The Southeastern Conference has been at the mountaintop in college football for a long time. The renaissance of the conference in a college basketball context has been one of the best national stories of the last couple of years. Kentucky is there every year and Florida has made some nice runs, particularly under Billy Donovan, but the depth of the conference has never been stronger.
Even though it appears to be a four-horse race per the odds at DraftKings Sportsbook in the SEC with Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, and Tennessee, it’s not as if teams like LSU, Mississippi State, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Texas A&M are doormats. Some quality coaches and some high-end talent have made taken this conference from something of a laughingstock to a legit power.
What really defines a conference is how well its lower-tier teams play. There are always haves and have nots in college basketball. Really in all college athletics. Having a #14 team that can hold its own goes a long way in defining the strength of the conference and it also helps from a tournament resume standpoint. That is where the SEC is right now.
That being said, Kentucky is still the team to beat. That won’t change anytime soon. Tyrese Maxey headlines the 2020 class and Kahlil Whitney will go toe-to-toe with him for the best freshman on the team. For once, Kentucky may not have the best freshman in the conference with Georgia guard Anthony Edwards, but Kentucky still has a lot of talent. The Wildcats are light on experience, as sophomore Ashton Hagans will be asked to do a lot, but you rarely worry about UK basketball because of the sheer talent level. At +125, John Calipari has high expectations again.
The team poised to keep Kentucky from reaching those goals is Florida. This is Mike White’s best team in Gainesville and this is a group that is loaded with young enthusiasm and veteran athleticism. Kerry Blackshear Jr. is the elder statesman of the team and youngsters like Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann will set the ceiling for this group. Some people think the Gators are the best team in the country heading into the season. Given that fact, the Gators at +250 seems pretty attractive. It seems like a big leap for a team that went 9-9 in the SEC last season, but there are going to be a lot more scoring options to pair with last year’s top-15 defense.
The Auburn Tigers are still getting respect at +550, but Bruce Pearl’s team lost a ton from last season, including Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. The Tigers went to the Final Four last season. Not to say that it was a fluke, but Auburn could very well have lost to New Mexico State in Round 1 before turning it up in a big way to win the region and lose to Virginia by a point in the Final Four. It is just remarkably hard to look past the losses of Harper, Brown, and even Chuma Okeke.
Similarly, Tennessee lost Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone. Rick Barnes, who squandered a lot of talent with a team in burnt orange, had a great fourth season in Knoxville. His Volunteers were a #3 seed in 2018. This looks a little bit like a retooling year given the immense offensive losses. Josiah Jordan-James will have to have a Freshman of the Year type season for Tennessee to come close to last season’s achievements and that probably won’t even be enough. The teams lined below Tennessee’s +850 price tag are better gambles.
Which teams are those? LSU seems to be one of them. Will Wade ran into some issues last year in March and was even suspended. Tremont Waters is hard to replace, but Wade is an exceptional coach and LSU has above average ability and depth at both forward and guard. If you want a team to make a run and challenge Kentucky at a balloon number, LSU is that team at +1400.
Georgia may have the best player in the conference in Anthony Edwards, but the +2200 odds showcase just how little he has around him. Arkansas has a new head coach in former Nevada bench boss Eric Musselman and they could make a move in the future, but not yet. Missouri isn’t a player this year at +2500, but they could be next year if Cuonzo Martin recruits some more offense.
All in all, Kentucky and Florida look to be battling for this crown. Auburn and Tennessee just lost too much. LSU has the best value at +1400, but the best bet for the price is Florida, as the Gators are positioned the best to take down Calipari’s ‘Cats.
Best Bet: Florida (+250)