Today we continue our breakdown of the major Men’s College Basketball Conferences as we focus on the South Eastern Conference. The SEC is again loaded with quality teams, but in a rare twist, the league doesn’t have a single team ranked above number ten in the preseason AP Poll. The Kentucky Wildcats lead the way in the SEC this year, as they do most years, and they are the highest-ranked team in the league in the preseason, coming in at 10th.

The Volunteers of Tennessee are right behind Kentucky, as they are ranked 12th, and no other team made the top-25. That being said, the conference did have several teams finish in the also receiving votes category, with LSU, Florida, Alabama, and Auburn all receiving votes. I know we are all used to seeing an SEC team in the top-5, and it is somewhat shocking that they only have two teams in the top-25, but don’t sleep on the SEC, as this is a very talented league.

In this article, we are going to breakdown the favorites, the contenders, and the longshots in the league and give you one team to bet from each tier. We will kick off the conversation by taking a look at John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. Let’s get started!

The Favorites

The upper echelon of the SEC isn’t quite as elite this season as we have grown accustomed to over the last several years. With teams like Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, and Florida regularly finding themselves near the top of the polls in recent years, no one team sticks out as a National Champion favorite from the league in 2021. But make no mistake, each of these top-tiered favorites are threats to make a run all the way to the Final Four!

Kentucky Wildcats (+160)

No team was hit harder than Kentucky was in terms of losing talent as they lost several players to the NBA, including standouts EJ Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, Tyrese Maxey, and Ashton Hagans. The Wildcats will once again rely upon the play of star freshman this season. I know, shocker, right? John Calipari is amongst the best recruiters in the game, and this year the centerpiece of his efforts is five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, BJ Boston.

Boston is joined by fellow five-star recruit Terrence Clarke and four-star freshman Isaiah Jackson, Devin Askew, Lance Ware, and Cam’Ron Fletcher to make up the nation’s top recruiting class. It is a complete rebuild at Kentucky, but that is nothing new for Calipari as it seems like every year he losses a host of players to the NBA draft, only to replace them with another group of young superstars in the making.

It won’t be all young guys on the floor for Kentucky this year, though, as they picked up Olivier Sarr from Wake Forrest and Davion Mintz from Creighton through transfers. We have seen this same song and dance out of Kentucky many times. Sometimes it ends with a national title, sometimes it ends in disaster. Does anyone remember 2013? This team is uber-athletic, and they have as much talent as any team in the country, but with so many question marks and so much talent to replace, I can’t back the Wildcats as the betting favorites.

Tennessee Volunteers (+255)

Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers had a down year last year, winning just 17 games and going 9-9 in the SEC. But when you look at their roster this year, they bring back a lot of talent, and they add in a couple of top-flight freshmen as well. The Volunteers return the reigning SEC defensive player of the year Yves Pons, as well as All-SEC second-teamer John Fulkerson to anchor what I see as the deepest team in the league.

Barnes brought in not one but two five-star freshmen in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. Both guys are expected to be big parts of the rotation from day one, and their addition to this roster gives Barnes the most talented team he has had in Knoxville. And that is saying a lot as Barnes is just two years removed from a 31-win season that ended with a trip to the Sweet 16.

The sky is the limit for this team, and I see them as a legit Final Four caliber squad. The Wildcats are going to be tough to contend with as both teams are crazy athletic, but at the end of the day, the experience the Volunteers have makes me lean towards the Vols as regular-season champs in the SEC. Tennessee is my top play in this tier of favorites.

LSU Tigers (+400)

Last season, the LSU Tigers looked like a national title threat when they started the season out by winning 17 of their first 21 games. That run included an 8-0 start in the SEC. The back half of SEC play wasn’t kind to the Tigers, though, as they finished the year out by losing 6 out of their last 10 games. The Tigers were still locks to be dancing in March, had the selection committee gotten to announce the field, but opinions were mixed on just how good the team actually was last year.

This year that is again the case, as some people see this team as an SEC favorite, while others see them as a fringe top-25 team. I love Will Wade, and this team will be deeper than last year’s squad, but I don’t see them actually competing with Tennessee and Kentucky at the top of the conference. UCLA transfer Shareef O’Neal will try and follow in his dad’s footsteps in Baton Rouge, but while he has daddy’s last name, he doesn’t have his game, and I don’t see this team finishing much better than 3rd in the league at best.

