2019 SEC Tournament Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
The transformation of the SEC from "basketball afterthought" to "basketball juggernaut" appears to be complete.
For most of the last decade, the SEC has been a bit of joke when it comes to college basketball. Especially compared to how dominant this sports-crazed league is with regards to college football. From 2009 to 2017, the SEC earned just 35 total bids to the NCAA Tournament. That's an average of fewer than four bids per season, and that's not nearly good enough for a top-tier league. Yet last season the league sent eight teams - more than twice their average - to The Big Dance, and this season appears to be set up for more of the same.
The SEC has six teams - LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, Mississippi State and Mississippi - locked in as NCAA Tournament teams. Three others, Florida, Arkansas and Alabama, are in the hunt. Tennessee and Kentucky are also battling for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA's, meaning that there is no shortage of storylines heading into the conference tournament.
The SEC Tournament will take place at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. It starts on Wednesday, March 13, and will conclude Sunday afternoon. Here is Doc's Sports 2019 SEC Tournament preview and predictions:
The Favorite: Tennessee (+190)
The Volunteers spent the heart of conference play as not only the No. 1 team in the SEC, but also the No. 1 team in the country. Tennessee started the season 23-1 before a late-season slide saw them dip back into second place. They enter the tournament off a loss at Auburn and have dropped three of seven. However, this team will be motivated and ready to roll in Nashville this week. They are playing close to home and should have great fan support. The Vols also have all of the experience that Kentucky and LSU both lack, with an upperclassmen-laden team bringing a wealth of maturity into this tournament. Tennessee lost to Kentucky in last year's SEC title game, and they should be focused on getting revenge. And if Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield continue to play at their all-SEC level, then this is definitely the team to beat in this tournament, despite being the No. 3 seed.
The Contender: Kentucky (+190)
John Calipari has his team playing its best basketball at the right time. Kentucky is 16-2 in its last 18 games, and the only losses have come against the two top teams in the league. Coach Cal's freshmen are all grown up, and the duo of Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro are good enough to carry this team to an SEC title. As a team, the Wildcats are exceptional defensively, and you know that they will have a "sea of blue" supporting them in the crowd. One thing to keep an eye on is the status of senior forward Reid Travis. He has missed the last five games with a knee sprain. I think he will be ready to play in this tournament and going forward. How effective he is, and what type of minutes he can log, is another issue. I don't know that the Wildcats can win three games in three days - including a rubber match with Tennessee in the semifinals - without Reid.
The Sleeper: LSU (+420)
It's odd for the regular-season champion and the No. 1 seed in the tournament to not be the favorite in said tournament. That's where we are at with the Tigers. LSU was the surprise champion of the SEC, topping Tennessee and Kentucky by one game. Part of that was a function of LSU's schedule, which was rated the easiest in the SEC. Another part was some good fortune in late-game situations, with the Tigers winning five SEC games in overtime. However, LSU was hit with a bomb when head coach Will Wade was suspended as the result of a recruiting probe. Freshman starter Javonte Smart may also be caught up in the ordeal, and his status is questionable. The whole episode is a massive distraction for what is one of the youngest teams in the league. LSU still has impressive size and amazing athleticism. And Wade's status wasn't a distraction when they thrashed Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale to secure the title. How this team handles this issue will be key to how they perform in Nashville.
The Spoiler: Auburn (+420)
You can never really trust a Bruce Pearl team. Yet you must always be mindful of them. Auburn began the season as a Top 10 team. They have been erratic at times, including a three-game losing streak in January. But the Tigers are coming to Nashville on a four-game winning streak and off a win over Tennessee last Saturday. Auburn has a sensational backcourt with Jared Harper and Bryce Brown leading the way. No team in the SEC shoots more 3-pointers, and if this team gets hot they are capable of blitzing their way to the championship game. Auburn caught an easy draw, with surprise No. 4 seed South Carolina waiting in the quarters. If they win there, they could get a vulnerable LSU team in the semifinals. Don't sleep on the Tigers going on a run - or flaming out.
Early-Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 8 Florida (-2.5) vs. No. 9 Arkansas (Noon, Thursday, March 14)
This isn't exactly a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament as much as it is a play-out game. The loser of this game can already start selling tickets for the NIT, while the winner will advance to take on top-seeded LSU. Florida has been incredibly streaky over the past month, sandwiching two three-game losing streaks around a five-game winning streak. Injuries have forced the Gators to play small-ball, and the Gators, despite a lack of pure shooters, have become almost solely reliant on the 3-point shot. The Razorbacks would love to play that game. This team is extremely young and has been a bit of an overachiever this season. Arkansas still doesn't play well away from home. However, they do have a big edge in this game with powerful center Daniel Gafford. Florida won't be able to match up with him. And if the Razorbacks can match Florida on the outside, then Gafford could win it for them in the post. Both of these teams have upset wins over LSU this year, so the winner could be a dangerous team in Friday's early quarterfinal game.
2019 SEC Conference Tournament Predictions: There are pitfalls waiting all over this bracket. This league is bursting with talent. But other than Tennessee and Auburn, it is all pretty young talent. I think the second-round games will feature a couple of upsets. And there are three teams - Auburn, Mississippi and Mississippi State - that are capable of springing a trap in the quarterfinals as well. I think that this tournament is Tennessee's to lose, though. I think that they would win a rubber match with Kentucky in the semifinals. And if whomever wins that game should be able to handle whichever team survives to top of the bracket. Look for the Vols to avenge last year's title game loss and cut down the nets here in front of a host of Tennessee fans.
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 posted 10 of 11 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit Conference Tournament Game of the Year next week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here .
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