College Basketball Betting: Southeastern Conference Preview

Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler dribbles during the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels
at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Is the SEC, from top to bottom, the best conference in college basketball this season? If you use national rankings as your barometer, the answer would appear to be “yes” — at least at the moment.

This week, five SEC schools appear in The Associated Press Top 20 — Alabama (10th), Auburn (12th), LSU (17th), Tennessee (19th), and Kentucky (20th). That’s more than any other league.

The SEC is also home to Jabari Smith, an Auburn freshman whose 6-foot-10 frame and deft shooting touch evokes thoughts of Kevin Durant. Smith is among those in the running to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft.

On top of that, two of the SEC’s prospective have-nots (Georgia and Ole Miss) have already scored upset victories over previously ranked Memphis — the same Memphis that shocked Alabama last week. evaluates the SEC championship odds for league’s programs. If the oddsmakers are correct, there could be a return to glory in the Bluegrass State.

SEC odds via DraftKings and updated as of 5 p.m. ET Dec. 21. All SU and ATS record current as of date of publication.

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Big Ten

SEC Basketball Odds

Alabama Crimson Tide guard JD Davison (left) reacts after making the go-ahead basket against Houston Cougars
Image Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Favorites

Kentucky +260 (8-2 SU/4-6 ATS)
Alabama + 320 (9-2 SU/6-5 ATS)

Kentucky is fifth in the pecking order of SEC teams in this week’s Top 25 poll. The Wildcats also rank 13th in league in three-pointers made (6.0 per game). Yet John Calipari’s squad is the clear favorite on the SEC championship odds board.

As usual, Calipari has assembled a group of blue-chip recruits and top-notch transfers. The latter includes Oscar Tshiebwe, who’s averaging 16.3 points and 14.3 rebounds per game after posting modest numbers during his time at West Virginia.

And while the Wildcats have struggled to make shots from long range, they’re having little trouble putting the ball through the hoop otherwise. They’re averaging 82.1 points per game, which ranks second to Alabama (83.4 ppg) among SEC schools.

Kentucky’s stifling defense has been equally as impressive. Since starting the season with a 79-71 loss to Duke, the Wildcats have held nine consecutive opponents under 70 points. The team’s offensive and defensive talent was on full display Saturday in Las Vegas, where Kentucky thumped North Carolina 98-69 as a 3-point, neutral-site favorite.

Speaking of impressive victories, Alabama might have the best back-to-back triumphs of the season. On a mostly partisan floor in Seattle on Dec. 4, the Crimson Tide stunned preseason No. 1 Gonzaga, 91-82 as a 9.5-point underdog. Seven days later, Alabama eked out an 83-82 home victory over Houston, a Final Four team from last season.

Last year, Alabama made a surprising run to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 before bowing out to eventual Final Four entrant UCLA in overtime. The Crimson Tide appear to have the talent to make another deep March run this season — and we’ll learn about their championship makeup from Jan. 29-Feb. 5. During that weeklong stretch, Alabama will face current No. 1 Baylor in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, then meet Auburn (road) and Kentucky (home).

The Challengers

Tennessee Volunteers guard Kennedy Chandler dribbles up court against the Texas Tech Red Raiders
Image Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee +600 (8-2 SU/6-4 ATS)
Arkansas +650 (9-2 SU/5-6 ATS)
Auburn +800 (10-1 SU/7-4 ATS
Florida +900 (8-3 SU/6-5 ATS)
LSU +900 (11-0 SU/9-2 ATS)

Tennessee has the toughest opening road slate of any SEC team, trekking to Alabama, LSU, and Kentucky in the first 17 days of league play. The rest of the schedule breaks nicely for the Vols, who’ll get two cracks apiece at prospective bottom-feeders South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Arkansas has the SEC’s most prolific scorer in JD Notae (18.3 points per game), a solid starting five, and a strong tactician in head coach Eric Musselman. However, it’s a tough team to project, considering the Hogs raced out to a 9-0 start, then suffered back-to-back losses to Oklahoma (88-66) and Hofstra (89-81). And Arkansas is still searching for its first signature victory — unless you count Kansas State as “signature.”