Florida Gators (+700)

I am going to be honest here, I was hesitant to even put the Gators in this top tier of teams, as I just don’t think they are on the same levels as the rest of this group. Last year, they were super disappointing as they entered the season in the top-5 and only managed to win 19 games. This year, they have to replace Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Andrew Nembhard, two of their best players from a year ago, and I am not sure they are going to be able to make up for those losses.

There is ample talent in Gainesville with All-SEC first-team big man Keyontae Johnson and small forward Scottie Lewis returning, and a slew of quality transfers that are expected to contribute right away. The problem for me is that this team has less talent than last year’s underachieving squad, and head coach Michael White might not be the right guy to lead this program.

White took the Gators to the Elite 8 in his second year with the team in 2017, but since then, he has averaged just 20 wins a year, and the Gators have yet to make a return appearance to the second weekend of March Madness. Expect more mediocrity out of White and his Gators this season.

The Contenders

Now that we have talked about the best the SEC has to offer, we will take a step down and evaluate this next tier of teams. There are some dark horse teams in this second group, and while Kentucky and Tennessee seem to have a stranglehold on the top of the standings at the outset of the season, don’t be shocked if one of these lower-rated teams makes a run to contention and gives the Wildcats and the Vols all they can handle.

Arkansas Razorbacks (+1200)

The day that the Arkansas Razorbacks wrestled Eric Musselman away from Nevada was the day that they became championship contenders in the SEC. Musselman turned the Wolfpack into juggernauts in the MWC, and in his first season leading the Razorbacks, he found a way to win 20 games. This year, he will have to recover from a lot of lost talent as Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe are both gone, but Arkansas still has a very talented roster.

Musselman added a bunch of talent through the transfer portal, as he brought in Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky), Justin Smith (Indiana), JD Notae (Jacksonville), Vance Jackson (New Mexico), Connor Vanover (California), and Abayomi Iyiola (Stetson). He also showed that he can recruit down south as the Razorbacks had the 8th best class in the country this year, headlined by four-star guys Moses Moody and KK Robinson.

Usually, it takes a new coach several years to get their type of player on the floor, but with this entire roster turning over, Musselman gets to play his brand of basketball early in his tenure in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks are scheduled light in the non-conference this season and don’t be shocked if they hit league play undefeated and ranked in the top-25. Arkansas is a high-value play at +1200.

South Carolina Gamecocks (+1500)

They say that a team is a direct reflection of their head coach, and I am sure there is a team that embodies their leader’s persona more than the South Carolina Gamecocks. Frank Martin is a hard-nosed, tough guy, and so are his Gamecocks. They don’t have the top-line talent like some of these other SEC teams, but these kids play hard, and when you punch them in the nose, they punch back.

USC has used that physical play to win double-digit games in the league in four out of the last five years and managed a run to the Final Four back in 2017. South Carolina is never an overly sexy pick to win games in the SEC, yet they always seem to win more than they lose. This year the Cocks are limited as they are without Maik Kotsar, their best player from last year. I won’t fall into the trap of doubting Martin and South Carolina, but I don’t think they have enough talent to actually win the league this year, so I will pass on them at this price.

Alabama Crimson Tide (+2000)

Alabama head coach Nate Oats had a tough first season in Tuscaloosa as his team was ravaged by injuries. After being a dark horse pick to win the SEC in 2020, his team finished just 16-15 with a losing record in league play. But this team is healthy now and is loaded with talent. Oats rose to fame by leading Buffalo to a 59-13 record and back to back trips to the Big Dance in his final two seasons at the helm. And now that he is coaching in a power conference, he is recruiting with the big boys.

Oats finished with the 11th best-recruiting class in the country this year, and while the freshman provide a lot of depth and upside, the guy I have my eye on is Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly. Quinerly was a five-star recruit coming out of high school but never got many minutes at guard-heavy Villanova.

He will have some big shoes to fill at ‘Bama as he will replace the Tides best player Kira Lewis. The upside on this team is enormous, and Nate Oats is a great coach. I am conflicted on who to back in his tier between Arkansas and Alabama, but with the Tide paying out higher odds, I will roll with the Tide.

