NASHVILLE, Tennessee - A two-hour trip into Music City for a sporting event is mere child's play for yours truly.
A plan was put into place and executed in getting to attend the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament for a couple of days inside Bridgestone Arena. This was the first time I had visited the facility since the NCAA Women's Final Four in 2014 when Connecticut defeated Notre Dame in a battle of undefeated rivals for the grand prize in the sport.
I got what I wanted out of this trip. A chance to see to me, the best women's conference in the country, regardless of if they claim the national title for the second straight year.
The SEC works hard and having a pretty good league for women's hoops and with seven teams in the AP Top 25, plus six going from 11-5 to 12-4 in conference play, it speaks very strong on the rise of the conference from the top to the middle and competitive from the bottom teir.
South Carolina was able to put together three good games in a row, out shoot Mississippi State in the finals and stop State's undefeated string at 32 games.
South Carolina is the defending national champion and will be until someone knocks the Lady Gamecocks off in March Madness.
What proved to be enjoyment from my analysis and also being a fan, was to see how Mississippi State has continued to move forward after the incredible run they had last year to get to the championship, putting an end to U'Conn's domination of 111 consecutive victories.
State proved to be a worthy group of personnel in defeating pesky Kentucky and a solid Texas A&M unit to reach the finals once again with South Carolina the roadblock in the way of trying to add a tournament title to a regular season championship.
This will be a learning lesson for MSU. State will regroup when the tournament begins the week after. They are a mature group with Morgan William, Victoria Vivians, Blaie Schaffer, Roshunda Johnson and Teaira McGowan.
All they have to do from now on, is shoot well from all phases of the floor. A bad second quarter with South Carolina was the difference in being 33-0, not 32-1.
A'ja Wilson showed how good she still is for South Carolina, by not starting any of the games they played in Nashville. Wilson reportedly has vertigo. Coming off the bench vs. Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi State played as an inspiration for her, in which she could not be denied of playing close to excellence offensively and defensively.
Wilson has good support from her teammates with Carolina going through a strong schedule that has them battled tested to try and repeat as national champions. Carolina lost to Notre Dame and U'Conn in the regular season and would love the opportunity to avenge those defeats in the postseason.
Flash was very impressed with Texas A&M's backcourt of freshman Chennedy Carter and junior Danni Williams. They compliment one another, especially with Carter the SEC Freshman of the year and second leading scorer in the conference.
But Carter being a freshman got exposed in her letting her emotions get the best of her in the semifinal with Mississippi State that coach Gary Blair pulled her in trying to calm her down. Carter needs to listen a little more, instead of believing she can handle all situations without advice.
Both are lefties, which makes them hard to defend, as they can deliver from long distance and take the ball to the goal too.
A team that has a tremendous fan base is Tennessee. Big Orange stood out for two days the Lady Vols played in Nashville.
Tennessee has gone from a national contender to the middle of the pack in the SEC. Someone asked me is Holly Warlick's job on the line. No, UT is 24-7 and should reach at least the Sweet 16, possibly the Elite 8. But they have to get consistency between the guards and the frontline.
Mercedes Russell and Jamie Nared are as fine of frontline performers in the history of Tennessee hoops. But this team missed an incredible 63 shots in the quarterfinal round to South Carolina and lost by only 11 points.
Their starting guards are all freshmen. It depends on how they adjust from game to game for Tennessee to be successful and go deep into the tournament.
The rise of Missouri, Georgia and LSU of challenging for positioning in the standings, gives a good indication of parity. All three were 11-5 in league play and well respected by opponents across the country.
Missouri finally got a victory in the tournament since joining the SEC in 2012. At 24-7 with a solid player in guard Sophie Cunningham, Mizzou has come up the ladder in the conference and wanting to reach higher ground.
Georgia was a preseason pick of 8th in the conference, coming out at No. 3 in reality.
LSU was a force all season and wants to prove their squad is not a fluke in meeting good squads outside the SEC in postseason play.
Kentucky, Alabama and Auburn showed a competitive attitude, despite not having overall success in the SEC and overall records around .500.
Kentucky features guard Maci Morris that is consistent, especially on offense. Alabama will have to replace six seniors who graduate and will miss the scoring punch of guards Hannah Cook and Ashley Williams.
Auburn is strong in guard play with Janiah McKay and Daisa Alexander. The Lady Tigers lack in a true consistent scorer up front and will have to find someone to fill the void, due to graduation of Jessica Jones and Jazmine Jones.
Ole Miss has already made a change from the weekend when the Lady Rebels fired coach Matt Insell after six years.
Florida, Arkansas and Vanderbilt are in transitions too with Vanderbilt hoping for more wins next season or Stephanie White will be out after just three years, following great credibility she had coaching in the WNBA.
Cameron Newbauer at Florida and Mike Neighbors at Arkansas will go into their second season next year. Patience will be considered, but to stay on the sidelines in this very talented league, you better win or your time in the SEC won't last long.
Now that we into March Madness, it will be interesting to see how the SEC pans out. I was blessed to see it for a couple of days with the drive from Cullman to Nashville so routine for, especially with a sporting event on the other side of it.
Photos from the SEC Women's Tournament by Johnny Thornton
Photo 1: A'ja Wilson (22), Alexis Jennings of South Carolina speak with Nell Fortner and Andy Landers of SEC Network after win over Tennessee.
Photo 2: Tennessee's Jamie Nared shooting FTs vs. Auburn.
Photo 3: Kentucky's Matt Mitchell (L) coaching against Vic Schaffer of Mississippi State.
Photo 4: Texas A&M freshman guard Chennedy Carter (3) vs. LSU's defense.
Photo 5: Missouri G Sophie Cunningham trying to get open in game with Ole Miss.