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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

 

This week is a reminder that the Southeastern Conference conducts its men's basketball tournament in Nashville almost every year.

Nashville's Bridgestone Arena hosted the past three SEC men's tournaments and will host the next three, but the 2018 event is being staged for the first time at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The SEC tournament starts tonight at 7 EST with 12th-seeded Georgia facing 13th-seeded Vanderbilt, followed by 11th-seeded South Carolina against 14th-seeded Ole Miss.

"I think it's good to spread our brand in the Midwest," LSU coach Will Wade said this week. "I think it will be a positive for people in Missouri and St. Louis to be exposed to the SEC. Sometimes it's good to go outside your footprint a little bit."

The SEC has spent most of the past two decades centralizing the men's tournament, with Atlanta playing host 10 times and Nashville seven. Two trips to New Orleans and one journey to Tampa represent the lone exceptions, but the league is making history by holding its tournament for the first time in one of its "newcomer" states.

Arkansas and South Carolina joined a 10-member SEC before the 1991-92 basketball season, and Missouri and Texas A&M joined before the 2012-13 season.

"St. Louis is a great city with a great affection for basketball," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "Geographically, it's closer to some other schools in our league that would be a little further away from Atlanta, where this tournament used to be a lot, or Nashville. I think it's great."

The SEC is not alone in holding its event in an outlying area of its league footprint, with the Big Ten last week and the Atlantic Coast Conference this week staging their respective extravaganzas in New York City.

Atlanta would have been the preferred site this year for Auburn fans, given that the Tigers are seeded first in the SEC tournament for the first time since 1999, but St. Louis is providing Missouri and Arkansas supporters a shorter distance to travel. St. Louis is about 125 miles from the Missouri campus, with Vanderbilt (310 miles), Kentucky (343) and Arkansas (358) having the next closest campuses within the league.

Kentucky's John Calipari is no stranger to Scottrade Center, having guided the Wildcats to wins over Kansas State and Wichita State there in the first two rounds of the 2014 NCAA tournament. That Kentucky team advanced to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas, losing to Connecticut in the championship game.

"I'm fine with it," Calipari said. "We played in the NCAA tournament there, and it's a great place for a tournament."

Kentucky tends to have the most fans at the SEC tournament regardless of location, and more of the same is expected this week. What should be different is the amount of Missouri fans, especially given the success of the Tigers in Cuonzo Martin's first season as coach.

Mizzou won the Big 12 tournament twice in the last four years the Tigers competed in that league, but they have yet to reach the SEC semifinals.

"We're excited to have it in St. Louis, and we've got to find a way to keep it there every year," Martin said. "I think it's a great city, and they've had tournaments there for years with some tremendous turnouts, so I'm excited about that part.

"As far as it being any kind of advantage, once you step out on that court it's about basketball."

Nashville is hosting not only the next three SEC men's tournaments after this one but six of the next seven, with a 2022 trip to Tampa serving as the exception.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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