The SEC has not had the winner of the NCAA Tournament since the Kentucky Wildcats cut down the nets in 2014 behind Most Outstanding Player Anthony Davis. This year, the Wildcats are back in the mix as one of the top choices on the college basketball betting board at +775 while another team in the conference has even lower March Madness odds – the Tennessee Volunteers at +750.
Tennessee fell 86-69 as a 3.5-point road underdog at Kentucky in the first meeting of the season last Saturday, with the rematch set for Knoxville on March 2. The fifth-ranked Volunteers are still viewed as a slightly better team by oddsmakers thanks to a school-record 19-game winning streak prior to that defeat that included a 76-73 upset of the previously top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs as 3.5-point underdogs on the college basketball betting lines on December 9.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats also fell 73-71 to the 13th-ranked LSU Tigers as 8.5-point home favorites right before beating Tennessee for their second conference loss. The Tigers and Volunteers each only had one setback in SEC play heading into Wednesday’s action, so it looks like it will be those three teams battling for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament over the last two weeks of the regular season.
LSU has the most value of any SEC team on the odds to win the NCAA Tournament right now at +7500, although that would likely drop dramatically with an upset of Tennessee at home on Saturday. The Tigers have a relatively easy schedule down the stretch as well, playing four of their final six games at home, including that matchup with the Vols, and road visits to the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide remaining in the last week.
However, after those top three teams, it is a mystery as to which other SEC schools will be able to make the Big Dance this year. The Ole Miss Rebels, Auburn Tigers and Mississippi State Bulldogs all have a shot to win 20 games and finish with a winning conference mark, and doing both should be enough to get them invited to the NCAA Tournament as at-large teams. Auburn has the lowest March Madness odds of that group at +5500 followed by Mississippi State at +10000 while Ole Miss is not even on the board.
The Tigers may be a sleeper team under head coach Bruce Pearl if they can just find their way into the Big Dance, as they have obviously underachieved up until this point. Auburn was ranked No. 11 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll but had gone just 4-5 straight up and against the spread in its last nine games before Wednesday. The Tigers earned a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region of last year’s NCAA Tournament prior to losing to the fifth-seeded Clemson Tigers 84-53 in the second round. While they have been unable to duplicate that success this season, they may be dangerous in March.
The Bulldogs are another team to watch since they were ranked 18th in the preseason and have started playing better recently after losing three of four. But they suspended starting guard Nick Weatherspoon indefinitely due to a violation of team rules following an 81-62 rout of the Crimson Tide on February 12, so that loss could hurt their chances.
Alabama and Florida are two teams with a lot of work to do in order to get back to the Big Dance since both have double-digit losses and are hovering around the .500 mark in the SEC. The Gators picked up a huge 71-53 victory against the Crimson Tide as 3.5-point road underdogs on the college basketball betting lines last Saturday, and that head-to-head win may be the difference.