The SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena may well have been a preview of the NCAA Tournament.
Bubbaville became Bubbleville as a handful of SEC teams came to the tournament on the proverbial bracket bubble.
Kentucky was one of those teams, despite losing All-SEC center Nerlens Noel during the SEC season. The Wildcats bubble burst when a hot shooting Vanderbilt team sent Big Blue Nation fleeing on I-65 North Friday night.
One bubble team out.
Earlier in the day, Alabama and Tennessee tangled, in a game what was predicted to be a loser is out situation. The Vols lost by 10 points and despite Coach Cuonzo Martin's belief his team had already secured an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, it would not be the case.
Two bubble teams out.
Saturday top-seed Florida met Alabama, a team sitting on the bubble according to bracketologists. The Gators won by 10 points. Alabama's credentials would not measure up.
Three bubble teams out.
That night, 3-seed Ole Miss continued its winning ways by wearing Vanderbilt down and out with a 64-52 margin after the two teams were tied at halftime.
The Marshall Henderson show was hitting on all cylinders.
It would only escalate Sunday as Henderson showed out as the Ole Miss Black Bears/Land Sharks/Hotty Toddys upset the favored Florida Gators, once again relying on the second half heroics.
Henderson not only replayed his Land Shark salute to the Ole Miss football team's defense by putting his thumb on his forehead and extending his other four fingers toward the ceiling, but after one crucial basket he ran down the floor aiming exaggerated Gator chomps toward the Florida fans.
Some Tennessee fans think if Ole Miss had lost it would not be dancing. Selection committee chair Mike Bobinski claimed that even if Ole Miss had lost the championship game, it would have been included.
Bobinski said that Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama were among the last four teams on the outside looking in.
Along with 12-seed Ole Miss, Florida was handed a 2-seed and Missouri grabbed a 9-seed, giving the SEC only three teams, which was the correct call from the selection committee.
Now that trio joins a March Madness field of 68, one that has no clear-cut favorite. I would think there are up to some 16 teams that can get hot and take home the hardware.
This field is wide open. There is no dominant team. No team could hold the No. 1 ranking for any length of time.
Is Indiana good enough to win out? Sure. Teams in the East bracket such as N.C. State, Syracuse and Miami could also oust the Hoosiers.
Gonzaga built its reputation on a soft schedule and has not faced the competition it will find in the West Regional. And Kansas? The Jayhawks came off an 18-game win streak and lost three in a row in February. Coach Bill Self's team is playing as well as anyone now and could make the Final Four if it can get by Florida or Georgetown in the South.
Louisville is the choice of a number of analysts. Rick Pitino has a solid team and he understands tournament time as well as anyone in the field. But the Cardinals' offense has gone sour at times and it won't be an easy trip in the East.
Dark horses include Saint Louis, where Jim Crews took over for the late Rick Majerus and is deserving of coach of the year honors. New Mexico is another team that could go deep with Coach Steve Alford calling the shots. Duke and Miami are ACC flag bearers.
Again, the SEC is a microcosm of the NCAA Tournament. Expect the unexpected.
They don't call it March Madness for nothing. Let the games begin.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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