NEW ORLEANS -- For the most part, things have gone according to script through two days of the SEC tournament.
With the obvious exception of Kentucky, which cruised to the regular-season title, the SEC standings have been a muddled mess this season, and it has showed in the conference bracket. A total of just two games separated seeds No. 2 through No. 7, which helps explain why the majority of the competition here has been so fierce. Of the eight games that have been played to this point, five have been decided by 10 points or less. Two of Friday's quarterfinals came down to the last shot -- Alabama just missed a game-tying shot at the buzzer in a 66-63 loss to Florida, and Tennessee' Skylar McBee gave us some March magic with a game-tying bank shot to force overtime with Ole Miss. We didn't see a genuine blowout until the last game of the second round, when Vanderbilt pulled away from 11th-seeded Georgia.
Despite all of that, three of the tournament's top four seeds have advanced to the semifinals. Is it going to stay competitive? Are the games going to stay as brutally physical and defensive as they were Friday? Will Kentucky use this as a chance to flex its muscles? We'll know pretty soon.
Here are some other angles to consider as we await the semis:
1. Rivalry week: Today marks the second time in a week that Florida will have a chance to avenge a loss to its rivals, the Wildcats. The last attempt didn't go so well -- Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones threw down on the Gators in a 15-point win. Florida hasn't been much of a match for Kentucky in either of their first two meetings, to be sure. The Cats won by 20 in Lexington earlier in the year.
But even if there isn't as much sizzle to the rivalry this season, it's still fun to see Kentucky and Florida in a tournament semifinal in March. These two programs have carried the league banner for the league for much of the last decade, and they (mainly Kentucky) will be the SEC's best bets to make a run next week in the Big Dance.
2. Down with defense? Anyone who tuned into Friday's quarterfinals might have thought it was football season. We're five days out from the start of the NCAA tournament, but teams like LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and even Vanderbilt were on the court throwing defensive haymakers. It was the type of stuff usually reserved for the gridiron.
Of course, the counterargument for how strong the defense looked was how bad the shooting was. Field goals were at a premium, as Tennessee can surely attest. The Volunteers managed just 15 baskets out of 58 attempts in regulation against Ole Miss. Florida and Vanderbilt, both of which can usually be depended on for offensive fireworks, struggled from the field, as well.
The Gators struggled to make baskets and needed a big day from the arc (10 of 20 from long range) to overcome the Crimson Tide. The Dores did just the opposite. They recovered from a sloppy first half to shoot 51 percent in the second half against Georgia, but an out-of-character 6-of-25 mark from 3-point range was a little troubling.
Despite their struggles, three of the league's best offenses will be in action Saturday. Will we see some firepower? Or does defense continue to dominate?
3. Rebels run: As far as the Big Dance goes, there's not a boatload of intrigue here. Kentucky looks guaranteed to earn a No. 1 NCAA seed regardless of whether it wins this tournament. Florida and Vandy can improve their seedings with wins, but both squads have secured a bid to next week's festivities.
That leaves Ole Miss. The Rebels remain in the field as the No. 7 seed and the spoiler, and they're riding some momentum. Friday's overtime win against the Volunteers was the Rebels' fifth in a row, and it gives hope (however faint) that they can make the postseason -- a win today would boost their record to 21-12.
If Ole Miss can shut down Vandy's plethora of shooters the way it did to Tennessee, it's got a shot at the championship game.