College Basketball Odds, Picks, Futures: 2022-23 SEC Betting Preview
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Zakai Zeigler (Tennessee)
The collective SEC owes a debt to two parties: the Big Ten and Arkansas basketball.
Why? Well, those two entities are the only ones saving this conference from getting ruthlessly ridiculed for its performance in the NCAA tournament last year.
Only the Razorbacks avoided a disappointing upset, respectably falling to Duke in the Elite Eight.
Similarly, the Big Ten’s own futility for the second straight year drew most of the “what’s wrong with this conference?” ire, most of which would have focused on the SEC.
Dodging national embarrassment should not prevent a year-end assessment of what went awry, though.
Alabama and LSU were hyper-inconsistent all year, but Kentucky and Auburn featured similar problems to the Big Ten: their best players were big men, and their sometimes-erratic guards torpedoed their chances of postseason success.
2022-23 SEC Regular Season Futures Odds
So, where is the league now? Well, the talent is as high as ever.
That starts with Kentucky (+180 to win the SEC), the preseason darling at (almost) every outlet.
Few programs would call a 26-win season a failure, but the Wildcats didn’t capture an SEC title (regular season or tournament) and flamed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Big Blue Nation demands more, and with National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe back, expectations are high — and a spotlight is on John Calipari.
But injuries could be an issue. Returning point guard Sahvir Wheeler recently sustained a concerning knee injury in an exhibition game. Without the speedy veteran to run the show, the Wildcats could struggle to generate shots.
Arkansas (+350) and its dynamite freshman class is most humans’ pick to nip at Kentucky’s heels, but computer-generated rankings — KenPom, Bart Torvik, etc. — favor Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers (+350):
If you buy these ratings and believe the Vols are nearly the equivalent of Kentucky, then you can find some value on them at +350 to win the league.
Barnes’ teams consistently defend, and the pieces are here to continue that. Josiah-Jordan James is a versatile destroyer on that end. Zakai Zeigler will pressure the ball like crazy. If Olivier Nkamhoua and Jonas Aidoo lock down the rim (both flashed potential last year), then Tennessee will remain an elite unit.
Of note, though: Barnes’ longtime defensive guru, Michael Schwartz, left the staff to take the head coaching job at East Carolina.
On the offensive end, smooth-shooting Uruguayan Santiago Vescovi leads the charge.
It was only a one-game sample in a charity setting, but the Vols torched Gonzaga for 99 points in an exhibition matchup.
Perhaps no program better underscores the weaponization of NIL than Arkansas.
Under Eric Musselman, the Razorbacks have become a juggernaut of player acquisition — both in the portal and the high school ranks.
Of course, the Muss Bus has also found significant postseason success. It’s not just “offseason championships” in Fayetteville.
With three five-star recruits led by Nick Smith Jr. and another talented transfer crew, the Razorbacks have sky-high upside.
The Next Tier
Alabama Crimson Tide
For the Crimson Tide, the turnover should be for the better.
Nate Oats’ squad never meshed properly last year. It exhibited perhaps the most deranged, confusing results in the country (beat Gonzaga, Houston and Baylor; lost to Missouri, Georgia and Iona).
Oats not so subtly blamed his players’ attitudes. He told The Almanac, “We had guys last year that played with the sole purpose of improving their draft stock.”
Speaking of draft stock, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers lost two NBA selections in Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler.
Pearl quickly backfilled that frontcourt void with Morehead State transfer Johni Broome and five-star freshman Yohan Traore.
However, Auburn’s fate may be decided by its erratic backcourt of Wendell Green Jr. and K.D. Johnson.
Florida (+1800) is more of a fringe contender, but the Gators have a tempting foundation.
St. Bonaventure transfer Kyle Lofton and all-conference honoree Colin Castleton bookend the lineup at point guard and center. Both are ace defensive players.
New coach Todd Golden appears intent on building an identity through those strengths.
Texas A&M Aggies
Perhaps the most controversial exclusion from the NCAA tournament last year, Texas A&M (+2500) will maintain its identity under Buzz Williams.
The Aggies come at you in waves of bodies, mix defenses and play their tails off. The are frequently a feisty underdog (11-6 against the spread last season).
It may be too difficult for them to win the league, but their late-season form makes them an interesting team to back early this year.
Coaching Changes (Plus Ole Miss & Vandy)
The (projected) bottom half of the league features a plethora of new faces. Five teams joined Florida in changing bosses, though Georgia’s Mike White is familiar to the league.
We’ll attack them in order, though you can ignore the odds to win the league.
LSU (+3500) has become Murray State Southeast. Coach Matt McMahon brought three key pieces with him from Murray, including OVC Player of the Year KJ Williams.
The Tigers are a mystery box with so much roster turnover, but the talent is intriguing.
Adam Miller’s recovery from a torn ACL will be paramount.
Egg Bowl Rivals
Mississippi State and Ole Miss both sit at 60/1, though they have differing concerns.
The Bulldogs tagged Chris Jans from New Mexico State to take over the program. He’s a proven winner, but the roster appears to lack offensive pop.
The Rebels, meanwhile, had copious injury issues throughout the offseason. Point guard Daeshun Ruffin and forward Robert Allen are both hopeful to be back from torn ACLs, while others had nagging injuries limit their participation.
Coach Kermit Davis hopes a trio of mid-major big men can stabilize his interior defense, a key flaw last season. He needs wins, or he could be the next in line on the SEC chopping block.
Missouri (+8000) has an almost entirely new roster. New head honcho Dennis Gates mined the portal to great effect, nabbing talents like Isiaih Mosley (Missouri State) and Noah Carter (Northern Iowa) to repopulate the rotation.
He also nabbed the country’s top two junior college imports and brought two tenacious defenders with him from Cleveland State.
The Tigers have seen a massive divide in human prognosis/rankings (bearish) compared to computer forecasts (bullish).
Depending on your viewpoint, that could make them an intriguing “fade” team early — especially with such minimal continuity.
Bringing up the rear is Vanderbilt (100/1), South Carolina (250/1) and the aforementioned Georgia (250/1). None are realistic shots to top the standings, but Vandy and Georgia may be undervalued early this season.
South Carolina also features five-star recruit GG Jackson. The reclassified forward may take some time to acclimate to the sport, though.
SEC Futures & Picks
Value-wise, Tennessee is the bet. Kentucky has some question marks after Wheeler’s injury, while Arkansas’ talented roster may take a while to gel. The Vols caught everyone’s eye with the demolition of Gonzaga, so shop around to find the best price you can.
Florida is an intriguing longer shot given Golden’s track record as a coach and the potential of the roster. A lack of perimeter shooting could be a fatal flaw, but the defense could be stout enough to propel the Gators to contention.