1. LSU Tigers
Record: 25-6, 13-3
Coach: Trent Johnson
Player to watch: Senior G Marcus Thornton, above, is the SEC player of the year and averages 22.7 points.
Tourney prospects: The Tigers are considered the league's flagship this season, yet despite winning 10 of their last 12, they enter on a two-game losing streak — but are clearly among the favorites.
Distance from Tampa: 714 miles
2. Auburn Tigers
Record: 21-10, 10-6
Coach: Jeff Lebo
Player to watch: Senior F Korvotney Barber, above, averages nearly 13 points and leads the league with 9.8 rebounds per game.
Tourney prospects: The Tigers began the conference season by losing five of seven but rallied their way into a second-place finish in the West. On a four-game winning streak, Auburn may be the most dangerous team in the tourney.
Distance from Tampa: 437 miles
3. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Record: 19-12, 9-7
Coach: Rick Stansbury
Player to watch: The SEC defensive player of the year, junior F/C Jarvis Varnado, above, leads the league in blocks (4.6 per game) and is fourth in rebounding.
Tourney prospects: The Bulldogs lost five of their last eight games but still finished third in the West. If they get past Georgia, they'll face a South Carolina team they've defeated once. But to win it all may require beating LSU, a team they were swept by in the regular season.
Distance from Tampa: 670 miles
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 17-13, 7-9
Coach: Philip Pearson (interim)
Player to watch: Senior F Alonzo Gee, above, a Florida native, is a second-team All-SEC selection.
Tourney prospects: Alabama is coming off a huge upset at Tennessee last weekend, but it has been a tough season for the Tide, whose coach resigned midseason. Winning it all is a long shot.
Distance from Tampa: 586 miles
5. Mississippi Rebels
Record: 16-14, 7-9
Coach: Andy Kennedy
Player to watch: Junior G David Huertas, above, is fifth in the league in scoring.
Tourney prospects: The Rebels aren't coming in on a good note, having lost three of their last four. But they open with a Kentucky team that's struggling — and one the Rebels defeated this season. Still, winning would take a surprising run like Georgia's last season.
Distance from Tampa: 728 miles.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
Record: 14-15, 2-14
Coach: John Pelphrey
Player to watch: Rotnei Clarke, above, has had four or more 3-pointers in seven of the past eight games and is the team's No. 2 scorer (15.4) in that span.
Tourney prospects: It's hard to believe this is the team that upset ranked opponents Texas and Oklahoma this season. Considering it has lost nine of its past 10, getting past the first day would be surprising.
Distance from Tampa: 1,097 miles
1. South Carolina Gamecocks
Record: 21-8, 10-6
Coach: Darrin Horn
Player to watch: Senior G Devan Downey, above, hits long-range shots that make you run for the TV replay and is the third-leading scorer in the league.
Tourney prospects: With Horn in his first season, the Gamecocks have been the surprise of the league. Coming off a 14-18 season, South Carolina finished with a share of the East title. It went 3-3 in its last six, but with Downey and a solid supporting cast it could walk away with its first SEC tournament title.
Distance from Tampa: 486 miles
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Record: 19-11, 10-6
Coach: Bruce Pearl
Player to watch: Junior F Wayne Chism, above, is among the league leaders in several categories, and as he goes, the Vols go.
Tourney prospects: Their record may not be as impressive as some of the nation's best, but the Vols are a very good team. Although they've been sporadic, they are playing some of the league's best basketball right now. A tough schedule may have prepared them to do damage in this tournament.
Distance from Tampa: 671 miles
3. Florida Gators
Record: 22-9, 9-7
Coach: Billy Donovan
Player to watch: Sophomore G Nick Calathes, above, is a first-team All-SEC selection and the team's leading scorer (17.7).
Tourney prospects: Hard to tell. At times, the Gators have looked like a solid team; other times, not so much. With so many young players, who knows how they'll handle the tournament atmosphere. If they play like they did against Kentucky Saturday, they might win a couple of games. If they play like the team that lost three in a row near the end, they could be gone by Friday.
Distance from Tampa: 135 miles
4. Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 19-11, 8-7
Coach: Billy Gillispie
Player to watch: Senior G Jodie Meeks, above, leads the league in scoring (24.7), free-throw percentage (89.5) and minutes played (36.4).
Tourney prospects: The Wildcats need to break out of a four-game losing streak to have any chance. Desperately in need of wins for an NCAA Tournament berth, they face Ole Miss, then there's a good chance they'll have to go through LSU or South Carolina (UK went 0-4 against them this year).
Distance from Tampa: 839 miles
5. Vanderbilt Commodores
Record: 19-11, 8-8
Coach: Kevin Stallings
Player to watch: A.J. Ogilvy, left, is second-team All-SEC, 12th in league in rebounding, fifth in blocks.
Tourney prospects: The young Commodores have been up and down this season, so it's hard to tell what kind of run they might get on. Vandy went 4-2 in the final six games, so the Commodores could catch a few by surprise.
Distance from Tampa: 706 miles
6. Georgia Bulldogs
Record: 12-18, 3-12
Coach: Pete Herrmann (interim)
Player to watch: Senior G Terrance Woodbury, above, is the team's leading scorer (14 ppg) and is the first Georgia player in 14 years to score 30 or more twice against an SEC opponent.
Tourney prospects: Last year, the Bulldogs stunned the nation by winning four games in three days to win the tournament that was totally disrupted by a tornado in downtown Atlanta, so obviously it's not impossible. But improbable? Most likely.
Distance from Tampa: 474
Antonya English, Times staff writer