published Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Four will need five in SEC

Florida has clinched at least a share of the Southeastern Conference men's basketball title, and the Gators would have to play three games to win next week's league tournament in Nashville.

For the three teams tied for last in the standings -- Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina -- winning the SEC tournament would require five victories in five days. The league expanded its tournament from four days following the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M, which created a 14-member conference.

"I separate postseason play from regular-season play, but once you get in that moment you've got to handle what's in front of you," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said Monday. "I don't think there is anything you can do through the course of the year to possibly prepare you for that. You just have to stay in the moment and keep your team as fresh and as focused as you can."

The SEC tournament will open next Wednesday night with the 12th seed against the 13th seed followed by the 11th seed against the 14th seed.

Auburn became the first team to win four times to claim the SEC tournament, with Sonny Smith's Tigers turning the trick in 1985. It since has been done by Arkansas in 2000, Georgia in 2008 and Mississippi State in '09.

Georgia's run required the Bulldogs winning twice in one day after a tornado struck the Georgia Dome and forced a shift in venue.

"I think it's pretty difficult to win four," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "You better your chances with the fewer games you have to play. It can be done, but the preference obviously is to not have to play Wednesday or Thursday."

Connecticut became the first school to win five games in five days when the Huskies won the 2011 Big East tournament. They would go on to win the national championship over Butler after edging Kentucky in the semifinals.

That UConn team went 9-9 in conference play, which is much different than the 3-13 mark shared by the SEC's cellar dwellers.

The SEC's dreaded 11th seed is still undecided, with Vanderbilt or Texas A&M the most probable candidate. The Commodores and Aggies could be scoreboard watching this week with each 7-9 in league play, and Vandy holds the tiebreaker due to its win over A&M last month in Nashville.

"The longer you do this, all that matters is how you play," Stallings said. "We can only try and control how we play, and we don't do that well. Certainly we're interested, and at the end of the day you're going to take a look at the scores and see how people did."

Winning five games in five days obviously would require depth and stamina, which has plagued Mississippi State all winter. The injury-riddled Bulldogs have battled with either six or seven scholarship players, with coach Rick Ray, his assistant coaches and student managers often practicing to give their players better simulations.

"There is nobody in the country that has gone through what we've been through -- I don't care if it's NAIA or Division II or junior college -- with the numbers we've had," Ray said. "It's been a trying season, and to our guys' credit, they've really hung in there and tried to be good citizens and do the things we want them to do on the court.

"But when someone says, 'I understand what you're going through.' No you don't. You really don't."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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