2013 SEC Tournament Picks and College Basketball Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/11/2013
The conference tournaments taking place across the country this week are set to be the final determinant of which teams are invited and left out of the NCAA Tournament. And perhaps no league in the nation has as many teams trying to fight their way into The Big Dance as the SEC.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and even Arkansas are all teams trying to claw their way into the field of 65. While most of those teams are long shots, at best, to go dancing, this is the last opportunity for them to either prove their worth to the selection committee or win their ticket by cutting down the nets and earning the automatic bid.
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The SEC Conference Tournament begins Wednesday, March 13, and is being held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. And while the quality of play in this year’s SEC Tournament couldn’t get much lower, the stakes for these desperate schools really can’t be much higher.
Here is Doc’s Sports SEC Tournament picks, preview and betting odds for team to win:
The Favorite: Florida (-175)
The Gators are head and shoulders above the rest of this league and are one of the best teams in the country. Billy Donovan’s group won the regular season title by two games and has been a staple of the Top 25 all season long. A trio of seniors, Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy, along with Patric Young, who is likely headed to the NBA, give the Gators an outstanding veteran core. They have the best guard play in the league and a favorable path to the championship game. They deserve to be the rock-solid favorites heading into this week’s action.
The Contender: Missouri (+300)
The Tigers have acquitted themselves relatively well in their first season in the SEC. They are 6-3 in their last nine games and had to play five league games without stud forward Laurence Bowers. The Tigers are another very experienced team, led by three seniors and two juniors. Point guard Phil Pressey and Bowers are the go-to guys. But Missouri’s March is going to be determined by the handful of transfers that are still working through their first year with the Tigers. Mizzou has lost all but two of its last 10 road games. The wins were over pathetic Mississippi State and South Carolina, so I don’t have a lot of confidence about this team performing on the road. They have talent and experience. But they haven’t shown that they can play good, consistent basketball for a sustained period.
The Sleeper: Tennessee (+800)
The Volunteers have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the past month. They are 8-1 in their last nine, including convincing wins over Kentucky, Florida and Missouri. The Volunteers get this tournament in their backyard, and they are one of the few teams in the league that have A) played well off their own court and B) played consistent defense. The Vols should walk through their first opponent (either Miss State or USC). Then comes what should be a gritty matchup with Alabama, whom the Vols split with this year in two games decided by a total of four points. A win there puts them in the semis against Florida, and at that point anything can happen. I think UT is longer than their odds suggest. But they are still a dangerous team this week.
The Spoiler: Ole Miss (+1200)
Next to Kentucky, no team in the SEC needs wins this week as badly as Mississippi. They are currently projected on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble thanks to unforgiveable recent losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Ole Miss is unproven. But they have talent. Marshall Henderson is one of the best scorers in the nation, and Murphy Holloway is an underrated senior bruiser. This team has the size and strength to match up with anyone, and if Henderson gets hot he is the type of player than can carry a team for days. The Rebels will likely face Missouri in the quarterfinals. If they can win that game they should get a shot at Kentucky in what could be a play-in game. It’s a long shot. But stranger things have happened.
No. 12 South Carolina (-1) vs. No. 13 Mississippi State (7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 13)
These are by far the two worst teams in the SEC and two of the worst teams in BCS basketball. The Bulldogs head to Tennessee with just nine scholarship players, and they have been overmatched and outmanned all season long. They lost 13 straight games from Jan. 16 to Feb. 27. But somehow Miss State has won two of three, upsetting Ole Miss and beating feeble Auburn. South Carolina has lost 10 of 12. They also upset Ole Miss, and USC’s other win came by seven points over the Bulldogs on March 6. These teams split the regular season meetings, and this game could be one of the ugliest of the week. Tennessee will bury the winner the following day.
No. 11 Texas A&M (-4.5) vs. No. 14 Auburn (10 p.m., Wednesday, March 13)
The Aggies have won 17 games this year, more than higher-seeded Vanderbilt or Georgia, but they are forced to play an opening-day game. A&M comes into its first SEC Tournament having lost four of five games, and they could be without their top player, senior guard Elston Turner. Turner, the team’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game, broke his left (non-shooting) pinky finger over the weekend and is questionable for Wednesday. Auburn has lost nine straight, and their only win in the last two months came against rival Alabama. This is a veteran Tigers squad, with three key players winding down their careers. But this team has not shown much fight to this point. They are dangerous in this game, but their stay should be short but sweet.
No. 8 Georgia (-1) vs. No. 9 LSU (1 p.m., Thursday, March 14)
The Bulldogs and Tigers are two young and talented teams whose best days are ahead of them. But neither of them is strong enough on the interior to hold up for four games. Georgia has a solid system under head coach Mark Fox, and sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is one of the best players in the Southeast. LSU relies on up-and-coming studs Johnny O’Bryant and Anthony Hickey. They lost on the road to Georgia in the first meeting and have been shaky offensively. But the Tigers have been feisty and have more options on that end of the court than UGA, which sometimes gets stuck watching Pope. Fox has won his first game in the SEC Tournament each of the last three years.
No. 7 Arkansas (-1) vs. No. 10 Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 14)
Arkansas is a dangerous team heading into this tournament. They have beaten Kentucky, Missouri, Florida and Tennessee already this year. But they have been the worst road team in the country over the last two years, and they just can’t win outside of their own gym. This young and athletic team likes to run and press, in direct opposition to the plodding game that the Commodores like to play. Both teams beat the other via blowout this year, winning on their home court. Vandy should have an edge playing in their home state. And they enter this tournament having won four of five. But Arkansas is the better team and has the two best players on the court in Marshawn Powell and B.J. Young. The winner could give Kentucky fits in the quarterfinals.
SEC Conference Tournament Predictions: This one is a total crapshoot. The bottom half of the league is pathetic and can be discarded. But even the “good” teams in the SEC are shaky. Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky and Arkansas have all had their moments this year. But none of them have done squat outside of their own gyms. Tennessee and Alabama are rock-hard teams. But both are capable of some mortifying scoring droughts. So I think that if Florida, which has by far the most talent and experience, can get past either the Vols or Crimson Tide in the semifinals then they are going to cut down the nets.
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