SEC Odds, Betting Report: Breaking Down Dalton Knecht, Mark Sears, Johni Broome & More (Jan. 31)
Eakin Howard/Getty Images. Pictured: Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht.
The last month of SEC basketball has been a roller coaster and among the most entertaining in college basketball.
Nothing has been more magnified than the unexpected leap of South Carolina, fresh off a road win as a double-digit underdog to top-dog Tennessee.
The race for regular-season champion is as open as any in the SEC.
Alabama (6-1) sits atop the throne with four teams just a game back of the Crimson Tide. As expected, the Vols are within striking distance alongside South Carolina, Auburn and what could be John Calipari’s most talented Kentucky team in years.
This is where the groundwork for tournament resumes begins. There’s just over a month left in the regular season, and some teams might be reaching for that panic button ever so soon.
Keeping that in mind, let’s look at some of the talent in the SEC and the impact they’ve had to date.
The step up in physicality and talent from Northern Colorado to the SEC has not affected Dalton Knecht — so much so that he finds himself among the leading candidates for the John Wooden Award, given annually to the most outstanding player in college hoops.
Year after year, Tennessee has always flashed defensive excellence. The one area it's consistently lacked in came on the offensive end. Well, not anymore.
Knecht averages 20.1 points per game and is the center of attention whenever he's on the floor.
During SEC play, Knecht has taken 38.3% of all shots while on the floor, the most of any player. He also happens to draw the second-most fouls per 40 minutes and shoots a blistering 44.7% from 3. That’s quite impressive considering the high-volume shot-taker that Knecht is.
Oh, and he rarely turns the ball over despite the offense running through him.
Take away his SEC debut — Tennessee beat Ole Miss, 90-64, despite him playing just 19 minutes — and Knecht’s numbers are staggering. He has scored no less than 25 points in his last six and has a pair of 35-plus point games.
Come season’s end, unless he completely falls off, Knect is a shoo-in for SEC Player of the Year. Somehow, some way, Knecht has taken a step forward in conference play despite the level of physicality being at an all-time high.
Mark Sears is the engine of this Alabama offense. The Tide go as Sears goes.
The jump he’s made in his second year in Tuscaloosa has been staggering. Not only has his efficiency skyrocketed — his field-goal percentage has jumped from 40.6% to 52% — but he’s also seen an increase in every metric across the board.
The end result? Alabama sports the No. 1 offense when it comes to adjusted efficiency, with Sears leading the charge.
As is tradition, Nate Oats’ offense pushes the pace and fires from 3 on nearly half of its field goal attempts. Despite the nonstop movement and turnover-prone style of play, Sears has been the steady hand that finds open shooters.
During SEC play, Sears has taken 27.8% of the shots while on the floor. But what’s even more impressive, in addition to his top 10 3-point percentage in the conference (40%), is the fact he owns the sixth-highest assist rate.
In other words, when he’s not scoring, he’s still finding the best look possible and assisting on it.
Sears has scored 20-plus in all but one SEC game this season — Missouri — and that was primarily due to an ankle injury he suffered mid-game. While he didn’t attack as much off the dribble, he still dished six assists in 25 minutes.
The do-it-all floor general will be in consideration for SEC Player of the Year when it’s all said and done, especially if the Tide finish atop this dominant and physical conference.
Let’s keep the trend of mid-major transfers to Power 5 stardom going, shall we?
Johni Broome has dominated yet again in his second season at Auburn. I had written about betting the Tigers to win the SEC before the season, and this may very well be Bruce Pearl’s most talented team in years.
Despite stumbling in the last two games, they should firmly be in the race for conference champion all of February.
A big reason behind their success? Broome.
Defensively, he’s as elite as they come. Broome averages over two blocks per game and ranks inside the top 10 in steal rate in SEC play. He’s one of the conference’s best in rebounding on both ends of the floor, too.
That’s a huge boost for a deep, physical team like Auburn.
Very few bigs can contain Broome, who creates second-chance opportunities and scores at an efficient rate. We saw Broome’s ability to dominate in a near-win at Alabama when he finished with 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with 14 rebounds.
Few players in college basketball share the skill set that Broome does. He's a strong passer for a physical 6-foot-10 big who scores efficiently and always seems to find himself with the basketball in his hands.
Broome is used on 29% of possessions while on the floor and leads the team in points (15.7), rebounds (8.7) and blocks (2.1). Consistency near the rim is much needed in a downhill and physical SEC conference. Broome provides that.
