2018 SEC Basketball Predictions and Expert Betting Picks
I live in the South. So I can say this with total and absolute certainty: no one in the SEC gives a damn about college basketball. No one. Not at all. Not even a little bit.
I'm not kidding when I say that average fans can reel off their favorite college football team's schedule on command. But those same fans are oblivious to little things like when the NCAA Tournament starts.
Because of that, it is somewhat of a shame that the SEC may be - at least for this season - the best college basketball conference in the country. That's not shameful for the SEC. That's great. What is shameful is that this league has cycled through from being objectively awful from 2012-2016 to now being one of the premier leagues in the country.
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The SEC sent a league-record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament last season. And they could possibly match that this year, with Kentucky as a legit national title contender and five teams in the Preseason AP Top 25. I am predicting seven teams to make The Big Dance, and it should be another thrilling title race as Kentucky is not as far ahead of the field as some people believe.
Here are Doc's Sports 2018-19 SEC basketball predictions:
The Favorite: Kentucky
John Calipari once again opened the door and watched a mass exodus of talented young players leave Kentucky after last season. Seven players went pro or transferred. And Coach Cal simply shrugged it off and rebuilt his team with five more star recruits, most of whom will be one-and-done players. In fact, this year's team is considered "experienced" because it welcomes back three sophomores that got time last year. UK is also excited to welcome in a rare senior transfer as Reid Travis brings 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds, along with a bulldog mentality, into the post for the Wildcats. Kentucky hasn't won a national title since 2012. And Coach Cal has only one title in now his ninth season in Lexington. That seems a little light considering that this team routinely starts the season in the Top 5. I don't expect this year's team to be a national title contender. But they should be pretty good.
The Challenger: Tennessee
Rick Barnes was (deservedly) cast out of Texas after several underachieving seasons with the Longhorns. But he has revitalized himself and the Volunteers while doing fantastic work in Knoxville. Tennessee has been a big-time overachiever each of the last two seasons, including a regular-season SEC title and No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year. The Vols have all five starters and six of their top eight players back this season as they try to defend their crown. Grant Williams was the league player of the year as a sophomore, and wing Admiral Schofield can do a bit of everything. None of the Vols stars were highly-coveted recruits. And Barnes has tapped into their savvy and heart to create a winning bunch. However, their ceiling isn't nearly as high as some other teams in this league exactly because they lack high-end talent.
The Dark Horse: Mississippi State
This is a huge season for Ben Howland. He has painstakingly rebuilt this Bulldogs program after Rick Ray torpedoed it earlier in the decade. And now in Year 4 Howland has the right blend of talent and experience to get Mississippi State back to The Big Dance. Quinndary Weatherspoon is a four-year starter and all-league talent. Point guard Lamar Peters, centers Aric Holman and Abdul Ado, and wings Nick Weatherspoon and Tyson Carter are talented, experienced running mates. And the addition of McDonald's All-American Reggie Perry in the post means that the Bulldogs have as much talent as any team on their schedule. The trick is going to be making more outside shots (they are one of the worst shooting teams in the nation) and finding ways to win big games after years in the SEC basement.
The X-Factor: LSU
Will Wade's first year has to be considered a success just because it wasn't as big of a disaster as most people expected. LSU actually had a winning record despite a serious lack of talent. Talent won't be an issue this year. Wade scored one of the Top 5 recruiting classes in the country, welcoming in four Top 100 recruits. He also added former Oregon big man Kavell Bigby-Williams. And these newcomers will team up with elite point guard Tremont Waters and three-year starter Skylar Mays. Wade has a team stocked with size, athleticism and talent. What they don't have is experience or cohesion. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers get all these pieces to fit together. And if they do - watch out.
The Disappointment: Auburn
Last year the Tigers were forced to play without Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley, their two best (and only) big men, for the entire season. I honestly believe that if they had had those two post players that they could've won the National Championship. They enter this season at No. 11 and are supposed to contend with Kentucky and Tennessee atop the conference. However, they are making a big shift from last year's guard-oriented attack to this year's post-heavy approach. They still have Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, so they will still be good (especially when Purifoy, Wiley and Anfernee McLemore are all healthy and playing together). But I don't think that this team will be anywhere near as good as they were last year, when they started 21-2 and were No. 8 in the country. Bruce Pearl teams are always talented but also notoriously erratic and underachieving. Be careful with this group.
