The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

May 20, 2013

Vanderbilt, LSU headline expanded SEC tournament

Vanderbilt and LSU are the favorites to win this week's Southeastern Conference tournament after mowing through regular-season play with uncommon ease.

The real intrigue, however, is the new single-elimination format in the opening round of the tournament.

Instead of the usual double-elimination format, the league's coaches say the sudden-death round was added because of scheduling and the expansion of the tournament field from 10 to 12 teams.

The top four seeds receive a bye to the second round, where double-elimination play begins.

Several teams with borderline NCAA tournament hopes will play crucial games during the opening knockout round, including No. 9 seed Texas A&M and No. 10 Auburn.

Play begins Tuesday morning at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.

"It certainly adds a lot of excitement to that first day of the tournament," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.

Texas A&M and Auburn need wins to strengthen their postseason credentials while others like No. 5 Mississippi State and No. 6 Ole Miss are safely in the NCAA tournament, but still trying to grab one of the top 16 spots that would allow them to host a regional.

Mississippi State coach John Cohen said the SEC is a difficult league because of the quality that exists from top to bottom. Ten of the league's 14 teams have a winning record and are also in the top 50 in the NCAA's latest RPI rankings.

The expanded league tournament might be unconventional, but Cohen says it's a good step toward giving more SEC teams a postseason shot.

"Our league has a really difficult challenge and I think it's the best solution for our league because of all the issues that exist," Cohen said.

While the No. 5 through No. 12 seeds will beat each other up on Tuesday, the top four seeds (Vanderbilt, LSU, Arkansas and South Carolina) get to rest and prepare for Wednesday's second round.

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