The SEC Tournament gets underway on Wednesday in Nashville, kicking off what should be an exciting five days of hoops. The conference crowns its champion on Sunday, just hours before the NCAA Tournament selection committee reveals its 68-team field.
The Kentucky Wildcats clinched the regular-season championship with two games to go after defeating Auburn at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats went on to win the conference by three games. After them, the next six teams all finished within two games of each other. Given the balance of the conference, it would not be surprising to see some upsets in Nashville.
Here is a breakdown of all the favorites, dark horses, and longshots to win the SEC Tournament (odds courtesy of FanDuel).
The Wildcats finished the regular season strong, winning 13 of their final 15 games. Kentucky was considered one of the hottest teams in the country and had hopes of an outside chance of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, a surprising home loss to Tennessee spoiled any hopes of a top seed, at least for now.
Despite the loss to the Volunteers, Kentucky is a deserving favorite in the SEC Tournament. They will look to reclaim their title as conference tournament champions as Auburn’s championship last year ended a run of four-straight titles for Kentucky.
All season, the Wildcats have gotten the most production from guards Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, and Ashton Hagans. Forward Nick Richards has also developed nicely this year, averaging 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. However, Kentucky found out in its regular-season finale against Florida that they can count on others as well. Forward Keion Brooks received a rare start with Hagans missing the game for “personal reasons.” Brooks, forward Nate Sestina and guard Johnny Juzang combined for 29 points on 11-16 shooting. If they can continue to get production from these players, they will be a tough out both this week and in the NCAA Tournament.
After Auburn started the year 15-0, they struggled comparatively down the stretch as they finished just 10-6. That is not to say they were not challenged in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Their non-conference strength of schedule ranked 14th in the country.
Auburn is one of the best rebounding teams in the conference. Per KenPom, they rank second in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, and they lead the conference in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. The Tigers are one of the more experienced teams in the conference as they start four seniors.
One thing that has plagued Auburn all year is their three-point shooting. At 28.8%, they rank last in the conference in three-point shooting percentage. As the No. 2 seed in the tournament, they benefit from not having to face Kentucky until the championship. If they find their shooting touch this week, they are certainly capable of winning the title.
The Florida Gators are a team that never lived up to the preseason hype. After being ranked in the top five to start the year, the Gators finished the regular season just 19-12. Though Florida has the third-best odds to win the SEC Tournament, they will have to work a little harder than the top teams. As the No. 5 seed, Florida just missed a “double-bye” and thus needs to win four games in four days.
Florida missed a chance to earn a double-bye after finishing the regular season with three losses in its last five games. Two of those losses came to Kentucky, whom the Gators would likely meet in the semifinal round. Making matters worse, their second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, Kerry Blackshear Jr., may miss the SEC Tournament with a sprained left wrist. With a tougher path and a somewhat compromised roster, I am happy to fade the Gators at odds of +450.
The LSU Tigers are interesting at odds of +550, as their draw seems manageable. As the third seed, they would likely face sixth seed South Carolina, whom they beat in the regular season. If the Gamecocks were to get upset, the Tigers would face either Vanderbilt or Arkansas, who would be playing their third consecutive game. Then, if seeding held, LSU would face Auburn in the semifinal round. LSU and Auburn played a classic this year, although it was eventually won by Auburn in overtime by 91-90.
Pessimists would say LSU deserves worse odds after finishing the regular season 4-6 in their last ten games. In addition, the Tigers are not a very deep team. They rank 321st in the country in terms of bench minutes. The backcourt tandem of Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart each play at least 84.7% of the team’s minutes. LSU is a team that can get to the SEC Championship, but they might be too gassed in their third game in three days once they get there.
Mississippi State (+1300), Tennessee (+1500), Alabama (+3500), Arkansas (+3500), South Carolina (+3500)
Of this group, only Mississippi State earned a double-bye and would need to win three games in three days. Their draw becomes somewhat more manageable if Blackshear cannot play for Florida. However, they would still likely meet Kentucky in the semifinals, a team they lost to at home this year. The Bulldogs will be playing with a heightened sense of desperation as they are squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Tennessee is an interesting sleeper, especially since the tournament is played in Nashville. They will face a tough opening-round opponent in Alabama, who they narrowly beat by one point on the road this year. Then they would try to knock off top-seeded Kentucky for the second time in as many weeks. If the Volunteers win the SEC Championship, they would certainly have earned it.
Another team capable of ruining a conference tournament bracket is Arkansas. The Razorbacks would likely not be one of four teams playing in the opening round of the tournament if not for their best player Isaiah Joe missing six games with an injury. Since he has returned, Joe is averaging 20.4 points per game over the last five games. While Arkansas is not likely to win five games in five days, they are one that could make a little noise in this tournament.
Georgia (+10000), Mississippi (+10000), Missouri (+15000), Texas A&M (+15000), Vanderbilt (+15000)
Outside of projected top-three pick Anthony Edwards from Georgia, there is not much to watch or be confident in from this group.