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SEC Tourney Primer
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The SEC Tournament tips off Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena. Five of the 14 teams – Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State – are locks to make the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

Ole Miss is probably in good shape, slotted as a ninth seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of ‘Bracketology’ at ESPN.com. ‘Bracketville Dave’ and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports both have the Rebels seeded eighth.

Florida is a No. 11 seed according to Lunardi, but Bracketville Dave has the Gators in his Next Four Out. Palm has UF at No. 69 as the First Team Out. Therefore, the Gators certainly need to win its first-round game vs. Arkansas to feel optimistic about its at-large hopes. As for Alabama, most bracket gurus have them in the group of teams in the First Four Out or Next Four Out.

Kentucky and Tennessee were the +200 co-favorites to win the SEC Tournament (risk $100 to win $200) early Tuesday afternoon. However, by early Wednesday morning, Sportsbook.ag had the Volunteers as the +150 ‘chalk’ with UK at +180. LSU, the regular-season champion and No. 1 seed, was still at +400 odds early Wednesday morning. Of course, the Tigers will be without head coach Will Wade, who was suspended last week when – presumably on the advice of counsel – refused to meet with school officials to discuss last week’s bombshell Yahoo Sports report that included quotes allegedly used by Wade in a conversation with Christian Dawkins, who was one of many sneaker reps arrested in the federal investigation into college basketball corruption.

Wade won’t be on the sidelines and the status of freshman Ja’Vonte Smart remains in doubt. On the FBI wiretap, Wade uses the phrase, ‘The Smart Thing’ in describing a situation where it sure sounds as if he arranged for Smart's family members to be compensated. Smart, a Top-50 recruit out of Baton Rouge, was held out of last week’s regular-season finale vs. Vanderbilt.

Auburn had +450 odds Tuesday before those shifted to +550. The next-shortest odds belong to Mississippi State (12/1), Florida (16/1), Ole Miss (45/1), South Carolina (50/1), Alabama (65/1), Arkansas (65/1), Georgia (85/1), Missouri (85/1), Texas A&M (85/1) and Vanderbilt (85/1).

Let’s look at the two games scheduled for Wednesday’s Night Session.

Mizzou will take on Georgia in the event’s lid-lifter on the SEC Network at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. As of Wednesday morning, most books had Missouri (14-16 straight up, 14-15 against the spread) installed as a four-point favorite after the number opened offshore at 2.5.

Missouri’s season was basically wrecked when Jontay Porter, who averaged 9.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game as a true freshman last year, sustained a season-ending torn ACL back in late October. This was one season after Jontay’s older brother, Michael, the nation’s top recruit, had back surgery keep him sidelined nearly the entire season.

Like Michael Porter, Jontay is projected as an NBA first-round pick. Making matters worse for Mizzou, second-leading scorer Mark Smith (11.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG) was lost to a season-ending ankle injury in February.

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Cuonzo Martin’s squad lost its regular-season finale to Ole Miss 73-68 as a three-point home underdog. However, Missouri had won back-to-back games both SU and ATS previously, including a 64-39 win at Georgia as a 3.5-point road underdog.

Jordan Geist led the way for the Tigers with 18 points and six assists, hitting 8-of-12 field-goal attempts. Torrence Watson drained 5-of-10 launches from 3-point range in a 17-point effort.

Geist averages team-bests in scoring (14.0 points per game), assists (3.2 APG) and steals (1.0 SPG).

Georgia (11-20 SU, 17-14 ATS) snapped a nine-game losing streak and possibly ruined the NCAA Tournament at-large hopes of arch-rival Florida by going into Gainesville two Saturdays ago and winning 61-55 as an 11-point road underdog. The Bulldogs hooked up money-line backers with a +450 return (paid $450 on $100 wagers).

The spread cover at UF marked UGA’s fifth straight. Since then, though, Tom Crean’s team has lost consecutive contests both SU and ATS vs. Missouri and at South Carolina (66-46). The Bulldogs have been without sophomore forward Rayshaun Hammonds (12.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG), who has missed all but five minutes of his team’s past four games and has been shut down due to a foot injury.

The ‘under’ is on a 7-2 run for UGA to improve to 18-13 overall. Meanwhile, the ‘under’ is on a 4-2 surge for the Tigers to improve to 15-14 overall.

In the nightcap game at Bridgestone Arena, we have what would otherwise be meaningless affair between Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. But on Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that A&M’s Billy Kennedy won’t be retained for a ninth season.

This leaves his team playing for a coach that’s a Dead Man Walking. This leaves players trying to get fired up to make a run at the SEC Tournament instead hearing about an excited fan base hoping to lure Buzz Williams, a former A&M assistant under Billy Gillespie, to College Station to replace the man that recruited them to the school.

As for Vanderbilt, it just completed the first winless season in conference play from an SEC school since…Ga. Tech. Yes, the Yellow Jackets were in the SEC back in the 1950s.

As of early Wednesday morning, most books had Texas A&M (13-17 SU, 14-16 ATS) installed as a 3.5-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 132.5.

The Aggies have lost back-to-back games both SU and ATS, but they still own a 5-4 SU record in their past nine outings. In addition, they’re 6-4 ATS in their last 10 contests.

