TAMPA, FL. – Tampa was set to host first- and second-round games of the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Unfortunately, like most everything else, the tourney was canceled due to the virus.
Two years later, Tampa will get a taste of March Madness. Though the city is not hosting NCAA tournament action, what should be a very entertaining SEC men’s tournament gets underway this week at Amalie Arena and will do so with a few of the nation’s marquee teams.
The curtain rises Wednesday evening and concludes with a championship game Sunday.
The SEC had five teams in the top 15 last week. Led by fifth-ranked Auburn, which spent three weeks as the nation’s top-ranked team, the conference also boasted Kentucky (seventh), which climbed as high as No. 4 last month, Tennessee (13th), and Arkansas (14th). The Vols got past the Razorbacks, 78-74, on Saturday.
Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers are making their second visit to Tampa this season. After falling behind USF by as many as 15 points, their largest deficit of the season, they got on track and pulled out a 58-52 win in a game played at Amalie.
Many analysts project the SEC will have six teams make the NCAA tournament. In addition to the aforementioned quartet of ranked teams, Alabama and LSU are likely to make the dance.
The Florida Gators (19-9, 9-9 SEC) are on the bubble of the NCAA discussion and likely need to win twice, and possibly three times, this week to make a fifth straight tourney appearance. Florida, which closed the regular season at home Saturday by losing to Kentucky, is a No. 9 seed and will face No. 8 seed Texas A&M at noon Thursday. Should they defeat the Aggies, coach Mike White’s team would face Auburn on Friday at noon.
Multiple teams playing on the riverfront this week could be in the Elite Eight and, perhaps, the Final Four. The SEC is that deep, which is why downtown Tampa will be buzzing for a few days as fans flock to what is sure to be a memorable conference tournament.
All first- and second-round games will be broadcast on the SEC Network. Friday’s quarterfinals will be split between ESPN and the SEC Network. Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s championship game will be on ESPN.