As the years fly by seemingly faster and faster these days, opportunities to get together with friends become more valuable.
That is what the SEC men’s basketball tournament has become for my friends and me.
It’s less about the five days of basketball or the destination, but rather the opportunity to spend several days together recounting old stories and sometimes adding a new tale for future trips.
Last week, Dr. Bruce Longest, Casey Clark, both of Bruce, Kent Moore of Philadelphia, and I made our annual trek, this time to Atlanta, or “Catlanta” as it’s often called due to the overwhelming waves of Kentucky fans who take over the city.
The Big Blue Nation typically has more fans in the arena than all the other teams combined, even the games that don’t include Kentucky.
The Wildcats have won more SEC Tournament titles than anyone else with 27. The next closest is Alabama with six, virtually all harking back to the Wimp Sanderson days.
This was the 12th SEC Tournament to be held in Atlanta, but apparently one of the last. Nine of the next 11 years the tournament will be in Nashville. The two open dates haven’t been set yet, but St. Louis and Tampa are believed to be favorites.
The actual tournament this year was somewhat on the predicatable side. Except for early upsets by Mississippi State and South Carolina, the higher seeds prevailed throughout with regular season champ Florida edging out second place Kentucky 61-60 in Sunday’s championship.
The closest game of the tournament was the Ole Miss – Georgia quarterfinal on Friday night that didn’t end until after midnight Atlanta time. Technically, the UK-Florida game on Sunday finished with a closer score, but Florida led by double digits practically all game long until a late run by the Wildcats in the final few minutes.
The Ole Miss-Georgia game was tightly contested throughout and hung in the balance until Marshall Henderson’s three-pointer at the buzzer just missed.
The bigger story from the games all week was the amount of fouls called. A total of 51 fouls were called in that Ole Miss-Georgia game that made for a challenging viewing experience. That was the case for almost all the games until the semifinals, when the games were broadcast on national television and the foul calling was cut in half. Draw your own conclusion there.
Outside the tournament, there are always two guaranteed highlights for my crew when the tournament is in Atlanta – a trip to Bones, Atlanta’s finest steakhouse, on Saturday night, and eating at Dreamland, the famous barbeque joint, in Birmingham on the trip home.
Neither ever lets us down from the finely cooked steaks, to the “Mountain High Pie,” to the two orders of ribs they pile high on our table.
It seems we wait all year for the SEC?Tournament trip to roll around and then in the blink of an eye it’s gone again and we’re left to look at the calendar for another 364 days awaiting the next one.
Email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece