State of the SEC College Basketball Betting Report: Latest on Auburn & Previewing Big 12/SEC Challenge
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images. Pictured: Jabari Smith & Zep Jasper (Auburn)
It’s time to return for another edition of the SEC: State of the Union.
A lot has changed in the last two weeks of league play, but a few things remain the same. This conference is loaded with talent, and a few teams in particular have made some significant statements in their most recent outings.
There’s plenty to get to, but let’s start off at the top.
It was quite the Monday morning for the Auburn faithful this week. Why? Well, for the first time in program history, the Tigers reached the No. 1 overall ranking in the AP Poll.
It was a result of Auburn’s 80-71 home victory over Kentucky, a game in which Bruce Pearl’s bunch took control in the second half.
Auburn now sits at 8-0 in conference play, and owns victories over Kentucky, Alabama and LSU. The Tigers don’t have return games on the schedule with Kentucky or LSU, so at this point, the most difficult remaining road game is likely a trip to Knoxville in late February.
You can bet Thompson-Boling Arena will be rocking for that one, as Pearl will be returning to his old stomping grounds.
The Tigers were a bit sloppy on Tuesday night and had to escape with a win at Missouri. That said, they got the job done and are now two games ahead of Kentucky for sole possession of first place in the standings.
At this point in time, I am willing to go as far as to say that I would be shocked if Auburn does not win the SEC regular-season title. This is just too deep and talented of a roster, and the Tigers have established a real home-court advantage at Auburn Arena.
There are no easy nights in the SEC, so I do expect the Tigers to take a couple of losses in February. But when you look at the potential challengers, all have difficult schedules ahead. Only Kentucky is even within two games.
This is Auburn’s title to lose.
Teams Hanging Around the Bubble
In other news, four teams have emerged as rosters that will likely hang around the bubble throughout the rest of the season.
Each have the opportunity to play their way into more comfortable positioning in February, but all have flaws on their resume at this point.
Let’s start with Mississippi State, which narrowly missed out on what would’ve been a massive road win Tuesday in Rupp Arena. The Bulldogs took Kentucky to overtime before falling 82-74.
Mississippi State has been a completely different team at home than on the road thus far in conference play. Ben Howland’s team has won all four home games, including over Alabama and Arkansas. However, it has yet to win on the road.
The Bulldogs will need to be better away from home the rest of the way to get in position for a tournament bid.
Moving onto Arkansas, this is a team that has stepped it up in the last two weeks after I called the Hogs out for being a massive disappointment.
Arkansas has won four in a row, highlighted by a road win at LSU. The Razorbacks are right back in the fold in the SEC and have another opportunity tonight to add a road win in Oxford.
Things continue to be inconsistent in Gainesville, and the Gators appear destined to hang around the bubble all year.
Ole Miss took it to the Gators on Monday night, bringing Florida to a 3-4 mark in SEC play.
Florida is a nine-point underdog tonight against Tennessee, so it will take a valiant effort from Mike White’s team to pull off the road victory.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the team I really shouted out in the first edition of the State of the Union.
Texas A&M started 4-0 in league play but has lost its last two games in excruciating fashion.
The Aggies led for most of the game against Kentucky but finished 1-of-22 from 3-point range in the contest. Had they made just a couple more of those, Buzz Williams’ team likely picks up the home victory.
Following that was a trip to Arkansas in a game where TAMU mounted a furious second-half comeback to send the game to overtime. The Hogs prevailed in the extra session, and now A&M heads to Baton Rouge Wednesday trying to avoid a three-game losing streak.
Big Weekend Ahead with Big 12/SEC Challenge
I always really enjoy the late January Big 12/SEC challenge, and this year should be one of the best we’ve seen. There are some loaded matchups between what arguably are the two best conferences in the country.
Given the SEC’s 14 teams to the Big 12’s 10, four teams in the SEC do not get to participate each year. Sitting out on Saturday will be Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
It’s a missed opportunity for the Aggies not to partake, as they will instead welcome in the Gamecocks for a game they cannot afford to lose.
Let’s take a quick look at all 10 games slated for Saturday.
LSU vs. TCU
Will Wade’s team has been struggling as of late and this will be a difficult road test against the upstart Horned Frogs.
I expect LSU to be a short road favorite in a game between two teams who excel on the defensive end.
I lean toward backing TCU as a home dog in this one.
West Virginia vs. Arkansas
A battle of bubble teams here, and a big opportunity for Arkansas to add a resume win against the Mountaineers.
I would guess Arkansas will be around a four- to five-point favorite here, and I like the Hogs to handle business at home.
Oklahoma vs. Auburn
The Tigers play host to a solid Oklahoma unit that will head to Auburn Arena knowing it has a big opportunity to notch a big-time road win.
Auburn will likely be a double-digit favorite in this one.
I could see the Sooners hanging tough and covering the number, but they don’t have the offensive firepower needed to take down the Tigers.
Missouri vs. Iowa State
Missouri has been far more competitive in recent weeks, as shown last night when the Tigers took Auburn to the brink.
Iowa State has been a nice story this season, and Hilton Coliseum is always a very difficult place to play. The Cyclones will be a comfortable favorite in this matchup, and I don’t have a strong lean here.
Baylor vs. Alabama
Well, this is a massive chance for the Tide to get back on track after a disastrous road loss to Georgia last night. The problem is Bama is really struggling on the defensive end, and Baylor poses a lot of matchup problems.
I anticipate Baylor being a small favorite here, and I will look to play the more reliable Bears at -3 or better.
Oklahoma State vs. Florida
The Pokes may be ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year, but you wouldn’t know it with how hard Mike Boynton’s team is playing. This is a dangerous game for Florida, and one it better be ready to go for.
Expect Florida to be a small favorite, and this will be a firm stay-away for me.
Kansas State vs. Ole Miss
On paper, this is the worst of the 10 matchups, but both of these teams have been pretty competitive.
Kansas State has a road win over Texas and probably should have beaten Kansas last Saturday. The Rebels are fresh off of a win over Florida and have played their best basketball at home.
I think this line will be right around a pick’em, and I would lean toward taking the visiting Wildcats.
Kentucky vs. Kansas
The premier matchup of this event will take place in Lawrence, Kansas. I am really excited for this one, and hopefully, TyTy Washington Jr. will be able to go for the Wildcats after injuring his ankle against Auburn.
If he can play, I will be looking to back Kentucky as a road underdog in this one.
Mississippi State vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the season, but I think the Bulldogs could hold some value here as a road underdog.
This is a tough situational spot for Tech coming off a double-overtime loss to Kansas, and potentially looking ahead to the massive Chris Beard return game against Texas on Tuesday.
Tennessee vs. Texas
For those who have college hoops nostalgia, this might be the most heartwarming game of the challenge. Rick Barnes returns to the Erwin Center for the first time since his departure from Austin.
Chris Beard has spoken at length about wanting to unite the Texas basketball family, so I expect Barnes to get a warm welcome in his return.
As for the game itself, expect Texas to be around a four- to five-point favorite here. I’d lean to the under given the strength of both of these teams’ defenses, and will also look to take Texas as a moneyline parlay piece.
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