SEC men’s tourney has storied history in Atlanta

The SEC men’s basketball tournament has been a regular visitor to Atlanta during the history of the league. In fact, the first tournament was held there in 1932, the inaugural season of SEC hoops.


Atlanta has hosted the tournament 14 times, more than any other city. Surprisingly, Louisville has hosted the second-most amount of times, with 12 between 1941 and 1952. Atlanta also has hosted the event in the most venues, with four sites housing the conference tourney.

The Atlanta Athletic Club, when it was located downtown, hosted the first two tournaments in 1932 and 1933. The Omni was the second Atlanta facility to host an SEC tournament, when it did so in 1987. The Dome took its turn in 1995 and has been chosen 11 times since, including this weekend’s tournament.

Ironically, Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum hosted the 2008 tournament, which was moved from the Dome due to a tornado.

The 2008 event is probably the most talked about SEC men’s tournament in history due to the tornado, which literally came out of nowhere to ravage downtown Atlanta. Alabama and Mississippi State were locked in a close game when the violent storm hit and forced the game to be delayed for 64 minutes. A three-pointer made by Alabama’s Mychal Riley was the center of an ESPN “Storied” documentary called “Miracle 3.” Riley’s shot may have saved lives, as it caused the Tide’s game with Missis- sippi State to go into overtime, thereby keeping fans inside the Dome and out of harm’s way.

Miraculously, Georgia, which finished last in the conference during the regular season, went on to win three games in 30 hours (after opening the tournament with a win over Ole Miss in the Dome) to take the tournament title and advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Dawgs were the first SEC team since 1952 to win two tournament games in one day (when they beat Kentucky and Mississippi State on Saturday). Not only did Georgia match its regular-season total of four conference wins, more than one of them was won in dramatic form.

The tournament opener for Dennis Felton’s team came against Ole Miss, which had just defeated Georgia five days previously in Athens. However, Georgia, with an emotional effort to play for its seniors and the embattled Felton, won in overtime when senior center Dave Bliss hit a short jumper with less than a second left. Word from Athens was that Felton would have been fired had his team lost that game.

Georgia then had an accidental day off as its game against Kentucky was delayed due to the tornado that ripped through Atlanta just minutes prior to the Bulldogs’ scheduled tipoff. The tilt was rescheduled for the following day and moved to Tech’s campus. The Wildcats were heavy favorites and led late. However, Georgia’s Zac Swansey hit a deep three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left and the Bulldogs trailing by two. Swansey, a Dunwoody native, was actually supposed to pass the ball to teammate Billy Humphrey, who can be seen on replays expecting a pass and somewhat distraught when he did not.

Another daunting opponent stood in Georgia’s way later that day, when Western Division-champion Mississippi State entered “The Thrillerdome” to see what upstart had beaten perennial-favorite Kentucky. Humphrey, would-be hero of the Kentucky game, scored all six of his points in the final two minutes to help the red-and-black Bulldogs win 64-60 in another nail-biter.

In the finals the following day, Georgia had its easiest game of the tournament against an Arkansas team that was, like the previous three opponents, favored to send Cinderella home. This time, Georgia made quick work of the Hogs by taking an 18-5 lead to start the game and then held on. The tournament championship gave the Bulldogs the unique opportunity to cut down the nets on its in-state rival’s own court.


The tournament is not scheduled to return to Atlanta for at least the next 10 years. Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena (home of the Predators) will host eight of the next 10 tourneys while either St. Louis or Tampa will get it the other two years (2018 and 2022).

The scheduled demolition of the Dome will occur sometime around 2017, when the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium will be open for business. How the new stadium is configured will go a long way to determining if the SEC tournament wants to continue its relationship with Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is bidding to host another Final Four, which it did last year. Most reports indicated that the 2013 Final Four was a huge success, so odds are that Atlanta will host college basketball’s grand showcase once again. “The capital of the South” has hosted men’s final fours in 1977, 2002, 2007 and 2013.


Atlanta’s SEC team, the Georgia Bulldogs, likely need a tournament championship this year to make it into the NCAA Tournament. With an RPI of 70 and BPI of 80, the Dawgs would need a huge push by the NCAA selection committee to even be seriously considered for the play-in game. Mark Fox’s team also does not have a shot of playing No. 1 Florida, it’s only chance at an elite win, before the tournament finals should each team advance that far.

Georgia’s biggest gap on its tournament resume is its poor record against non-conference foes. The Dawgs finished 6-6 in such games with losses to NCAA Tournament teams like Nebraska, George Washington and Colorado, but also to bad teams like Temple. A win in any of those games would have likely vaulted Georgia to at least the bubble conversation.

As it stands, Georgia will need a miraculous three-day run through the tournament similar to its run in 2008. The Dawgs have been to the NCAA Tournament just twice since 2002.

Tags: , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply