SBR continues its run-up to the start of the college basketball betting season with a preview of the SEC where the Kentucky Wildcats have been tabbed as the top team.
It was business as usual during the offseason for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. Another excellent recruiting class landed in Lexington, something that has been essential for Calipari and the 'Cats the past few seasons due to so many one-&-done's making UK a short stopover before heading to the NBA.
Julius Randle and James Young each cashed in as NBA 1st-round picks following freshman seasons that saw them rank 1-2 on the team in scoring and take Kentucky all the way to the NCAA Men's Championship Game before falling to UConn. Randle and Young leave big holes, no doubt, but unlike previous years that saw Calipari basically rebuilding a new starting lineup, the Wildcats have several key freshmen from a year ago returning, and that's why they are the consensus No. 1 team entering 2014-15.
Along with being the top-ranked squad in the preseason polls, Kentucky is also at the top of the list on the College Basketball Futures Odds. The Wildcats are 3/1 to win it all next April in Indianapolis, and burdened with even chalkier odds to win the SEC Tournament at -300.
'Cats Will Be Tough Down Low
There will be times this season when the Wildcats don't have a single freshman on the floor, which is something we haven't seen at UK for a while. Juniors Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress headline an intimidating frontcourt that will give anyone they face trouble. Seven-footer Dakari Johnson is back for his sophomore season, as is Marcus Lee, and Calipari will be able to slowly work top recruits Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns into the flow.
Kentucky's backcourt isn't too shabby either after the Harrison Brothers, Andrew and Aaron, decided to come back following solid frosh showings. Sam Malone and Dominique Hawkins add depth at guard, plus Tyler Ulis is the new kid on the block.
Gators Expected To Give UK Toughest Competition In SEC
Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators are coming off an outstanding season that included a school-record 30 consecutive wins and the top overall seed in March Madness. Like Kentucky, it was UConn that ended the Gators' season and they're going to be the Wildcats' best competition in the conference once again as +250 choices on the NCAA basketball futures odds to win the SEC.
Donovan would certainly settle for a repeat of his team's results against Kentucky last season after Florida pulled off a very rare trifecta by beating the Wildcats three times, the last decision by just a point in the SEC Championship after going 18-0 in conference play during the regular season.
The Gators lost four starters from that squad after seniors Casey Prather, Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Scottie Wilbekin bid Gainesville adios. Junior DeVon Walker also won't be around following a knee injury that will sideline him for the season. But don't cry for Donovan and the Gators since they hauled in some nice recruits plus picked up a few key transfers. Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier give Florida experience in the backcourt, and Dorian Finney-Smith provides the same down low where Devin Robinson is the hot young freshman expected to make an immediate impact.
Hogs Look To Be Best Of The Rest In Conference
It would not be a surprise at all to see Kentucky and Florida make it back to the Final Four and give the SEC half of that lineup again. It also wouldn't be surprising if no other team from the conference makes it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Arkansas Razorbacks will definitely be disappointed if they aren't invited to the Big Dance after missing the last six. Mike Anderson's crew has the potential for a 6-7 seed this time, and the Hogs are fetching +500 college basketball futures odds in the SEC race.
Arkansas lost Coty Clarke and will miss his all-around play, but that's about it on the bad news front. Topping the good news is the return of guard Rashad Madden for his senior season, and likely joined in the backcourt by junior Anthlon Bell along with Michael Qualls in Anderson's fast-paced rotation. Keaton Miles, who transferred from West Virginia, plus Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley will handle paint duty.
The SEC should send at least six teams to the NCAA Tournament, with Georgia (8/1 to win conference), Missouri (10/1) Alabama (20/1) and Texas A&M (30/1) as our NCAAB Picks leading the pack behind the Wildcats, Gators and Razorbacks.