Before today's SEC Tournament Championship game, Florida committed the 3rd fewest fouls of all teams in the nation. This is due to their fairly level-headed defense and incredible ability to dominate both offensive and defensive rebounding. A Kentucky team that often gets itself into foul trouble with a limited bench -- a bench made more limited due to freshman guard Doron Lamb's injury on Saturday -- the predictions held that Florida would wear out the Wildcats via foul attrition.
Florida didn't count on Kentucky's zone defense being so effective. Finding themselves behind early with yet-another Wildcat 1st-half 3-pointer barrage, the Gators were hindered by the Wildcats' athleticism and speed in zone defense. Most surprisingly Kentucky played in control, committing just 7 fouls in the 1st half. Extended time from seemingly-only-effective-against-Florida reserve Eloy Vargas (2 points on 2-4 FT, 3 offensive rebounds, 4 total rebounds, 1 steal) gave the Wildcats inside depth it normally didn't have.
The script was flipped: Florida played like a team without senior leadership. Florida guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton constantly deferred from taking contested 3-pointers and missed most of the shots they did take. Senior forward and SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons practically disappeared offensively in the 2nd half. Florida played desperately on defense, committing a season-high 22 fouls and allowing 24 Kentucky points from made free-throws. The previous high-water mark for Florida's committed fouls was 21... against Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
The 20,000-something Big Blue fans dominating the Georgia Dome seating must have the Gators in a foul mood.
Kentucky wins the SEC Tournament Championship Game 70-54. Both teams will be at the least #4 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, though it wouldn't surprise me to see them both as #3 seeds.
Vandy used 18 points from 11 Florida turnovers to take a 38-28 lead at halftime. Florida made up the deficit by opening up the the long-range weaponry from guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, who made three 3-pointers each in the second half. Walker, Boynton and Chandler Parsons combined to harass Vandy's scorer John Jenkins.
Vandy perhaps ran too much of the offense through Jenkins, who tried to match Walker and Boynton with step-back 3-pointer attempts and forced shots. He finished with just 10 points (3-15 FG, 2-12 3FG, 2-2 FT). No one besides Festus Ezeli (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Jeffery Taylor (21 points) contributed enough offense to offset Vandy's seemingly inability to guard Walker, Boynton and Parsons. Even the notably 3-pointer-able Vandy forwards Steve Tchiengang and Rod Odom missed all four of their wide-open 3-point attempts.
Florida bombs their way into the SEC Championship game by the score of 77-66. Vandy's solid season has earned them a very likely at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully they'll figure out how to better contain speed and three-point shooting by then.
Combined with Kentucky's 3-point outburst today, the two SEC Semi-Final winners are a combined 20 for 41 attempts for a 48.7% completion rate. If Kentucky's Doron Lamb plays and is healthy, the Georgia Dome floor may be littered with craters.
Alabama has allowed 160 3-point field goals made by all opponents, which is the lowest amount in the SEC and the 40th-lowest amount of all Division I teams. Regardless of the perception, Kentucky opened up the bomb bay doors and caused massive damage. Kentucky's long guards had no issues with Alabama's guards perimeter pressure, as the Wildcats made 9 three-pointers on 20 attempts and opened up Kentucky's offensive execution inside the arc.
Injuries and fouls limited Alabama's gameplan. Junior forward JaMychal Green stayed in foul trouble and sophomore forward Tony Mitchell missed a big stretch of the 1st half with an injury. Alabama found themselves in a hole but couldn't use their normally-strong defense to claw themselves back into contention.
Kentucky blows away the Crimson Tide 72-58. But Kentucky fans aren't celebrating too throughly, as freshman Guard Doron Lamb hurt his ankle with less than 2 minutes left in the game. No word yet on the extent of Lamb's injury, but if Lamb was unable to play tomorrow, Kentucky's thin bench might be transparent.
Given Alabama's schedule concerns, their loss may end up pushing them into the NIT. Perhaps they'll find another match-up with Georgia there.