Auburn Tigers (+4000)

The Auburn Tigers could have been a Final Four team last year. They won 25-games and had one of the most experienced lineups in the nation. But most of those kids graduated last year, and the Tigers are left to pick up the pieces this year. But there is reason to be optimistic as they bring in McDonald’s All American and five-star recruit Sharife Cooper. Bruce Pearl also added another top-50 recruit in JT Thor.

It is a hard transition to go from a senior-led team to one that needs freshman to be your best players, but when the freshman are this good, Auburn just might have a chance to finish near the top of the SEC standings. Similar to Kentucky, there is all kinds of talent on the floor for Auburn, but with so many moving ices, I am going to have to play wait and see on the Tigers.

Missouri Tigers (+4000)

The Tigers of Missouri weren’t a very good basketball team last season. They finished with a losing record on the year and went just 7-11 in SEC play. They played a very slow tempo on offense and were one of the least efficient scoring teams in the SEC. Their biggest struggle came from beyond the arc, as they finished 326th in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, making less than 30% of their shots from deep.

This year they return basically everything, and you have to think that they are going to be improved with all that experience coming back. But when you look at how poor they were last year shooting the rock, I am not sure if Missouri fans are all that excited to see these same guys run it back. Kenpom seems to think this team will be better than most people do, as they have the Tigers finishing 9-9 in the SEC. If Missouri can find a way to live up to those expectations, they could be an NCAA tournament bubble team.

Ole Miss Rebels (+5000)

Ole Miss should be one of the most improved teams in the SEC this year. The Rebels were awful last year in conference play, particularly on the road, where they went 1-8. Only Georgia and Vanderbilt finished with more league losses than the Rebels twelve. But his year, they added significant talent by bringing in transfers Romello White (Arizona State), Jarkell Joiner (Cal State Bakersfield), and Dimencio Vaughn (Rider).

White is the headliner, as he was one of the top grad transfers available and was a big get for Mississippi. At Arizona State, White was a monster in the paint and one of the best rebounders in the PAC-12. All three transfer are upperclassman and join incumbent senior Devontae Shuler to give the Rebels one of the most experienced starting lineups in the league. You can expect a lot more wins for Mississippi this year, but a run to the regular-season title is likely well out of reach.

The Longshots

In most major conferences, the teams in the bottom quarter of the standings are still at least somewhat serviceable. I’m not sure that is the case this year in the SEC, as these cellar dwellers are going to really struggle to stay competitive in conference play.

Texas A&M Aggies (+10000)

Buzz Williams is a winner. This guy has won everywhere he has been, and with him running the show in College Station, the Aggies are a program on the rise. Williams has taken a team to the NCAA tournament in 8 out of the last 11 years, and both Marquette and Virginia Tech were in better places when he left than they were when he took over. Buzz doesn’t have the talent this year to actually compete, but he led them to a 10-8 SEC record last year and could end up with a winning record in league play this year, which might be enough to send the Aggie’s dancing.

Georgia Bulldogs (+15000)

How bad of shape is this Georgia Bulldogs program in right now? Well, they had this year’s top NBA draft pick, Anthony Edwards, last year, and they still went 5-13 in the SEC. When you have a player that gets taken number one overall, and you can’t even win at least your home games in league play, your team is in a bad way. Tom Crean will turn things around eventually, but it won’t be this year.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (+20000)

Similar to Buzz Williams, Ben Howland just wins basketball games, no matter where he is coaching. Howland has averaged 23 wins a season in his last three years in Starkville but got gutted with players leaving early for the NBA draft, as he lost three of his best from last year. I never like to doubt Howland, as he has taken four different teams to the NCAA tournament and has multiple Final Four appearances on his resume, but this isn’t his year.

Vanderbilt Commodores (+30000)

The Vanderbilt Commodores hadn’t won a league game in two years before last season. Jerry Stackhouse took over the program and managed to win three league games. Sadly, when the state of your program is such that winning three games in league play is something to be celebrated, you are a long way away from being competitive. Having a former NBA star on the sidelines is going to be great for recruiting, and this program is trending in the right direction, but Vanderbilt finished dead last in 2020 and will do the same in 2021.

Wrap Up

The SEC is a league that has a lot of talented players and coaches, and while none of these teams are considered elite at this point of the year, it won’t be remotely surprising to see several of these teams still playing on the second weekend of March Madness. Thanks for reading and make sure that you check out TheSportsGeek’s college hoops page where we bring you fee daily betting picks each and every day of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball season!