SEC Odds, State of Conference Betting Report: Should Kentucky Be League Favorite?

SEC Odds, State of Conference Betting Report: Should Kentucky Be League Favorite? article feature image

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Cason Wallace (Kentucky)

The SEC has made the early argument for the deepest conference in college basketball. Not only does it have some of the best teams and players in the nation, but the gap from bottom to top is not nearly as large as other conferences.

Prior to the season, the favorites to win the SEC were clear. Coach John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats retooled, and the Tennessee Volunteers owned a defense to grind any team in the nation out.

While those two statements still hold true to this point in the season, there's now a much longer list of contenders who have already proven that winning this conference is well within the realm of possibility.

Let's dive deep and see where things stand as league play is just beginning.

(Note: all of the following odds are courtesy of Bet365)

The Favorites

Tennessee Volunteers (+250)

The Volunteers got an early wake-up call as they were upset by Colorado in the second game of the season. Since then, they have turned it up a notch, picking up victories against USC, Kansas and Maryland.

Despite the early loss, they've rebounded well, and their defense is still the best in terms of Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. There are signs that the defense may not be enough against the elite offensive juggernauts, though.

Tennessee's loss to Arizona — arguably the most explosive offensive team in the nation — is a testament to that, as the Vols lacked the offensive firepower and size to hang with the Wildcats.

Though, with that being said, in the SEC, their defense and rebounding are great equalizers, and they should be considered the favorite at this point.

Kentucky Wildcats (+240)

Kentucky entered this season as KenPom's No. 1 team in the country, and that was deserved. The reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe returned and Coach Cal brought in two elite freshmen, Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston.

However, at this point, the Cats have not lived up to the hype. They've lost every major test thus far, including games against Michigan State, Gonzaga and UCLA.

How can they be ranked in the upper-echelon of teams if they haven't proven to be able to hang with the rest of the top 10? Then, on top of their non-conference losses, they went out and dropped their first conference game to Missouri.

Don't get me wrong, the Wildcats have the talent to right the ship, but they should not have the best odds to win this conference, given what they have shown through 12 games.

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The Contenders

Arkansas Razorbacks (+350)

Eric Musselman has done it again. He's built another serious contender that could be a big problem for the rest of the SEC.

What separates this year's squad from last year's is the Razorbacks' depth.

Last year, it was the JD Notae show, especially on the offensive end of the court. However, this year, this team runs seven deep and already has four guys averaging double figures in scoring.

Also, they're an excellent defensive team. Arkansas is currently seventh in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, as its elite size and athleticism have allowed it to stifle the opposition.

The Razorbacks may have dropped their first SEC game to LSU, but they were missing a key scoring piece in Nick Smith Jr. Don't write them off after one game.

Alabama Crimson Tide (+350)

If there's one word to describe Nate Oats' Crimson Tide, it's dangerous.

Much like last year, they're a team built to live and die by the 3-ball, but they have two other factors that have allowed them to pull off some great upsets thus far.

Freshmen Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney have given this team a whole different dynamic. Miller is the team's leading scorer, who can stretch the floor and get dirty on the glass. Meanwhile, Clowney is the inside presence who controls the paint on both ends of the floor.

Alabama's size has turned it into an elite offensive rebounding team, which is critical off of all the 3-point attempts. Many of those second chances have also turned into trips to the line, allowing the Tide to seal off victories.

This is a team that can do it all and has to potential to not only win this conference, but make a very deep run come March.

The Dark Horse

Missouri Tigers (+6000)

This Missouri team continues to impress. It has rattled off three straight victories over UCF, Illinois and Kentucky.

That winning streak is off the heels of a blowout loss to Kansas. However, that is the Tigers' only loss of the season, and Wednesday's victory against Kentucky was a statement.

They have been lights out on the offensive end of the court, as they have five guys averaging double figures, and they're all shooting over 44% from the floor.

While they passed their first SEC test with flying colors, the conference is a gauntlet, and their long odds are reflective of their chances to survive it this year. Though for right now, they're a team to watch and could be a team to back if they continue to be undervalued.

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The Look Ahead

Here we'll look at some of the key SEC matchups coming over the next few weeks, and perhaps I'll even find an angle to look for.

No. 21 Mississippi State vs. No. 7 Tennessee

Tuesday, Jan. 3
7 p.m. ET

If you like defense, this is the matchup for you. The Vols are the best defensive team in the country, but the Bulldogs are not far behind, as they're fifth in terms of Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.

Given the excellent defense shown by each of these teams and their collective struggles offensively, you have to look for an under here. KenPom has the total projected at 115, so if we get a number that's 120 or better, it should be jumped on.

Missouri vs. No. 9 Arkansas

Wednesday, Jan. 4
8:30 p.m. ET
SEC Network

This is the Tigers' next big test, as Arkansas presents much more problems than the Wildcats did. Plus, the Razorbacks will be at home and coming off a loss, so they may be motivated to get back on track.

Arkansas has the size to contain the Tigers' top scorers and should have no issue getting inside on offense.

KenPom has the Razorbacks projected to win by seven, and I would be comfortable backing them up to 8.5 in this spot.

No. 19 Kentucky vs. No. 8 Alabama

Saturday, Jan. 7
1 p.m. ET

This could be an early barometer to determine if the Wildcats are going to turn it around. They'll be on the road against a formidable Alabama team that will challenge them on both ends.

KenPom has the Crimson Tide as four-point favorites, but I'd be willing to back the Tide at -3 or better.

The Wildcats need to show up here, and depending on how they play against Ole Miss, they may even be undervalued for this matchup.

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Nick Sterling
May 17, 2024 UTC