By DANNY P. SMITH
Auburn women's basketball coach Nell Fortner used to be an anaylist for ESPN so she knows how to compare leagues.
When it comes to the Southeastern Conference, Fortner said it's easy to pin a rose on it because of several factors.
"We're a tremendous league," Fortner said during Monday's SEC Tournament teleconference. "The style in every conference is different. I've watched the Big 10 play and I've watched the Big 12 play. Our league is a very physical league. It's very athletic and fast-paced. There are battles every night and it doesn't matter if you are the No. 1 team or the No. 12 team or somewhere in between, it's just a battle every night."
The next round of battles begin on Thursday night when the SEC comes together for tournament action in Nashville, Tenn.
Arkansas and Florida tip off the action in the first round at noon, while Alabama and LSU play at 2:30 p.m., Ole Miss takes on South Carolina at 6:30 p.m., and Mississippi State competes with Auburn at 9 p.m.
Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia are the top four seeds and earned byes to Friday.
The SEC coaches agree that at this time of the year, records and seedings don't mean very much.
"Everybody from top to bottom is playing so hard pressing and trapping," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "You can see the energy that's in the league."
Tennessee ran the table in the regular season with a 16-0 conference mark, but coach Pat Summitt doesn't want her team to stop there.
She plans on reminding the Lady Vols this week of the reason they have reached this point.
"What I don't want to see is a letdown," Summitt said. "We've got to be very focused and have to be a team on a mission. If they are satisfied with what they've already accomplished, then we're going to be going home early. We've got to keep reminding them of what they have done, but also how much more they can do."
Summitt acknowledged what Fortner has observed about the SEC with the physical play and respects the coaches in charge of leading the teams.
That's why Summitt knows it's important for Tennessee to be playing its best basketball heading into the tournament.
"We've got to bring our A game," Summitt said. "If we don't bring our A game, then obviously anything can happen. We will constantly as a coaching staff remind them that you never arrive in this game and you had better bring your defense, board play and ball security because we have an aggressive league and they can turn you over. We have to be mindful to do whatever we can do to take care of what we want to happen on the court."
The Lady Vols will see the winner of the Arkansas-Florida game at noon on Friday.
For coach Amanda Butler of the Lady Gators, the SEC Tournament provides her an opportunity to return home.
Butler is excited to have the event in her hometown of Nashville.
"There's great high school girls basketball in the mid-state and there's interest in girl's and women's basketball," Butler said. "You might not be just a Vanderbilt fan, a Vol fan or Gator fan, but there's just women's basketball fans that are there so when you can draw that local interest, that's good for our tournament."