Tennessee forward Jasmine Jones, left, and South Carolina center Elem Ibiam battle for a loose ball in their game Sunday in Knoxville. South Carolina is seeded first and Tennessee is seeded second for the SEC women's tournament this week in Duluth, Ga.
The Georgia Lady Bulldogs are seeded ninth at this week's Southeastern Conference tournament in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth.
They are projected as a ninth seed on ESPN's bracket for the NCAA tournament, which speaks volumes about the strength of this year's SEC. Not that Georgia's Andy Landers, the dean of league coaches in his 35th season, couldn't speak to that as well.
"Without question, this has been the most competitive year that we have ever had in the Southeastern Conference," Landers said this week.
Georgia's ninth seed in the SEC tournament is its lowest since 2002. The Lady Dogs will open tournament play Thursday against eighth-seeded Vanderbilt, which hasn't been seeded so low since 1999.
Moving up the league ladder this season has been South Carolina, which earned its first regular-season crown, and Alabama, whose seventh seed is the highest since 1999.
"I just think the conference this year has been incredible," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "A lot of games have gone down to the wire. You have to stay focused on who's on your side of the bracket, because if you look at the overall picture, it makes you nervous because of how good all the teams are."
ESPN's Charlie Creme projects eight SEC teams for the NCAA tournament's 64-team field, with South Carolina a 1 seed, Tennessee a 2 seed, Texas A&M a 3 seed, Kentucky a 4 seed, Vanderbilt an 8, Georgia a 9, and LSU and Florida each a 10. Florida is among Creme's last four teams in.
The SEC has sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament three previous times: 1999, 2002 and 2012.
"It goes back to when I was in the league [at Arkansas] the first time around from '93 to '03," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "There was no bottom of the league. Everybody was competitive. The year we went to the Final Four [in 1998], we were 7-7 in the league and tied for sixth."
The SEC tournament begins tonight with 12th-seeded Missouri facing 13th-seeded Mississippi State followed by 11th-seeded Arkansas facing 14th-seeded Ole Miss.
South Carolina swept the SEC's regular-season honors Tuesday, with Dawn Staley being named coach of the year, Tiffany Mitchell player of the year and Alaina Coates freshman of the year. The SEC announced the results after a balloting of league coaches.
The last such sweep was performed by Tennessee in 2011 with Pat Summitt, Shekinna Stricklen and Meighan Simmons.
Tournament spectators are asked to wear purple for Friday's quarterfinals to support the league's "We Back Pat" initiative.
The first 1,500 fans wearing purple to the evening session games will receive a Fierce Courage bracelet courtesy of the Pat Summitt Foundation. That is a grant-making foundation dedicated to advancing research and providing care for those with Alzheimer's disease.
We're still the one
With its fourth time to host the SEC women's tournament, Duluth is the fourth most frequent site for the event that at first (1980-86) rotated among campuses. The SEC has staged seven women's tournaments in Chattanooga, six in Albany, Ga., and five in Nashville.
The 2015 tournament will be held in North Little Rock, Ark., which will house the event for a fourth time as well.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
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 ...