Vanderbilt - Bryce Drew did what he could with his undersized and overmatched group last year. But the Commodores were generally noncompetitive in SEC play. Drew lost his starting backcourt and his three best players. With four freshmen, including blue chips Darius Garland and Simi Shittu, and four sophomores likely to get a lot of minutes, things can definitely get worse before they get better in Nashville.
Florida - I almost used Florida as the X-Factor in the SEC. Last year they were either really, really good (like when they beat Gonzaga and Cincinnati and swept Kentucky) or really, really bad (losing to Ole Miss, Georgia and Vanderbilt in SEC play). Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen are legit scores, and freshman guard Andrew Nembhard is a Top 40 recruit. As usual, this team will have size and athleticism (though not skill) in the post. Mike White has some raw pieces and some work to do. But if players develop, this team could crash the top tier of the league.
Georgia - I thought that Tom Crean was a nice hire for the Bulldogs, who simply couldn't get over the hump with Mark Fox and who have been passed by a lot of SEC hoops programs. Crean has a veteran team to work with, starting with senior point guard Turtle Jackson and center Derek Ogbeide. Sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds is a potential breakout player. There is enough here for Crean to keep these guys just competitive enough to cover some inflated spreads but not competitive enough to pull a bunch of upsets.
Texas A&M - Despite a massive frontcourt stocked with pro-caliber big men, the Aggies struggled to find any consistency last year. They were lucky to make the NCAA Tournament, where they saved some face with a run to the Sweet 16. But now Billy Kennedy is forced to go back to the drawing board. The Aggies will be forced to lean on T.J. Starks and Admon Gilder this year as they take a more perimeter-oriented approach. This looks very much like a transitional season for A&M.
Alabama - I think that the Crimson Tide are a little underrated entering the season. Yes, they lost Collin Sexton. But I honestly think that his impact was somewhat overrated. And if former highly-touted recruit Tevin Mack, who transferred from Texas, can make up, say, 14 of the 19 points that Sexton scored per game, then I think the Crimson Tide will be in business. Donta Hall, Dan Giddens, Dazon Ingram and John Petty are returning starters ready to prove that last year's tournament team was more than a one-man gang.
Arkansas - There aren't many teams in the country that lost as much talent and experience as the Razorbacks. And with eight - EIGHT! - freshmen in this year's class, the Razorbacks will be one of the youngest teams in the country. Mike Anderson will try to lean on sophomore center Daniel Gafford early. But this looks like it is going to be a chaotic, ugly season for the Hogs as Anderson patiently rebuilds his program.
Missouri - The Tigers, and college basketball in general, got robbed last year when consensus No. 1 freshman Michael Porter was injured in his very first game and essentially missed the season. Cuonzo Martin still coaxed a solid season and an NCAA Tournament bid out of the Tigers. He'll try to work his magic again without Michael's brother, Jontay, who was put out for the year because of a preseason injury. But I don't see it happening. There are two or three decent pieces. But this team is in over its head this season.
South Carolina - Last year I predicted a swift and severe regression for the Gamecocks after their wild run to the 2017 Final Four. The Gamecocks finished 17-16 and missed the postseason altogether. I don't see a lot of reasons for optimism this season. Malik Kotsar and Chris Silva give the Cocks a rock-solid frontcourt. But there aren't any quality guards, and USC's "ground-and-pound" defensive approach is at odds with how the college game is being officiated and played right now. I think it will be another frustrating year for perpetually-frustrated coach Frank Martin.
Mississippi - Andy Kennedy did what he could in Oxford. But he's out after 12 seasons and two NCAA Tournament appearances at Ole Miss. Kermit Davis slides over from Middle Tennessee and will attempt to install his defensive-minded approach with this group. But the players he has to work with weren't recruited for his system. It's going to be a struggle for Davis to gain traction in these first few years. But this program still has nowhere to go but up.
Projected SEC Standings:
2. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
9. South Carolina
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 unrivaled run of 10 of 11 winning nonconference seasons and 10 of 11 winning regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked $22,330 in profit with his sides and totals the last four years alone and he has raked in a remarkable $60,200 in the last 11 years with his nonconference picks (November and December) 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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