SEC College Basketball Conference Futures: Is it Time to Buy the Kentucky Dip?
Bryan Woolston/Getty Images. Pictured: Keion Brooks Jr. (left) and John Calipari (right).
The past week of SEC basketball was struck with COVID-19 disruption.
Texas A&M has not played a game since Jan. 30, canceling games most recently against Florida and Arkansas. The conference continues to reroute teams through conference play as all roads lead to Nashville for the conference tournament, with the exception of Auburn.
While the Aggies have not played this month due to the pandemic, the Tigers removed their name from any post-season play before the season started.
With no conference tournament scheduled, Auburn may be running on fumes down the stretch by winning just one of its past five games.
The Alabama-Auburn game scheduled for March 2 may be the mother of all situational spots, as the Crimson Tide have the top seed locked up and the Tigers play their final game of the season.
This column spoke of Alabama futures two weeks ago and Arkansas as a contender last week.
This week, we will continue to look at the top teams in the conference as they jockey for the double-bye seed.
With Auburn not playing in the SEC Tournament, there is just one game scheduled on Day 1 of the tournament. If Texas A&M is done for the season, the top four teams in the SEC will have only a one-day advantage on the other eight members of the conference.
We start with adjusted efficiency margin, which is a direct indicator of a team that can win the national championship. As of this writing, only LSU has met the criteria of 113.9 for Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Alabama fell just short with 113.7, and a number of teams come in at 113.0.
A total of seven teams qualify on the Adjusted Defensive Efficiency scale, with Kentucky quickly on the rise after three straight wins.
With those numbers in mind, we look at the current odds for any kind of betting value for the conference championship.
Alabama Crimson Tide
18-5 (13-1) • 1st in SEC • 13-9-1 ATS
Alabama played just one game over the past week, a four-point victory over Vanderbilt.
The Crimson Tide were never in covering range of the 14-point spread against the Commodores, with their greatest lead at 12 with 10 minutes left in the game.
Shooting regression has been expected considering how hot the Tide have been from beyond the arc. Although Vanderbilt is not the best perimeter defense in the SEC, Alabama shot just 10-of-39 from long distance.
🎯 4 of 5 from 3-point range and 8 of 12 overall for the early lead at No. 8 Alabama.
— Vanderbilt Men's Basketball (@VandyMBB) February 20, 2021
The biggest concern from the game may be the lack of defense from Alabama, as Vanderbilt shot over 43% from 3-point territory.
The Crimson Tide are the best defensive team in the SEC, per KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
A possible preview of the SEC Championship game comes Wednesday night against Arkansas, as the Hogs are currently penciled in as a two seed for the conference tournament.
- Wednesday, Feb. 24 | at Arkansas
- Saturday, Feb. 27 | at Miss State
- Tuesday, March 2 | vs. Auburn
17-5 (9-4) • 2nd in SEC • 13-7-1 ATS
After preaching that 20-1 offered at DraftKings was an excellent price to win the SEC, the Razorbacks backed that up with a double-digit victory over Florida.
The Hogs entered the season ranked 339th in minutes continuity after the departure of Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones to the NBA, but things went well.
Head coach Eric Musselman has the Razorbacks firing on all cylinders, as Justin Smith, Davonte Davis, Jalen Tate and Jaylin Williams all logged a triple-digit offensive rating against the Gators.
J-Will putbacks are just 🤩 pic.twitter.com/kBgb8IF7tu
— HAWWWWWWWGS 🐗 (@RazorbackMBB) February 17, 2021
The 2019-20 Razorbacks were led by two stars each game, but this version in Musselman’s second year is led by a number of role players outside of Moses Moody and JD Notae.
The Razorbacks’ future number has come down considerably, but there is still value on a roster that is clicking at the right time. They have locked up a two or three seed in the tournament, which will allow them to avoid Alabama until the conference finals.
- Wednesday, Feb. 24 | vs. Alabama
- Saturday, Feb. 27 | vs. LSU
- Tuesday, March 2 | at South Carolina
14-6 (9-4) • 2nd in SEC • 9-11 ATS
Like the Razorbacks, LSU played just one game this past week — a dominant victory over Auburn.