It’s been a tumultuous season for Texas A&M, toeing a close line between being an at-large NCAA Tournament team and sitting on the outside looking in.
The only reason the Aggies have a chance is because of their superstar floor general, Wade Taylor IV.
We’ve seen him do it all. He dropped 31 points in a must-win home game against Kentucky and had 41 in a heartbreaking loss at the buzzer in Arkansas.
The offense is fueled by Taylor, who has taken 35.8% of all shots while on the floor in SEC play and has taken 20-plus shots in four of his seven conference games.
Taylor’s physicality and ability to take opponents off the dribble make him extremely valuable. He draws over six fouls per 40 minutes and has finally seen his 3-point shot start to fall. He leads the team in points (20), assists (3.8) and steals (2.2) per game.
The efficiency has escaped Taylor at times, but there are very few players who show up in clutch moments. Like every other player on this list, the Aggies go as Taylor goes. Without him, they’d be an SEC bottom-feeder.
The transfer-heavy Florida Gators are extremely balanced, and their physicality and size inside lead to plenty of second-chance opportunities. Walter Clayton Jr. has been the key factor in the Gators’ success, scoring in double figures every single game in SEC play.
As for Kentucky, this is one of the most well-rounded teams Calipari has had in recent memory. It’s a perfect mixture of veterans and superstar freshmen talent, none highlighted more than Antonio Reeves.
The fifth-year senior takes 30% of shots while on the floor in conference games and is the team’s leading scorer (19.5) by over five points per game. He's also shooting 43.1% from 3 this season.
Lamont Paris deserves all the credit in the world for his turnaround of the South Carolina program. It took him seven games to top last year’s four wins in conference play, and SC now sits second in the conference.
This is a balanced roster without one particular superstar, though I’ve been incredibly impressed with Wofford transfer B.J. Mack. The fifth-year big takes 31.5% of shots in SEC play and is a do-it-all big who has the ability to stretch the floor. He leads the team in rebounding (5.3), too.
Onto the surprising Ole Miss squad that has continued to defy rankings and win under the tutelage of Chris Beard. The Rebels cracked the top 70 after their road win over Texas A&M and just took down in-state rival Mississippi State on Tuesday night.
Saint Peter’s transfer Jaylen Murray has dominated in his first season at the Power 5 level, shooting 44.5% from 3. He ranks fifth in assist rate in SEC play and averages 15 points and a team-high 4.1 assists per game.
It didn’t take much time for any of these Ole Miss transfers to make an impact, but Murray takes the cake.
Georgia started out the season slow before catching fire at the tail end of conference play. It's also surprised a bit in Year 2 of the Mike White era and sit a game above .500 in the SEC.
Illinois transfer RJ Melendez demands the lion’s share of touches, shooting close to 29% of all shots while on the floor in conference action. He's shooting lights-out from the perimeter in SEC play at 41.4% and is fresh off a 35-point performance in an overtime loss to Florida.
Next up, we’ve got LSU, which is in the midst of a three-game slide.
Jalen Cook missed the team’s opening 11 games due to the double-transfer rule but has come back and provided a much-needed presence at the point guard position. Don’t take this team lightly as conference play continues, thanks to Cook’s elite shotmaking ability and the physicality of the Tigers.
Tolu Smith missed Mississippi State’s first 12 games due to injury but has been a key factor in SEC play. He's used at a top-five rate in conference games and ranks No. 1 in the SEC in fouls drawn per 40 minutes with 7.4. He leads the team in both scoring (16.2) and rebounding (7.9) and is a matchup nightmare for opponents.
Though they're just 3-5 in conference play, the Bulldogs are an 8-seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology.
The last three have been abysmal in the SEC with Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Missouri totaling just one win in 19 total conference games.
The Razorbacks have been most disastrous, losing six of their last seven. Devo Davis has left the program, as the duo of Khalif Battle and Tramon Mark tries to keep Arkansas in these tightly-contested games.
Vandy has won just two of its last 15 and is projected by KenPom to finish winless in the SEC. Ezra Manjon is the leading scorer (15.1) and facilitator (3.3 assists) in an abysmal offense.
Missouri has been just as disappointing after last year’s surprise season. It's won just one of its last 11 after starting the season 7-2.
Sean East II leads the team in scoring (16.2) and ranks second in assist rate during SEC play. But it’s been all for nothing for the winless Tigers, who sit dead last in the conference.