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SEC Tournament preview: Undefeated South Carolina has eyes on championship

Can South Carolina cap off an undefeated regular season by recapturing the SEC Tournament championship crown they let slip away last season? Can LSU or another contender deter the Gamecocks’ dominance? The action begins on Wednesday and culminates with a Sunday afternoon title tilt.

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No. 1 South Carolina (29-0, 16-0 SEC) appears intent on claiming what’s theirs, doing so with authority and without question.

Last season, the Gamecocks won the program’s second national championship, but not without a few stumbles. A loss to Missouri in the regular season. A loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament championship game.

This season, South Carolina completed an undefeated regular season, giving the Gamecocks their seventh SEC regular-season championship. Now, Dawn Staley’s squad is eager to sweep through the SEC Tournament, polishing their perfection as they capture the program’s seventh SEC Tournament title.

While No. 1-seed South Carolina will not begin its championship quest until Friday afternoon, the tournament tips off Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET from Greenville, South Carolina with two games between the four lowest-seeded teams. On Thursday, the winners of Wednesday’s two contests and six other teams—all but the top four—will take the court for four second-round matchups. Along with South Carolina, LSU (27-1, 15-1 SEC), Tennessee (21-10, 13-3 SEC) and Ole Miss (22-7, 11-5 SEC) earned byes until Friday’s third round. The first three rounds will be broadcast on SEC Network, with Saturday’s semifinals shown on ESPNU and Sunday’s final featured on ESPN.

The quality of the Lady Tigers, Lady Vols and Rebels reminds that respect for the Gamecocks’ grit and greatness should not come at the expense of the conference’s other contenders,

This is especially so for the No. 2-seed Lady Tigers of LSU.

The regular-season matchup between the two teams was not a clash of conference titans that was anticipated; instead, it was an exhibition of South Carolina’s overwhelming excellence. Surely, Kim Mulkey’s Bayou ballers, beat dropper and Barbie, are seething for another shot at Staley and the Gamecocks, ready to run through other tourney foes in order to earn a (highly-likely) second encounter with South Carolina. A conference championship final between South Carolina and LSU could be a classic!

Before then, expect to enjoy some intriguing contests, with disappointing squads seeking to salvage their season with a tourney victory, mid-tier teams aiming to cement their March Madness invitations through a solid showing and a number of teams capable of going on a Cinderella run.

First- and second-round matchups

On Wednesday, Game 1 begins at 11 a.m. ET, with No. 12 Vanderbilt (12-18, 3-13 SEC) meeting No. 13 Texas A&M (7-19, 2-14 SEC). In late January, Ciaja Harbison dropped 41 points, tying a program-best mark, to lead the Commodores past the Aggies, 88-79. Game 2 follows and features No. 11 Florida (16-13, 5-11 SEC) facing No. 14 Kentucky (10-18, 2-14 SEC). One of the Wildcats’ two conference victories came against the Gators, an 81-75 win in Lexington in mid-January behind a career high-tying performance from Robyn Benton.

The winner of Game 1 will advance to challenge No. 5 Mississippi State (20-9, 9-7) in Game 4 on Thursday afternoon. During the regular season, the Bulldogs notched a pair of wins over the Aggies and crushed the Commodores. The action again gets going at noon ET on Thursday with a potential 3-point fest between No. 8 Arkansas (20-11, 7-9 SEC) and No. 9 Missouri (17-12, 6-10 SEC) in Game 3. The Razorbacks used a strong second half to run away from the Tigers 77-55 in their early-January meeting. According to Charlie Creme’s latest Bracketology, Arkansas is among the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament field. Missouri is no longer even on the bubble, but was recently grouped in the next four out. If either team is to maintain any chance to make it to the Big Dance, winning this contest is an absolute necessity, thus suggesting it could be a highly-competitive affair.

Wednesday’s Game 2 victor earns a spot in Game 6 versus No. 6 Alabama (20-9, 9-7 SEC), a game that tips at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. While the Tide triumphed over the Wildcats, they lost to the Gators this past Thursday, which should serve as significant motivation in a potential rematch. Occupying the other Thursday evening slot is Game 5’s meeting between No. 10 Auburn (15-13, 5-11 SEC) and No. 7. Georgia (20-10, 9-7 SEC). Last Thursday, the Lady Bulldogs took care of the Tigers, 70-59.

SEC Tournament Schedule

All games at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC.

First Round — Wednesday, March 1

Game 1: No. 12 Vanderbilt vs. No. 13 Texas A&M, 11 a.m. ET (SECN)

Game 2: No. 11 Florida vs. No. 14 Kentucky, approx. 1 p.m. ET (SECN)

Second Round — Thursday, March 2

Game 3: No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Missouri, noon ET (SECN)

Game 4: No. 5 Mississippi State vs. Game 1 winner, approx. 2 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 5: No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 10 Auburn, 6 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 6: No. 6 Alabama vs. Game 2 winner, approx. 8 p.m. ET (SECN)

Third Round — Friday, March 3

Game 7: No. 1 South Carolina vs. Game 3 winner, noon ET (SECN)

Game 8: No. 4 Ole Miss vs. Game 4 winner, approx. 2 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 9: No. 2 LSU vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m. ET (SECN)

Game 10: No. 3 Tennessee vs. Game 6 winner, approx. 8 p.m. ET (SECN)

Semifinals — Saturday, March 4

Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Championship — Sunday, March 5

Game 13: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)