We have done our best with staying away from pressure," Georgia forward Trey Thompkins said. "We left that up to everybody else. We just focus on things that we can control. And right now the only thing that we can control is playing this game. Hopefully, there is a future for us, but we'll take care of what we can take care of."

Alabama won the SEC West, finishing with a 12-4 mark in SEC games. Since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 1992, every division champion with at least 11 conference victories went on to play in the NCAA tournament. But Alabama's RPI rating is only No. 83 and its strength of schedule is No. 150 as of Wednesday.

The Crimson Tide defeated the Bulldogs 65-57 in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. If Georgia beats Auburn, the Bulldogs will play Alabama in Friday's quarterfinals.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Dome
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe good news? No severe weather is expected in Atlanta as the SEC tourney returns to the Georgia Dome for the first time since 2008.

Here are some things to look for at the SEC tournament:

Back to Atlanta: After a two-year hiatus, the SEC tournament returns to the Georgia Dome. The last time the tournament was played here was in March 2008, when a tornado caused significant damage to the dome's roof during quarterfinals games, forcing the SEC to move remaining games to Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

Georgia, which won only four SEC regular-season games in 2007-08, went from worst to first in the SEC in less than 36 hours by winning three games in two days, including a 66-57 victory over Arkansas in the championship game. The Bulldogs became the first team in 56 years to win two games in the same day, defeating Kentucky in the quarterfinals and Mississippi State a few hours later in the semifinals.

The good news: the weather forecast for Atlanta this weekend includes nothing but sunny skies.

Dome sweet dome: Kentucky won each of the first three SEC tournaments played in the Georgia Dome in 1995, '98 and '99 and has won 26 SEC tournament titles overall (no other school has won more than six). The Wildcats enjoyed so much success in Atlanta over the years that UK faithful fondly referred to it as "Catlanta" and the Dome as "Rupp South."

But Florida turned the Georgia Dome into its home court more recently, winning SEC tournament titles in 2005 and '07 and the second of their national championships here. (They also won the '06 title in Nashville.)

On the hot seat: One-fourth of the league's coaches might be on the hot seat entering the SEC tournament. Tennessee's Bruce Pearl has been one of the league's most successful coaches, but he was suspended for half of the team's conference schedule by SEC commissioner Mike Slive for breaking NCAA rules and then lying to NCAA investigators. Pearl's fate probably won't be decided until the NCAA announces the Volunteers' punishment sometime this summer.

Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury has won 272 games in 13 seasons with the Bulldogs, but this season has been plagued by off-court problems and suspensions. It doesn't help that MSU has a 17-13 record heading into Friday's game against the winner of Vanderbilt-LSU.

Arkansas fans are growing very impatient with coach John Pelphrey, who has a 69-58 record in four seasons with the Razorbacks. After leading the Hogs to the second round of the NCAAs in his first season in 2007-08, they won only 14 games in each of the previous two seasons. Arkansas finished 7-9 in the league this season and faces off with Tennessee on Thursday night.

Not a good omen: Recent history suggests that winning the SEC tournament isn't always a good thing. During the previous 10 seasons, SEC tournament champions have won a pair of national championships (both by Florida in 2006 and '07). But five of the past 10 SEC tournament winners failed to advance beyond the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament. Georgia and Mississippi State lost in the first round of the NCAAs in 2008 and '09, respectively.

Red hot: Mississippi State senior Ravern Johnson averaged 23 points and 5.5 rebounds in his past two games, victories over Arkansas and South Carolina. In those games, Johnson made 12 of 22 3-pointers. He enters the SEC tournament needing one 3-pointer to move into second place on the school's career list with 258. In his past six games, Johnson has made 26 of 44 shots (59.1 percent) from behind the 3-point line.

First-round game to watch: Georgia can't afford an opening-round loss to Auburn if it wants to feel confident on Selection Sunday, but the Tigers are playing with a lot of confidence. AU came from way back to win each of its past two games, erasing a 15-point deficit in a 60-51 victory over LSU and a 20-point deficit in a 76-73 win over Ole Miss.

Georgia needed overtime to beat the Tigers 81-72 in Athens on Feb. 5.

He said it: "I voted to change the format last year. I supported that a year ago. This season hasn't changed my stance on that. I really feel like we need to take a hard look at it. I think that if we do go to one division or reseed the tournaments or both, that it has to be done the right way. I think that it's not out of the picture to think that scheduling will change." -- Georgia coach Mark Fox

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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