2014 SEC Predictions and College Basketball Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 11/11/2014
Love them or hate them, Kentucky is the best team in college basketball.
The hype surrounding Kentucky heading into last season was comical. They were posted as the clear-cut favorite to cut down the nets in Arlington, and some idiots in the bobblehead media were having preseason discussions about whether or not Kentucky could go undefeated. It was asinine. And I was one of the only college basketball analysts in the country tabbing them as a sucker bet to win a national title.
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I was right about Kentucky last year. Yes, they made the Final Four and were the national runners-up. But they were only a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it took a miracle tournament run - marked by numerous last-second, buzzing-beating jumpers - to make it to the Final Four. Kentucky was overrated last year. And you don't need to look any further than a weak 10-16 record against the spread and that tournament seed to figure that out.
But Kentucky isn't overrated this year. This year they are just nasty.
The Wildcats enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country in both the AP Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Kentucky has the best odds of winning the national championship this season, and their -300 odds to win the SEC are the strongest for any potential conference champion. Once again, this team is expected to be a juggernaut.
No one in the SEC will challenge this group of Wildcats for the league title. You can get that out of your head right now. The only question that remains is whether or not Kentucky can run the table in this second-rate football league pretending to be a major basketball conference. Kentucky went 16-0 in SEC play in 2012, and Florida set a league record by going 18-0 last season. I feel like the SEC has more parity, and, on the whole, is a better conference this season. But at the end of the day I will predict that Kentucky goes 18-0 and wins the SEC in a walk.
Here is Doc's Sports 2014-15 SEC Conference college basketball predictions (with odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: Kentucky (-300)
The Wildcats are massive. They are absolutely massive, and no other team in the country can match their size and athleticism in the post. Kentucky has four guys - FOUR - that are 6-foot-10 or taller. Three of them, sophomore Dakari Johnson and freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles, were McDonald's All-Americans and the fourth, junior Willie Cauley-Stein, is a three-year starter. Kentucky's starting guards, the Harrison twins, are both 6-6, and they have a 6-8 swingman (Alex Poythress) that can jump out of the gym. Oh, yeah, and another 6-5 McDonald's All-American, Devin Booker, that will also push for time. This team was able to work on its chemistry this summer with a three-game tour in the Bahamas, and they dominated all three opponents. The Wildcats are simply men amongst boys. They are just too big and too strong to be stopped. I still don't know that the Wildcats will go undefeated this season overall. They are young. And they have tough nonconference games against Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Louisville. But they are as clear-cut of a national title favorite as I can remember in recent seasons and should wreck people most of the year. The unfortunate thing is that Kentucky is so dominant that there will be almost zero value betting on this team because the sportsbooks will be setting each of their spreads astronomically high.
The Challenger: None
There is literally no challenger to the Wildcats in the SEC. None. I am not even going to pretend that anyone else has a chance to win this conference.
The Dark Horse: Florida (+250)
Florida is the defending SEC champion, and they also made it to the Final Four last March. The Gators have clearly been the best basketball program in the SEC over the last 15 years, and Billy Donovan has restocked his roster with talent as well. However, Florida's newcomers are not as good as Kentucky's. And they are not as big either. Florida has an athletic roster. But even they won't be able to hold off Kentucky in the paint. Also, UK has a major advantage because their guards will be much more experienced than Florida's. The Gators will lean on junior Michael Frazier and Rutgers transfer Eli Carter to do the damage in the backcourt. They are hoping for a sophomore surge from Kasey Hill as well. Florida will have a solid four-man rotation in the post, with holdovers Dorian Finney-Smith and Chris Walker paving the way for freshman Devin Robinson and Michigan transfer Jon Horford. Chemistry is going to take some time with this group. Florida's additions don't nearly make up for its subtractions this offseason. They are No. 7 in both polls, and I think Donovan will craft them into a good team. But I think the Gators are horribly overrated heading into the season, and this team has a lot of work to do.
