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SEC Tournament Preview: Texas A&M has momentum, Arkansas seeks most revenge

The Texas A&M Aggies have been the talk of the women’s college basketball world of late after winning the SEC regular-season championship. The South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Lady Volunteers, Georgia Bulldogs and Kentucky Wildcats are all worthy challengers, but the Arkansas Razorbacks (0-6 against ranked SEC opponents) have the biggest chip on their shoulder.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 SEC Women’s Tournament - Arkansas vs Texas A&M
Arkansas’ Amber Ramirez (with ball) plays keep-away from Texas A&M’s N’dea Jones (jersey #31).
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The SEC Tournament begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET with the first three rounds being broadcast on the SEC Network. The semifinals will air on ESPNU and the final will air on ESPN2.

The top-seeded Texas A&M Aggies and the 2nd-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks seem to be on a collision course for a rematch of their regular-season finale, won by Texas A&M. Could somebody else crash the championship-round party?

The top four teams

The Aggies were picked to finish third in the conference and started the season ranked No. 13 nationally. They went ahead and won the conference and are now the No. 2 team in the nation, behind only the UConn Huskies.

N’dea Jones is Texas A&M’s best player and its only representative on the All-SEC First Team. She recently set the program record for most career rebounds and is a double-double machine. The team’s leading scorer, Aaliyah Wilson made the All-SEC Second Team. Kayla Wells, Ciera Johnson, Jordan Nixon and Destiny Pitts are also key contributors for the well-rounded Aggies.

The Gamecocks were the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation last year and entered this season at No. 1. They fell to No. 5 on Dec. 7 after losing to the now-No. 3 NC State Wolfpack on Dec. 3, rose back to No. 1 on Feb. 8 and finally fell to No. 7 after the loss to the Aggies in their regular season finale. A win in that game would have given them the SEC regular-season crown.

Sophomores Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke have been the headliners for South Carolina all season long and both made the All-SEC First Team. Boston, a 6-foot-5 center, averaged a double-double this year and added 2.9 blocks per game, while Cooke, a guard, led the team in scoring. Point guard Destanni Henderson did not get any All-SEC love but would be a great third-best player on any team. South Carolina may need to win the SEC Tournament to maintain its 1-seed status, which is where it is in the latest ESPN projection.

The Tennessee Lady Volunteers enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed and a projected 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Kellie Harper has done well with the Tennessee program through two regular seasons. In 2019-20, the team would have been on the border line of making the NCAA Tournament, but it was still a decent season and expectations weren't too high. Expectations weren’t too high this year either and Tennessee has exceeded them. The Lady Vols went from receiving votes in the preseason to their highest ranking of the year at No. 14 on Monday with wins over the No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers, No. 13 Arkansas Razorbacks, No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats and Gamecocks along the way.

With Rennia Davis leading the way, Tennessee has a high ceiling and could win the SEC Tournament. It only lost to Texas A&M by 10 points in its one matchup against the Aggies. The Lady Vols also feature a great inside presence in Tamari Key, a scorer and shooter in Rae Burrell and an improving point guard in Jordan Horston, who was the No. 2 Hoop Gurlz recruit in the class of 2019.

The 4th-seeded Georgia Lady Bulldogs are the surprise success story of the SEC and head coach Joni Taylor was named SEC Coach of the Year. The team wasn't even receiving votes in the preseason and, like Tennessee, celebrated its highest ranking of the year on March 1: No. 16.

The Bulldogs’ four-point loss to the Wildcats on Feb. 25 put their chances of securing a double-bye in the SEC Tournament in jeopardy. However, Kentucky was doomed by its inconsistency as it lost to Ole Miss for a second time on Sunday. Georgia has been more steady that Kentucky to close out the regular season with its last bad loss coming against LSU on Jan. 28. Since then, the Bulldogs are 5-2 with the losses coming to ranked teams in Texas A&M and Kentucky. Georgia’s most impressive feat this year was sweeping Tennessee.

First and second round matchups

The 13th-seeded Auburn Tigers take on the 12th-seeded Florida Gators in the play-in game on Wednesday before the second round begins on Thursday. Florida beat Auburn head-to-head, but all three of its SEC wins came against teams with losing conference records. The other two were over Ole Miss and the LSU Tigers. Auburn went 0-15 in the SEC and just 5-18 overall.

Kentucky, which is led by two-time SEC Player of the Year Rhyne Howard, will face the winner of Auburn/Florida. The Wildcats beat Indiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia this year, which is impressive, though it has the two losses to Ole Miss. Chasity Patterson and Dre’una Edwards highlight a strong supporting cast behind Howard, but one that did not have any representatives on the All-SEC first or second teams.

Arkansas is an interesting team that sits at the No. 6 seed. It has six conference losses and seven overall, but has the talent to hang with the best teams in the country, having handed UConn its only loss by a score of 90-87 on Jan. 28. All of the Razorbacks’ losses have come to ranked teams, but they only have two ranked wins. At least the other was also against a Top 10 opponent in the now-No. 6 Baylor Lady Bears.

Arkansas has a three-point win over the Missouri Tigers (9-10, 5-9 SEC), a four-point win over Florida, a five-point win over Missouri and a five-point win over Auburn on its resume so it should be on upset alert in its first-round game against 11th-seeded Ole Miss. But, at the same time, Arkansas is a sleeper to win the whole SEC Tournament. With scoring machine Chelsea Dungee leading the way, the Razorbacks have a high ceiling.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, was just 4-10 in the SEC, but has the experience of upsetting Kentucky twice.

The 7th-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide take on 10th-seeded Missouri in the first round, while the 8th-seeded LSU Tigers take on the 9th-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Both Alabama (Jasmine Walker) and LSU (Khayla Pointer) feature All-SEC First Team players. The Crimson Tide (15-8, 8-8 SEC) don’t have any ranked wins, but sit as a No. 7 seed in ESPN’s projected bracket. Meanwhile, LSU (8-12, 6-8 SEC) isn’t even on the bubble right now, despite being the only team in the country to defeat Texas A&M. The Tigers also have a win over Georgia.

Missouri’s best win was over Mississippi State on Sunday. The Bulldogs have been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, having fallen from No. 6 in the preseason to no longer receiving votes with a 10-8 overall record (5-7 SEC). They are still projected to make the NCAA Tournament (as a No. 7 seed), but a higher SEC Tournament seed would have given them a better chance to improve upon that seeding. Now they will have to face Texas A&M in the quarterfinals if they advance and the talents of Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter may not be enough to defeat the red-hot Aggies.

SEC Tournament schedule

All games at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC

First Round – Wednesday, March 3

Game 1: No. 12 Florida vs. No. 13 Auburn, 4 p.m. ET (SECN)

Second Round - Thursday, March 4

Game 2: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 Mississippi State, 11 a.m. ET (SECN)

Game 3: No. 5 Kentucky vs. Game 1 winner, 1:30 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 4: No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 10 Missouri, 6 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 5: No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 11 Ole Miss, 8 p.m. ET (SECN)

Quarterfinals - Friday, March 5

Game 6: No. 1 Texas A&M vs. Game 2 winner, 11 a.m. ET (SECN)

Game 7: No. 4 Georgia vs. Game 3 winner, 1:30 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 8: No. 2 South Carolina vs. Game 4 winner, 6 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 9: No. 3 Tennessee vs. Game 5 winner, 8:30 p.m. ET (SECN)

Semifinals – Saturday, March 6

Game 10: Semifinal 1, 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Game 11: Semifinal 2, 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Championship – Sunday, March 7

Game 12: Winners of semifinal contests, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)