The NCAA recently hit Auburn with four years of probation, but that discipline won’t impact the Tigers’ pursuit of the SEC regular-season title (and maybe even a Final Four run). Auburn’s conference championship/March Madness hope likely will hinge on the continued improvement of stud freshman Jabari Smith. Not only is Smith averaging 16.5 points and 6.9 rebounds, but he’s shooting a blistering 45.6-percent from three-point range. He’s a big reason why the Tigers rank third in the SEC in scoring offense (82.0 points per game) and first in made three-pointers (9.7 triples per game).

Florida has won nine-plus SEC games in six consecutive seasons. However, this consistency hasn’t meant much come March. (During this stretch, the Gators have gotten past Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament just once, reaching the regional final in 2017.) Will this year be any different? Recent results would suggest no, as Florida has followed a 6-0 SU/5-1 ATS start by dropping five of its last seven (1-6 ATS). That includes a stupefying 69-54 loss to Texas Southern as a 23.5-point home favorite.

Undefeated LSU ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (53.5 points per game), No. 6 in SEC scoring offense (78.5 ppg), and is 9-2 ATS through 11 games. Of course, the Tigers haven’t exactly faced a juggernaut early-season schedule (top opponents to date: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Penn State). So is LSU for real? We’ll find out very quickly, as it opens the SEC campaign with consecutive games against Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee (twice), Florida, Arkansas, and Alabama.

The Dark Horses

Mississippi Rebels guard Jarkel Joiner shoots a three-pointer against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Image Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State +2,000 (8-3 SU/5-6 ATS)
Ole Miss +3,000 (8-3 SU/5-6 ATS)

Don’t fall asleep on Mississippi State making a push for the SEC crown. Five Bulldogs starters average double-digit scoring; Michigan State transfer Rocket Watts adds explosive depth to the bench; and MSU fell to Minnesota (81-76) and Colorado State (66-63) — two of college basketball’s biggest early surprises — by a grand total of eight points.

Like its in-state rival, Ole Miss is off to a solid start and could be in the running for an NCAA Tournament bid if it repeats last year’s 10-8 SEC record. The Rebels have one marquee victory on their ledger (a 67-63 win over then-No. 18 Memphis on Dec. 4). And their three losses to Marquette, Boise State, and Western Kentucky will be viewed as “quality defeats” if all three programs reach the NCAAs. That said, Ole Miss doesn’t appear to have the talent and depth needed to keep up with the SEC’s big boys.

The Long Shots

Missouri Tigers guard DaJuan Gordon (left) shoots as Kansas Jayhawks guard Christian Braun (right) defends
Image Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M +5,500 (8-2 SU/6-4 ATS)
Missouri +6,000 (6-5 SU/4-6 ATS)
South Carolina +6,000 (8-3 SU/5-5 ATS)
Vanderbilt +7,000 (6-4 SU/5-5 ATS)
Georgia +40,000 (5-6 SU/3-7-1 ATS)

Texas A&M is the most likely candidate to earn a promotion to the “Dark Horses” category. But it’s also difficult to view the Aggies as surprise contenders, given their light non-conference schedule (best loss: Wisconsin; best win: Notre Dame) — not to mention last season’s 2-8 record in league play.

The schedule-maker has seemingly given Missouri a reprieve, as the Tigers face just one currently ranked team twice in league play (No. 10 Alabama). But it’s still a daunting docket, with Mizzou drawing Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU in mini-bunches. Also worth nothing: The Tigers have matched up against just one ranked foe to date. Result: 102-65 loss to No. 8 Kansas.

South Carolina has three solid non-conference victories on its résumé (Florida State, Georgetown, and Western Kentucky). Can the Gamecocks find similar success in league play … playing a schedule that includes Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee in the first two weeks? If South Carolina can emerge from that start at least 2-2, it might be a team worth monitoring.

Vanderbilt has been stuck in a 3-15 cycle the last two SEC seasons, and this year looks to be more of the same. The Commodores ranks 227th nationally in scoring offense — punctuated by a 37-point “effort” in a Nov. 17 loss to VCU.

Georgia is the longest of long shots to win the SEC title for two primary reasons: The Dawgs are going through a major rebuild, and they’re the only team in the league with a losing record in non-conference action. There’s a reason why Georgia’s spring football practices garner more attention in Athens than the hoops team.