The X-Factor: Arkansas (+500)
Arkansas has been one of the easiest teams in the country to handicap over the last two years: bet on them at home and bet against them on the road. Maybe no team in the country has had as severe home-road splits the past two seasons as the Razorbacks. They nearly swept Florida and Kentucky in a three-day span last January at home. But they also lost by 16 at Texas A&M and by 25 at Alabama. That Alabama loss, coupled with another disappointing neutral-site loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, are what kept the Razorbacks out of The Big Dance last year. But with three returning starters and some key bench pieces, this looks like a team that's capable of snapping that NCAA Tournament drought. It starts with guards Michael Qualls and Ky Madden, who combined for 24 points per game last year. Big man Bobby Portis can play with any post player in the league, and super-sub Alandise Harris is another athletic body in the post. Arkansas loves to press, trap and play up-tempo in Mike Anderson's scheme. And when they get rolling from 3-point range and on the defensive end in Bud Walton Arena, they can overwhelm opponents. But the Razorbacks won't be a factor until they can carry that same intensity on the road.
The Disappointment: Missouri (+1000)
I think that these odds are ridiculous for the Tigers. No one actually thinks that Missouri is going to win the SEC this year. But these odds are actually No. 6 in the league and right behind Georgia (+800) and LSU (+800). Missouri isn't even close to being the fourth-best team in the SEC, but their odds aren't that far off from making that claim. Frank Haith bolted from Columbia just two weeks after last season ended to take the job at Tulsa. That is a major step down. But Haith could see the direction this program was headed and wanted to skip town before things got ugly. Now the Tigers will break in a new coach, Kim Anderson, and will attempt to do so without their three top scorers - who combined to average 51.4 points per game. In fact, two departed guards Jabari Brown (19.9 PPG) and Jordan Clarkson (17.5) averaged more points on their own than the combined average of the six guys that the Tigers have returning this year (17.4). Missouri has a lot of new faces, including three transfers that will be counted on right away. Sophomore John Williams III has some potential. And Haith left Top 50 recruit Jakeenan Gant behind to pair with Williams at forward. But other than that, the cupboard is pretty bare. From 2009-2013 Mizzou had a streak of five straight NCAA Tournament berths, including a No. 2 seed in 2012. But it has been downhill since that stunning loss to Norfolk State. The Tigers were blown out in the opening round in 2013 and missed the tournament completely last March. I don't think they have hit bottom yet.
Alabama (+2000) - Anthony Grant has put so much focus on finding athletic players that can execute his Havoc-style defense that I think he forgot Alabama needs to score to win. The Tide was one of the most disappointing teams in the country last year, going just 13-19, and Grant has missed the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. Star point guard Trevor Releford graduated, and Alabama desperately needs Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant to fill that production gap. The Tide also has to hope that one of its young guards can step forward and knock down some shots, as Alabama was once again in the bottom half of college basketball in shooting and scoring. Alabama can defend, and they are fearless. They could be overlooked going into the season. But unless they sacrifice a little defense for offense, they won't top anything but mediocre again this year.
LSU (+800) - I like coach Johnny Jones. He does a good job developing players and has a nice little double-post system. But LSU is getting a lot of buzz heading into the season, and I don't really see it. The Tigers lost four of their six best players from last year, including stud forward Johnny O'Bryant. They have a top recruit in Elbert Robinson, and sophomores Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin are beasts. But they're young. And where are the guards? Keith Hornsby is a nice addition, but he's a transfer that's stepping way up in class. Overall I just don't see enough good guard play for this team to be a legitimate contender, and I think they'll be a disappointment.
Mississippi (+1000) - Unfortunately, the Marshall Henderson Era is over. (I think a rule should be made granting Henderson infinite college eligibility, but I think I'm in the minority.) Now the Rebels and Andy Kennedy will have to move on without its leading scorer but with much more stability. Underrated Jarvis Summers is the new go-to guy. He doesn't have a lot of proven talent - or talent at all - around him. But the Rebels are kind of a system team, and his flex-motion offense is a bit of a plug-and-play system. The Rebels were perfectly mediocre last season, and I think that is where they are headed this season unless the upperclassmen-laden roster finds another gear.
Tennessee (+1000) - Seven years ago the Volunteers fans successfully led the ouster of Phil Fulmer, and they have not been the least bit relevant in college football since then. I think Volunteer Fan has just condemned their basketball team to the same fate with the purge of Cuonzo Martin. Martin is out, and former Morehead State and Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall is in. Tyndall will be charged with a complete rebuild in Knoxville. They lost four of their five top players, and just one guy currently on the roster averaged more than five points per game (Josh Richardson). The Vols are in for a long season unless some of their freshmen or JUCO transfers are much better than anyone expects.
