SEC Tournament Futures: Two Attractive Prices in a Conference Full of Parity

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Feb 14, 2018; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers forward Horace Spencer (0) runs a play as Kentucky Wildcats guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) defends during the first half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC was anything but normal this season.

Two teams predicted to finish ninth and 13th before the season (Auburn and Tennessee) finished atop the conference. Top recruit Michael Porter Jr.  played just a couple minutes in his first game for Missouri, and hasn’t played since (back injury). And, to top it all off, St. Louis will host the SEC Tournament, marking the first time ever it won’t take place in the south.

 

When the tournament kicks off on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET), I’ll be cheering for more chaos. No team seeded lower than third has won the conference since the SEC went to a 14-team format in 2013.  I’m betting on that changing.

One of my picks: Kentucky +485. (All odds via 5Dimes at the time of writing.) If any team was going to break that dry spell of lower seeds, how about the team that’s won the tournament three years in a row?

It’s not just history that’s on Kentucky’s side (because really, what does history matter when every one of your players leaves after one year?  Fun fact: Karl-Anthony Towns would have celebrated his Senior Night last week if he had stayed). Behind freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (pictured above with Auburn’s Horace Spencer), theWildcats are playing some of their best basketball of the season, winning four in a row before losing at Florida on Saturday. To me, that game was much more about Florida (a high-ceiling, high-variance team all year) playing their A-game, than it was about Kentucky looking miserable.

Remember: Kentucky’s entire team hadn’t played one second together before this year (because they play so many freshman), and the growing pains that inevitably followed may have gotten them to a place where they can play some truly great basketball.

 

In terms of the draw, the Wildcats get a double-bye, and then their most likely quarterfinal opponent is Missouri. While it may seem that the Tigers would be feisty due to a possible near-home-court advantage, keep in mind that Porter’s availability is very much in question, and the team recently lost starter Cullen VanLeer to a knee injury. That leaves the Tigers with just seven scholarship players. It’s an advantageous match-up for the Wildcats.

Kentucky also gets the benefit of playing in the top half of the bracket, which features a struggling 1-seed in Auburn. I’m looking for every opportunity to fade the Tigers. Bruce Pearl’s squad is 4-4 in its past eight games, lost its best shot-blocker Anfernee McLemore in the last month of the season, and looks much more like a middle-of-the-road conference team than Tennessee, Florida or Kentucky (the other teams with the double-bye).

With that in mind, give me Alabama +2800, as well, which I think is an absurd price given their path (Texas A&M > Auburn > Likely Kentucky). Yes, Bama may lose its opening game to A&M, but this is an Aggies team that the Tide basically played to a draw at College Station last week, and now it gets a rematch on a neutral court. Yes, the Tide have struggled mightily to close the season, losing five games in a row, but with the talent they have (Collin Sexton, anyone?), they’re more than worthy of buying low. I view their game with A&M as a coinflip, and the Aggies are only +1050 to win the tournament. I’ll take the much better price in that situation. If the Tide gets past the Aggies, which is possible if not likely, they face Auburn in the second round, a team they split with this season.

 

If Alabama is able to win those two games, you could very well end up with Alabama-Kentucky in the semifinals, with Florida-Tennessee the most likely semifinal on the bottom part of the bracket. At that point, you have guaranteed money by holding those two futures on the top part of the bracket, and have very little work to do, depending on how you have bet Alabama and Kentucky. If you have bet them equally “to win” (so you profit the same amount no matter which one wins), sit back, relax, and enjoy the semifinal. You can hedge the final by betting on the other team no matter who it is for guaranteed money (or ride with it if you happen to like the matchup). If you want more risk, buy a little more of Alabama and hope the Tide can make it through a challenging but beatable path.

In this tournament specifically, the parity has created very attractive prices. No one really knows what to expect, so I’ll take the team with the most talent/biggest upside, and the team with the most attractive price.

Top photo via John Reed-USA TODAY Sports