State of the SEC College Basketball Betting Report: 2 Teams Capable of Winning National Title?
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: TyTy Washington Jr. (Kentucky)
We’re back for the final edition of the “SEC: State of the Union.” March is right around the corner, which means so is the SEC Tournament in Tampa, Florida, as well as the Big Dance.
For this week’s column, I’ll be breaking the SEC teams that have NCAA Tournament aspirations into three distinct tiers.
The first group will feature two teams that I believe have the talent to cut down the nets in New Orleans.
Following that will be a grouping of teams that are good enough to make the second weekend, and possibly even the Final Four with the right draw.
The last pod will be squads I think can win a game or two, but likely have a low ceiling.
All odds are via DraftKings to win the National Championship.
NOLA Title Dreams
I think the SEC possesses two teams this season that are good enough to win the whole bloody thing in New Orleans this April.
Make no mistake, they are Auburn and Kentucky, the programs that sit one and two in the current conference standings.
So, let’s start with the Tigers.
There are a few recent results to be concerned about if you are among the Auburn faithful.
The biggest pattern to worry about is how the Tigers have performed on the road in their recent outings. In its last four road games, Auburn is 2-2, with the two wins coming against Georgia and Missouri by a combined three points.
The losses were to Arkansas and Florida, and to the Tigers’ credit, both of those games were also close.
That said, Auburn has been a much different team when playing in its own building. The Tigers are undefeated at home, and haven’t really been put to the test all that much in those victories.
Their final two road games in SEC play are against Tennessee and Mississippi State, which should serve as a good litmus test for the Tigers before they enter the conference tournament.
Bruce Pearl’s team has the talent to go deep in March, and it also has the consistency on both ends of the floor. Having a go-to scorer in Jabari Smith certainly helps in close tournament games, but the Tigers’ backcourt will need to be better in end-of-game situations than it has been in recent defeats.
Despite sitting second in the standings at the moment, the Wildcats have the shortest odds of any SEC team to win the national title. That is a reflection of just how talented this roster is, and the type of ball John Calipari’s team has been playing in recent weeks.
There really isn’t a weakness on this roster. Oscar Tshiebwe has been off the charts good on the inside. Kellan Grady provides a veteran shooter capable of getting scorching hot from the perimeter. And TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler give the Wildcats two dynamic ball handlers who can get to the rim and make plays.
As the calendar turns to March, getting everyone back fully healthy will be of the utmost importance for Kentucky. Washington has been banged up at various points throughout the year, and he is an extremely important piece for Calipari.
At full health, I’d make Kentucky a favorite on a neutral floor over pretty much any team in the country, aside from possibly Gonzaga. Calipari won his lone national title in New Orleans, and this year, he has a team that could do it again.
Capable of Deep March Run
These next three teams are all playing really good basketball at the moment. I believe all three are good enough to make a deep run in the Big Dance, and possibly even make the Final Four with the right draw.
Let’s start with the scorching hot Arkansas Razorbacks.
There’s not a hotter team in the conference — and possibly even the country — than the group that resides in Fayetteville.
Arkansas notched another impressive win on Tuesday, when it went into Gainesville and took down the Gators.
That win made it 12 of the last 13 for the Hogs, who now welcome in Kentucky to Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
JD Notae has been unbelievable for this team in his senior year, as he gives the Razorbacks someone they can always rely on to make a big shot late in a tight game. Also, Jaylin Williams is load on the inside, as he hits the offensive boards hard and really alters shots on the other end.
Eric Musselman’s team went all the way to the Elite Eight a year ago, and another deep run could absolutely be in the cards in 2022.
Rick Barnes’ team quietly just keeps winning. Tennessee is up to 11-4 in the league, and the Vols possess a top-five defense in the nation in pretty much every metric.
With that kind of defensive prowess, the Volunteers will be a very tough out in tournament play. Another reason that will be the case is due to what Barnes is getting in the backcourt from his youngsters.
Kennedy Chandler and Zakai Zeigler give this roster dynamic ball handlers who can get to the rim and create for others. Both also get in people’s shorts on the other end, making it difficult for any opposing backcourt to bring up the ball.
The biggest question for the Vols will be whether or not they can get enough outside shooting on multiple nights to make a deep March run.
I trust that the defense will keep them in any game, and it will be very interesting to see if guys like Santiago Vescovi can get it going from distance when it really matters.
The last team in this group is the squad that has been the most up-and-down of any in the conference. Alabama has shown time and time again it can play with anybody — look no further than some of the wins it has on its resume.
The Tide have ran into issues due to a heavy volume of 3-point attempts per game, and don’t always make an efficient number of those shots. When the offense is running well, it’s as potent as pretty much any in the nation.
And watch out for leaders Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford.
If I had to select one team from this tier to lose in the first weekend, it would be the Tide because of a defense that has been somewhat mediocre. Alabama checks in at 81st in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is the type of territory that typically makes teams susceptible to an early exit.
All of that said, if this squad does survive some early games, it has shown it can keep pace with some of the country’s elite. Nate Oats’ team can go on a deep run with the right draw.
Good Enough to Win But Not to Stay Awhile
I’ll put three teams in this last tier, which is probably a bit unfair to LSU. The Tigers are comfortably inside the NCAA Tournament field, and have been a far more consistent team than the other two members of this pod.
I just see some flaws with the roster as a whole, and as a result, I would be pretty shocked if LSU made it further than the Sweet 16.
The other two units, Florida and Mississippi State, are currently sitting on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament picture. Both will need strong finishes to make the dance, but if they can get in, I think each is good enough to win a first-round game.
Yes, I am well aware LSU currently sits third in the country in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings. I just struggle to get fully behind a team that has looked so inept at times in the half-court on the other end of the floor.
The Tigers lost at South Carolina over the weekend, which was their fifth road loss in their last six games away from Baton Rouge. That is a concerning trend, and one that Will Wade & Co. will look to fix in Lexington on Wednesday.
LSU can definitely win a game or even two in the dance, but I don’t see anything more than that for a team that ranks outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency.
The Gators missed a big opportunity on Tuesday at home against Arkansas. Florida led for a good portion of the second half, but could not get key stops late in the game.
With Colin Castleton back healthy, this is an improved team that is more than capable of playing with strong competition.
At 7-8 in SEC play at the moment, the Gators need to win two road games against Georgia and Vanderbilt, and then take down Kentucky at home to feel good about their resume.
The Bulldogs will need to be darn near perfect the rest of the way to get into the bracket. The biggest reason why is they simply can’t win a close game.
Ben Howland’s team lost tight ones at LSU and Alabama over the last couple of weeks, both of which would have been Quad 1 wins. It also took Kentucky to overtime at Rupp before falling short in the extra period.
The Bulldogs do get Auburn in Starkville next week, so if they can win that one and handle business against South Carolina, Vandy and Texas A&M, they could be right back in the mix for a bid.
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