College Basketball Betting: SEC Tournament Preview
After a year off due to COVID, the SEC Tournament returns to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, marking the fifth time in the last six events that it’s been held there. Kentucky has found plenty of success here, winning three straight at Bridgestone from 2015-17 bit this is obviously is a different Wildcat team. Barring a shocking run, Big Blue Nation will be singing the blues in Music City.
Kentucky’s sub-par season has opened the door for new teams to rise up with Alabama and Arkansas nabbing the top two seeds, followed closely by LSU and Tennessee. Even Missouri had a resurgent year, and those five along with Florida are locked into the NCAA Tournament.
We also have some bubble intrigue! Depending on who you ask, Mississippi is anywhere from “right side of the bubble, needs only to avoid a bad loss” to “needs multiple big wins.” I myself have the Rebels as the last team in, so movement either way is possible based on performance.
The Favorite(s): The two clear favorites are the top two seeds: Alabama and Arkansas. Positioned on opposite sides of the bracket, the two appear to be setup well to make runs, but I view the Razorbacks as more likely to do so – and with more value in the market.
Save for one offensive explosion at Georgia in mid-February, the Tide have not been the same kind of dominant force that we saw during their January blitz. Oklahoma and Missouri seemed to crack the code, running Alabama off the three-point line and funneling the Tide’s drivers into difficult finishes at the rim against size. Nate Oats’ aversion to mid-range jumpers has been well-documented at this point, but it feels like that pendulum has swing too far: opponents know there’s no threat in this range, and defenses have weaponized this info and emphasized three-point and rim defense instead.
Arkansas, meanwhile, is boiling lava hot entering this tournament, having won 11 straight conference games. Moses Moody has ascended to stardom on the wing, and Eric Musselman has a balanced band of contributors alongside him. Some nights, JD Notae will be a microwave scorer off the bench, but on others, fellow transfers Jalen Tate, Justin Smith, and Connor Vanover will spark the offense. Plus, Arkansas has all the pieces defensively: interior size, perimeter length, the quickness to pressure the ball, gang rebounding. If you can find a price longer than +300, I think there’s value there.
Other Contenders: Two teams clearly fit this bill: Tennessee and LSU. Both squads earned a double bye to the quarterfinals, and both are dominant on one side of the ball – defense for Tennessee, offense for LSU.
For my money, the Vols have a higher ceiling if they can hit shots, but the offense is often too stagnant to trust them to win three in a row. Tennessee has not won three games in a row since early January, and considering the declining value (down to +300), it’s not worth hoping the Vols figure it out here. The draw is no joke either, as they’ll likely have to deal with Florida in the quarterfinals, a team that controlled three of the four halves the two teams played.
LSU, on the other hand, has more value and an easier draw. A quarterfinal matchup with Mississippi or South Carolina is not overly daunting, the Tigers have already whipped Arkansas once, and they avoid the kryptonite that is Alabama until the title game (lost by 48 points combined in two meetings). Their explosive offense is the kind of unit that can catch fire over a three-day span, the question is simply whether Will Wade’s crew can get enough stops.
Missouri, Florida, and Mississippi have tough paths without the double bye, but if you have a special desire to bet one of them, I would not fault you at their respective prices.
Long-Shot: I know it’s ludicrous based on most of what we’ve seen this season, but Kentucky truly is a possible dark horse. The young but talented Wildcats were basically dead in the water for an at-large bid by Christmas, and even a run at the SEC regular season title bit the dust quickly after Kentucky lost three straight contests in mid-January. But the postseason is a reset button, offering a new opportunity where every team is 0-0 (other than the draw). The Cats beat Mississippi State in double overtime on Jan. 2, and although they got swept by Alabama, they were beating the Tide in Tuscaloosa with four minutes remaining before collapsing down the stretch. That’s a winnable game. I’m certainly not saying it’s likely, but folks – it is possible.
Final Thoughts: There’s a lot going on in this league, and the fact that I’m slightly down on the favorite makes it a cornucopia of opportunity. With that being the case, I’ll back a few teams at plus money here. The Razorbacks have gained some value since I initially examined these odds, and as I mentioned above, I think anything above +300 is worth a look. LSU is not a bet I feel super strongly about, but I like the +700 value quite a bit; I have seen +500 in other places. Lastly, I’m drinking a little bit of the Big Blue Kool-Aid: nothing big, but it’s entirely possible UK finds some rejuvenation in a postseason environment. Cue Alabama rolling by double-digits in every game…
Using my imaginary “BIQ Bits” currency:
50 BIQ Bits on Arkansas +310 (to win 155)
40 BIQ Bits on LSU +700 (to win 280)
20 BIQ Bits on Kentucky +2000 (to win 400)
Follow BettorIQ contributor Jim Root @2ndChancePoints.