SEC Conference Basketball Predictions and Betting Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/03/2008
If anyone tells you that they have any idea who is going to win the SEC this year they are lying to you.
And that includes me. Honestly, I have no friggin' clue how this whole thing is going to shake out. I know whom the research points to. I know whom my instincts tell me to keep an eye on. But I also know this: my main advice to anyone thinking about dipping a toe into the SEC shark tank would be better off just passing on to the kiddie pool.
The SEC is an absolute mess and has been for several years. This conference is littered with perennial underachievers, injured rosters, overrated "stars", and questionable coaching maneuvers. It's the perfect tempest of total insanity. And besides the simple premise that Tennessee and Florida are good teams I think anyone trying to predict conference standings is just guessing.
From a betting standpoint I think there is only one way to play these clubs: take the points. This conference is going to be one of the more "upset" prone of any of the BCS leagues. Because there is an overwhelming lack of experience and depth on most of the rosters, and because so many teams are guard-oriented and will be relying on inconsistent perimeter games, I think we're going to see a plethora of blown leads, blowouts, and baffling performances. There is value - I'm certain betting on money lines for underdogs can clean up this year - but the only people who cash in will be those with stones the size of Rocky Top.
So with that in mind, here is some analysis and some predictions in Doc's Sports 2008 SEC betting preview:
The Favorite: Tennessee
When most teams lose the amount of talent and experience that the Vols bid adieu to this offseason they are set for a major fall the following season. But Bruce Pearl is almost happily waving goodbye to last season's stars in order to clear the way for this season's studs. The Volunteers have been very impressive this season and have played even beyond my expectations in the early part of this year, routing some solid mid-majors and laying the wood to future tourney teams Georgetown and Siena. I actually think there is still some value with this club even though they will be facing some seriously inflated numbers in conference play. They seem to defend with purpose, and even though they get a little jiggy at times they are explosive enough to lay a big number on less talented clubs.
The Challenger: Florida
The Gators are textbook. There is nothing elite about them, but they aren't a pushover either. The loss of Jai Lucas is still being felt through the rotation, but it isn't anything that will slow them down much. Nick Calathes is one of the best players in the conference and is a legit go-to guy. But there is still something missing from this club. Still something that will keep them from being elite or a real threat come March. And on top of that, I think in the eyes of the oddsmakers they are still playing in the shadows of the Dynasty teams from a couple years ago.
The Dark Horse: LSU
The foot injury that sidelined Tasmin Mitchell last year is the best thing that the Tigers have going for them this season. With their leader back in the fold - he is one of a trio of three-year starters - this Tigers team may be the only in the conference that can actually match up with the athleticism of the Volunteers. They have burst out to a 6-0 start and are 2-0 ATS, with both lines posted at -16 or higher. But there is the rub. The word is kind of out on this Tigers team before we really got a chance to take advantage. They will be a quality club to challenge the Vols and Gators, but from a value standpoint I don't know how strong a play on the league's top defensive club will be.
The X-Factor: Alabama
The general consensus is that with Ronald Steele back in the fold the Crimson Tide are somehow in a position to challenge for a league title. Well, let me be the first to say that is absolute lunacy. Alabama is no less shaky than it has been each of the past two seasons, when they were easily the biggest disappointment in the SEC as well as the country. Steele is the shadow of his former self and isn't leading this team anywhere special. Further, Alonzo Gee has gotten off to a horrid start and freshman JaMychal Green may be the most overrated freshman I've watched this year. There is some talent, and some potential here (I like Senario Hillman's game). But I know that Mark Gottfried isn't the guy to max out this team's potential and I see another lackluster year in the standings and at the window for a team that should be so much better.
The Disappointment: Kentucky
We've already seen the severe limits of this roster, and I think both Billy Gillespie and the Kentucky faithful know that someone is in over his head. The bottom line is that as much as UK fans dogged guys like Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, those guys held this patchwork roster together. Now, with no upperclassmen leadership (they have just one senior on the roster) this team will be subject to the swaying breeze: solid one night and pathetic the next. Next year this team might mature. But for now it's going to be another long winter in Lexington.
The Surprise Team: Mississippi
Picking a surprise team is a total crapshoot. I actually think that South Carolina will be the sleeper in this league, but we'll get to them in a minute. I give the Surprise label to Ole Miss because now that leading returning scorer Eniel Polynice is out for the year I think expectations have dipped. But this is still a dangerous club because Andy Kennedy's charges will shoot from everywhere and can score quickly. The trouble is that they have absolutely no inside game and that there is only so far streaky guard play can take you. But hey, get in line in this league.
The Moneymaker: South Carolina
I really like this Gamecocks club and don't be surprise if this is a bubble burster come March. Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick may not top six-feet, but they do top out at around 36 combined points per game. The Cocks have four guys averaging double figures, and the difference between USC and the other guard-heavy clubs in the league is that they have three talented forwards at 6-7 or greater that can play effectively on the interior. Get while the getting is good, because these boys will be hot by mid-January.
Vanderbilt - This team intrigued me until I saw a preseason interview with A.J. Ogilvy in which he admitted that this team probably isn't tournament bound, but that they'll play hard anyway. While that might be good enough in a league that should be a money line underdog player's dream, I don't know how reliable that makes them. I am a big fan of Ogilvy's, but this club lacks experience in the backcourt around him. This team has zero seniors and only two juniors on the roster, so the future is bright. But the growing pains could be more than I can bear.
Auburn - Think Ole Miss, will just a touch more size. I actually think this Auburn team could be a decent sleeper, but their lack of depth is a major issue. They only have five guys with D-I experience and are still trying to find the right combos on the court. They do have a trio of three-year starters to fall back on, but those guys have done nothing but lose since they've been in town. This team could be tricky at home, but they just don't have the talent or the depth to be taken seriously.
Mississippi State - Four players with starting experience return for the Bulldogs, and coach Rick Stansbury is actually one of the few headmen in this conference that I can understand why he still has a job. The trick is that the three players that they lost from last year's team handled the rock about 80 percent of the time. Jarvis Varnado is a shot-blocking machine, but he will need to round out his game if this team is going to make a move. I don't think he's ready to do that. This team has actually been pretty solid so far this season, but has been a little overvalued by the books. I think some early losses will actually create a situation where these Dogs could bite when the number gets right.
Georgia - The Bulldogs were really a shaky, flaky, pretty poor team for 90 percent of the 2007 season. But a sensational tournament run salvaged their season and may have actually inflated the expectations for this year's squad. But - and stop me if you've heard this one - there simply isn't much depth, experience, or overall talent to work with here and a repeat performance is unlikely. This club is fodder…but maybe can turn it on come March once more.
Arkansas - The Hogs are one of top two of three losers from the 2007-08 season. By that I mean that there are very few clubs in the country that lost as much overall scoring, rebounding, assists, and experience as this club. John Pelfrey certainly has his work cut out for him and has very little talent to work with. But judging by the early results he at least has this team playing hard. Will that be enough to cover the litany of double-digit spreads they'll be given as an underdog? That remains to be seen. But in this league, nothing will shock me.
For more information on Ferringo's college basketball picks, check out his Insider Page here.