SEC BREAKDOWN, AND KENTUCKY'S STUNNING POINTSPREAD COLLAPSE!
We're about midway through our college basketball series that's designed to get you caught up with the major conferences. We've run breakdowns already for the Big Ten and the Pac 12. Over the next three days we'll knock off the SEC, Big 12, and ACC to help get you ready for some prime time TV games in those leagues. Saturday, the sixth and final major to be addressed with be the Big East because ESPN's GameDay crew is featuring a game from that conference in prime time.
Today, it's the SEC...which in recent years has mostly meant Kentucky and Florida. We've documented for a few seasons now that the SEC as a whole has been on the decline (much like the ACC in terms of depth). One could make the case that things are looking up this year. But...many SEC teams play such weak non-league schedules that you don't really know they're overrated until March Madness.
Last year in the Big Dance:
#2 seed Florida had a good run, ultimately losing to Butler in the Elite Eight round.
#4 seed Kentucky barely survived Princeton in the first round, but did ultimately take out Ohio State in the Sweet 16 round and go deep.
#5 seed Vanderbilt was upset by #12 Richmond, in a game where Vandy was only a three-point favorite to begin with because the betting markets disagreed with the bracket builders.
#9 Tennessee lost to #8 Michigan by 30 points! The game was near pick-em, but turned into a slaughter.
#10 Georgia lost in the first round to Washington, but did at least cover their spread.
So, again, Kentucky and Florida carry the SEC banner well, but nobody else turns out to be relevant. Worse, Vandy and Tennessee post embarrassing results given their seeding.
Here's the current Bracketology assessment for March of 2012 from Joe Lunardi at ESPN's website. Lunardi has five teams making the Dance, with nobody on the bubble (meaning, right now, it's going to be very hard to get a sixth team...but five is looking good if Lunardi is right.
Kentucky #1 seed
Florida #4 seed
Vanderbilt #5 seed
Alabama #7 seed
Mississippi State #7 seed
Kentucky is on the short list of national title hopefuls. Florida is always a threat to damage once teams are put in brackets. We're currently of the belief that Vandy is getting too much respect again. There's some disagreement in other places about whether or not Alabama and Mississippi State are truly that evenly matched. Ken Pomeroy, our other common source for team evaluations in these articles currently ranks Alabama at 14th in the country, but Mississippi State 56th. A soft early schedule has Mississippi State entering the week at 13-3, and Lunardi tends to respect polls over computers.
At this point, it's unlikely the other seven teams are going to matter much beyond playing the occasional spoiler. Nobody else is in Pomeroy's top 75. Only LSU, Arkansas, and Tennessee are in his top 100. So, in terms of thinking long term...it's best to focus on the big five of Kentucky, Florida, Vandy, Alabama, and Mississippi State. There are three games this week that will feature two of those teams playing each other on national TV.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES AMONGST THE SEC ELITE
Thursday: Vanderbilt at Alabama on ESPN2
Saturday: Alabama at Kentucky on CBS
Saturday: Mississippi State at Vanderbilt on ESPN2
It's pretty safe to say that the two games matching Kentucky and Florida will be the biggest regular season games this year...and the two games you should pay most attention to in terms of mapping out March Madness. Those meetings are set for February 7th in Lexington, and March 4th in Gainesville.
Let's take a quick look at recent adjusted offense and defensive rankings for these five teams so you have a better sense of what you're actually handicapping in these games! The adjusted rankings are available at Pomeroy's website...and are simply scoring adjusted for tempo and schedule strength.
Kentucky: 8th on offense, 6th on defense
Florida: 1st on offense, 97th on defense
Alabama: 63rd on offense, 5th on defense
Vanderbilt: 50th on offense, 50th on defense
Mississippi State: 46th on offense, 89th on defense
Kentucky is the only team that brings greatness to both sides of the floor. Florida has the most efficient offense in the country by Pomeroy's tempo and schedule adjusted measure. The Gators play at a relatively slow pace compared to other contenders...so it's easy to get trapped into thinking of them as a defense first team. The defense is nothing special once you adjust for tempo...but the offense is truly amazing in terms of getting the most out of their possessions.
Otherwise, you're looking at great defense for Alabama, balanced mediocrity for Vanderbilt, and a big red flag on defense for Mississippi State...who may vulture its way into the Dance thanks to a soft non-conference schedule and residing in the weaker half of the SEC.
The big pointspread news of the year in the SEC is the amazing streak currently in play at Kentucky. ESPN doesn't talk about this stuff because they don't want to "tarnish" the purity of amateur sport by discussing pointspreads. Newspapers don't pay any attention to this stuff either. If you've been late to the scene in college basketball, you may not be aware of this stunning storyline.
KENTUCKY ATS SINCE NOVEMBER 20TH
Didn't cover at -19 vs. Old Dominion
Didn't cover at -29 vs. Portland
Didn't cover at -24 vs. St. John's
Didn't cover at -6 vs. North Carolina
Didn't cover at -5 at Indiana (outright loss)
Didn't cover at -35 vs. Chattanooga
Didn't cover at -34 vs. Samford
Didn't cover at -25 vs. Loyola-Maryland
Didn't cover at -23 vs. Lamar (outlaw line)
Didn't cover at -10 vs. Louisville
Didn't cover at -27 vs. Arkansas Little Rock
Didn't cover at -21 vs. South Carolina
Didn't cover at -17 at Auburn
Didn't cover at -9 at Tennessee
That's a stunning 14 straight pointspread losses for one of the best teams in the country! Now, a few of these games landed close to the number, so you might have 13 losses and a push, or 12 losses and 2 pushes or something. But, it's something you just don't see very often in the modern markets. Kentucky is winning most of these games by impressive margins...but by not quite enough to hit the Vegas expectations.
If you're a streak player, you're already riding this one....and have been for a couple of months. If you're just finding out about it...you'd have to think it's run its course by now for the most part. Yet, math guys would have said the same thing after 5-6 games...and the streak has more than doubled since then.
Here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, we take everything into account when trying to pick poinstread winners for you...and we do that in every single conference. We focus on the majors here in the NOTEBOOK because that's who's playing in most of the big TV games...and our audience wants helpful information in games they'll be watching on TV. When you sign up for service...you'll get TV winners...but you'll also get Game of the Month, and Game of the Year caliber selections in the Missouri Valley, the Horizon, the Atlantic 10, and several other board leagues.
You can try things out online with your credit card on a day-by-day basis. Or, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 for more details about seasonal service in the colleges and the NBA.
Kentucky's next try to end their non-cover streak comes Tuesday Night in a TV game against Arkansas on ESPN. That's why we picked Tuesday for the SEC! We're looking at that game plus Michigan State-Michigan and Maryland-Florida State for possibly serious play in the colleges. NBA highlights include San Antonio at Miami and the LA Clippers at Utah.
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