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It's Champ Week, arguably the best week of college hoops all season long - and as part of it, we've got wall-to-wall coverage of all the major conference tournaments.
Now it's time to move on to arguably the most competitive tournament we'll watch all week - the SEC.
The top four in the SEC all have Final Four aspirations and there two others that might - or might not be - true threats. So let's break down this week's SEC Tournament.
SEC Tournament title odds, via our partners at DraftKings Sportsbook:
Mississippi State (+5000)
Texas A&M (+7000)
South Carolina (+10000)
What to know about the favorite - Kentucky (+190)
Even though Kentucky is the No. 2 seed in this tournament behind Auburn, I do believe yes, that the right team is favored.
At this point you know everything there is to know about the Wildcats, but I really do believe that their regular season was a bit underrated. They finished 25-6 overall with four losses in the SEC. All four came on the road, to the four highest ranked teams in this bracket (at Auburn, at Tennessee, at Arkansas, at LSU) and a key player was either injured in all those games, missed the game with injury, or was immediately coming off injury.
In other words, the Wildcats didn't lose an SEC regular season game all year when fully healthy - which they are entering Tampa.
And now that they are healthy, the Wildcats bring a loaded group to Florida. They have league's Player of the Year in Oscar Tshiebwe down low, and a top 10 offense nationally, led by the league's best three-point shooting. They rank No. 1 in rebounding nationally thanks to Tshiebwe and are in the Top 35 nationally in defensive efficiency as well.
Point being, when fully locked in and operating at 100 percent, this team has no obvious weakness - the biggest reason I believe they are rightfully favored.
Does the Second Favorite Have a Shot - Auburn (+260)
Wait, does the second favorite have a shot? You mean Auburn? The team that spent a month atop the AP Polls, is the actual No. 1 seed in Tampa and is fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?
Of course they have a shot! What kind of dumb question was that!
Oh wait, I came up with the format to these articles? Ok, maybe we go easy on the insults than.
Anyway, of course Auburn can win this tournament, and it's for all the reasons listed above. Like the rest of the top four they have a bye into the quarterfinals, where they will face Florida or Texas A&M, with Florida serving as a potential revenge game (the Gators barely snuck by the Tigers a few weeks ago at the ODome). Then there's LSU or Arkansas in the semi's, one team they beat, and one team they lost to in overtime on the road. Of course, in the final there's a likely matchup with Kentucky or Tennesse, but at this point who really knows.
Yes, there are flaws with Auburn (mainly inconsistency in the backcourt).
But the same things that allowed them to be No. 1 in the country for most of this season - mainly two guys named "Walker Kessler" and "Jabari Smith" - are the same reasons that the Tigers can absolutely win their second SEC Tournament in the last four years.
Best Value: Arkansas (+750)
I'll be the first to admit that I don't love Arkansas's path in Tampa (and I know many Hogs fans don't), a point we'll get into in a minute. But there were four teams that were clearly better than the rest all season long in this league, and the Hogs were one. Considering the odds are twice as good as the other three atop the league standings, this is about as good a value as you can ask for.
Now as for that path, it won't be easy. The Hogs will likely get LSU in the opener, a team they barely beat just a week ago at Bud Walton Arena. As the old saying goes "it's hard to beat a team three times in a season" and that's what Arkansas could be tasked to do in the league quarterfinals. After that would be a likely matchup with Auburn in the semi's; yes Arkansas beat the Tigers earlier this year, but it was in an all out brawl at home, and this game clearly won't be there.
At the same time, the Hogs can absolutely win this tournament, which is more than about 9-10 teams in this bracket can say. They'll do it with the same blueprint they used all year, as they're one of the top defensive teams in the country, and put pressure on your defense all game long, leading the nation in steals.
Getting the Hogs at +750 is a steal.
Stay Away: Alabama (+1500)
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Look, I could give you a million reasons why you need to stay away from Alabama, but really, all I should really have to say is, have you watched them the last few months? The Tide are 8-9 overall since January 5th, with losses to some of the worst teams in this league (at Georgia, at Missouri), all while their shooting has dropped precipitously from last year (from 35 percent makes from behind the arc to 31) and their defense has also gotten worse too (they fell from 17th in defensive efficiency to 234th).
Seriously, just read that last paragraph again: Below .500 in the last two calendar months. Shooting is way down and defense is way worse than last year's SEC regular season and title runs. What else do I need to say?
By the way, you know things are bad when even the opposition isn't scared of you and is actually seeking to play you.
Just stay away from the Tide.
The Pick: Kentucky (+190)
I know the odds aren't great, and you can certainly get someone with better value. But if you're asking me who I think is going to win this tournament? Well, let's just say I think the right team is favored.
To be blunt, I think any of the top four could win the whole thing, but if you're asking me to pick a winner, I think it's the Wildcats. They're the most balanced, and are one of the few teams in the country that - when healthy - has no real weakness that I can see.
And that last part is important: Guess is who fully healthy for one of the few times this season? It's the Wildcats entering this tournament.
In some ways I think Tennessee is probably the team that matches up best with the Wildcats, and I wouldn't be shocked if a presumed Saturday matchup has a Final Four feel to it. A matchup with either Arkansas or Auburn in the final won't be easy, but Kentucky played each tough, on the road, at less than 100 percent strength when they met in the regular season.
Again, I truly believe any of the top four can win this thing.
But if I had to take one, give me the Cats to take home the title Sunday in Tampa.
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