Texas A&M is 3-7 ATS with four outright losses in 10 games as a favorite. The ‘under’ is on a 9-4 run for the Aggies to improve to 18-12 overall.

Vanderbilt (9-22 SU, 11-20 ATS) hasn’t tasted victory since New Year’s Eve when it blasted UNC Asheville, 90-59, as a 27.5-point home favorite. Bryce Drew’s team has lost 19 games in a row and has failed to cover the spread in four straight.

The ‘under’ has been a winner in 10 consecutive Vandy games to improve to 20-9-1 overall.

The Afternoon Session on Thursday will feature Florida vs. Arkansas at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. As of Wednesday morning, most spots had Florida (17-14 SU, 13-18 ATS) listed as a three-point favorite with a total of 134.

UF has been abysmal in the ‘chalk’ role recently, limping to a 1-6 spread record with three outright defeats in its past seven games as a favorite. With that said, the Gators did go to Bud Walton Arena in January and emerge with a 57-51 win over the Razorbacks as two-point road favorites. The 108 combined points dropped ‘under’ the 140-point total.

KeVaughn Allen, a North Little Rock High School product, paced UF with 18 points and five rebounds. Mason Jones scored a game-high 30 points for the Hogs in the losing effort.

Since winning five games in a row, Mike White’s team dropped its last three regular-season games. First, UF lost 61-55 to Georgia as an 11-point home favorite. If the Gators miss out on the NCAA Tournament, that defeat will be the reason why. They nearly bounced back last Wednesday against LSU, only to lose 79-78 in overtime as one-point home favorites. Allen was unable to get a shot attempt off the dribble in the waning seconds.

In its regular-season finale Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Florida led Kentucky at halftime but went more than seven minutes without a bucket during one stretch of the second half. The Wildcats eventually prevailed by a 66-57 count, but the Gators covered the number as 10-point road underdogs.

John Calipari’s team went to the free-throw line 32 times and made 26 (81.2%) attempts. As for Florida, it went 6-of-11 from the charity stripe (54.5%). UF senior center Kevarrius Hayes scored a game-high 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. The Live Oak, Fla., product also had five rebounds, two blocked shots and two assists without a turnover. Jalen Hudson went 0-for-5 from 3-point land but still finished with 13 points and six rebounds.

Hudson has now scored in double figures in six straight games and eight of the past nine. He had been enduring a nightmare campaign before seemingly returning to form in recent weeks. The senior who spent his first two seasons at Va. Tech had 33 points in the loss to LSU. In doing so, Hudson surpassed his previous season-high (17 points at Vandy) by 16 points.

The ‘under’ is on a 9-2 run for the Gators to improve to 21-10 overall. If you’re a bettor that feels as if true road performances are indicator of how teams will fare at neutral sites during the postseason, then we’ll note how UF has seen the ‘under’ go 9-2 in its road contests.

Arkansas (17-14 SU, 14-17 ATS) fell out of contention for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth when it lost six games in a row and went 1-5 ATS during a big chunk of February. Mike Anderson’s team responded, however, by winning its last three regular-season games while going 2-1 ATS.

Arkansas downed Alabama 82-70 as a 4.5-point home favorite this past Saturday. Daniel Gafford was the catalyst with 29 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, a pair of blocked shots and one steal. Isaiah Joe finished with 15 points, six rebounds, six steals and two assists.

Gafford leads the Razorbacks in scoring (16.9 PPG), rebounding (8.7 RPG), FG percentage (65.9%) and blocked shots (2.0 BPG). The ‘under’ is 22-9 overall for the Hogs.

In the opener of Thursday’s Evening Session, Alabama and Ole Miss will collide at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. As of early Wednesday morning, most books had the Rebels listed as 2.5-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 141.5.

Kermit Davis, the first-year Ole Miss (20-11 SU, 23-8 ATS) coach, was named SEC Coach of the Year on Tuesday. His team has covered the number in four consecutive contests and is on a 7-2 ATS run. The Rebels snapped a three-game losing streak (in defeats by eight combined points) in a 73-68 win at Missouri to close the regular season.

Breein Tyree scored 21 points to lead the way. Devontae Shuler added 18 points, four assists and three steals.

Alabama (17-14 SU, 12-18-1 ATS) has dropped six of its last eight games and is mired in a 1-7 ATS slide. Avery Johnson’s team took the Rebels behind the woodshed in the regular-season encounter at Coleman Coliseum, coasting to a 74-53 victory as a one-point home favorite.

John Petty paced the Crimson Tide with 15 points on 3-of-6 makes from downtown. Donta Hall added 11 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and a pair of steals. Terrence Davis led the Rebels with 10 points despite being limited to 19 minutes of playing time before fouling out.

The ‘under’ is 18-13 overall for the Rebels. Meanwhile, the Tide has seen the ‘under’ hit at an 8-1 clip in its past nine games.

In the second game of Thursday’s Afternoon Session, LSU will face the UF-Arkansas winner. The Razorbacks went into Baton Rouge and upset the Tigers as double-digit underdogs during the regular season. The Gators split a pair of overtime decisions with LSU, winning 82-77 in Redstick.

The Alabama-Ole Miss survivor will take on Kentucky in Friday’s quarterfinals. UK lost at ‘Bama in the league opener for both teams.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

  
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