This is the top offense in the conference and scored triple digits on 11-of-22 3-point shooting against the Tigers. Cameron Thomas continues to be a vital component of LSU’s scoring.
More importantly, the defense came to play, shutting down star Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper from beyond the arc and forcing six turnovers.
LSU is 13th in the conference in offensive rebounding and 11th in blocks, but a rank of second in the SEC in steal percentage will work to advance the Tigers in the conference tournament.
Saturday’s game at Bud Walton Arena will determine the second seed tiebreaker in the conference tournament, as the loser must keep ahead of Florida to avoid the Alabama draw in Nashville.
There certainly is no value in 4-1 for the conference unless the Tigers can pull off the upset in one of the toughest arenas in the nation on Saturday.
- Tuesday, Feb. 23 | at Georgia
- Saturday, Feb. 27 | at Arkansas
- Tuesday, March 2 | vs. Vanderbilt
11-6 (7-5) • 4th in SEC • 9-8 ATS
Florida was welcomed back to play after a 13-day layoff in a non-covering loss at Arkansas.
The Gators found their legs at home in a Quad 3 victory over Georgia on Saturday. Florida shot 61% from 2-point territory and held a plus-10 defensive rebound edge on the Bulldogs.
— Florida Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) February 21, 2021
Colin Castleton continues to lead the team in a number of categories, ranking 81st in offensive rebounding and 19th in block percentage nationally.
While eight players on the roster saw at least 18 minutes of action, no one scored more than 13 points against Georgia.
Florida may still be looking for its stride in the shooting department after hitting just 10-of-44 shots from beyond the arc this past week against the Razorbacks and Bulldogs.
The Gators are a pass in the futures market until the shooting heats up.
- Tuesday, Feb. 23 | at Auburn
- Saturday, Feb. 27 | at Kentucky
- Wednesday, March 3 | vs. Missouri
8-13 (7-7) • 7th in SEC • 6-13-2 ATS
Tennessee and Missouri generally take up this space in the column as they rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in the current pecking order, but it’s time to talk Kentucky basketball after three straight Wildcat wins.
The numbers are astounding for the Wildcats, covering just six games this season and compelling a 3-9 record in Quadrant 1 games. There is zero chance the committee would consider seeding Kentucky, leaving only a path by winning the SEC Championship game.
This looks like Kentucky basketball. pic.twitter.com/xZhLa537wR
— Big Blue Drew (@BigBlueDrew33) February 20, 2021
The Wildcats have lost to Alabama twice by a combined 31 points, but those games were in January for a roster that came into the season ranked 340th in experience and 343rd in minutes continuity.
The three victories over the past 10 days could easily be dismissed against an Auburn team that is spiraling down and a Vanderbilt team with two conference wins. But the victory over Tennessee may be a wake-up call to the rest of the league.
Kentucky is the worst-ranked team in the conference in ball security but committed just 11 turnovers against one of the best defenses in Tennessee.
The Wildcats hammered the boards on both ends of the court with a plus-12 margin. More importantly, ball movement on the offensive side of the ball found open players to shoot 7-of-14 from deep.
Cautiously, the 20-1 odds on Kentucky has value considering the remaining schedule and potential seeding for the SEC Tournament. If the Wildcats maintain a sixth or seventh seed through the final two games, the path to the NCAA Tournament will run through Alabama in the finals.
It’s certainly not out of the question that Kentucky wins at home against Florida and at Ole Miss and enters Nashville as the hottest team in the tournament even with an overall record of 10-13.
Taking the 20-1 odds at DraftKings is an easy hedge piece when the Wildcats draw Arkansas, LSU or Alabama in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
We are buying the dip solely based on ease of getting out of the position, but if the field goal shooting and ball movement improve on offense, this could be the story during the month of March.
- Saturday, Feb. 27 | vs. Florida
- Tuesday, March 2nd | at Ole Miss