Georgia (+800) - Believe it or not, but no team in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Florida has sent as many players to the NBA over the last four years as Georgia. Early entries have crushed any attempt that Mark Fox has made to vault this program to the league's top tier. Fox didn't lose anyone early this offseason, though, and he has four starters back from a team that went 12-6 in the league and won 20 games last winter. Guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann are both three-year starters, as is forward Marcus Thornton. They know Fox's intricate offense inside and out and are one of the few lower-tier teams in the SEC that has the system and the skill to potentially knock off the better teams in the league. Keep an eye on Gaines' status. He has missed a lot of time leading up to the season with an undisclosed "illness," and if he isn't at full strength this year then Georgia's prospects certainly dim.
Texas A&M (+3000) - Billy Kennedy has had three seasons to get things going in College Station, and he is entering a critical put-up-or-shut-up season. Kennedy has four starters back from last year's perfectly blah team, and if a burst of wins is coming from this program I certainly don't see it. Perhaps no one on the roster best exemplifies the mediocrity of this program than fifth-year senior and third-year starter Kourtney Roberson. Roberson averaged 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds last year, and he's about the best that they have to work with. He's one of only two seniors on the roster, so this is a young team. But if Kennedy can't keep his record above .500 (he is 50-49 at A&M), he may not stick around long enough to develop his young recruits.
Vanderbilt (+1200) - Kevin Stallings went 15-16 last year, including 7-11 in the SEC, and I thought he did one of the best coaching jobs in the country. Vanderbilt had one of the worst rosters in the nation last season, thanks in part to transfers, injuries and suspensions, and at one point the Commodores only had seven scholarship players - and nine players total - on the team. Vandy's two top scorers graduated, but I can't help but think that this team will be better this season simply because the talent level can't be any worse than 2013. Stallings is another system guy. His teams play tough defense and run some outstanding sets on offense. He doesn't have the talent to be a factor in the SEC this year. But after watching the magic he wove last year, I'm not in a rush to bet against him.
Auburn (+5000) - Bruce Pearl has brought his trademark enthusiasm to Auburn and is looking to give a jolt to a moribund basketball program. He has completely overhauled the Tigers roster, and until I actually see this team play it's a little tough to level any expectations. We know that Pearl's teams are going to press and run, and we know that they will blend flash and flair with inconsistency and sloppiness. Transfers K.C. Ross-Miller and Antoine Mason could be immediate difference-makers. Auburn will have three or four good guards to choose from, but they are inept in the post. I expect plenty of blowouts, on one side or the other, for this team, and they should show some incremental progress in Pearl's first attempt.
South Carolina (+1500) - Frank Martin's scowl will be back on the sideline in Columbia, and his third USC team should be his best. The Gamecocks were dealt with a load of injury issues last season, but everyone seems healthy and prepared entering the year. USC has four of five starters back and two other players with starting experience. The key for this team will be the play of the lone senior on the roster: Tyrone Johnson. He transferred in from Villanova and will be expected to replace leading scorer Brenton Williams' lost production. If Johnson can provide some leadership and a clutch shot or 12 then this is a team that I can see making a jump in the standings.
Mississippi State (+5000) - This program is a dumpster fire. Rick Ray has gone 7-29 in league play in his first two seasons at the helm, and the Bulldogs have had to overcome all manner of injury, suspension, and eligibility issues over the last 24 months. This season appears to be more of the same. Craig Sword, the team's leading returning scorer and one real player, is out until Christmas due to back surgery, and key transfer Johnny Zuppardo is done for the year after tearing his ACL. The Bulldogs will be pathetic again this year.
Projected SEC Standings:
8. South Carolina
9. Texas A&M
14. Mississippi State
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unmatched streak of six straight winning college basketball seasons. His $100-per-Unit clients banked $10,890 in profit with his sides and totals last year and he has raked in a remarkable $55,300 in the last eight years with his nonconference picks alone. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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