It’s finally here! Showing a flair for the dramatic, SEC schedule-makers held off the first meeting between national powers #1 Tennessee and #5 Kentucky until Saturday (ESPN, 7 p.m.). The Vols and Wildcats will play again March 2.
Round One will be in Lexington, where Kentucky just lost as a 9-point favorite to LSU in a game many of you may have watched. In fact, you’ve seen a lot of Kentucky lately! The Wildcats were in Starkville last weekend, blowing a huge halftime lead before closing out a 71-67 victory.
Late fades were a Wildcat theme this week. And, that could prove to be a very important handicapping angle moving forward. While Kentucky has shown significant improvement since a dismal season-opening loss to Duke, there are now questions about late-game poise vs. high quality opponents.
▪ Kentucky was outscored 34-23 in the final 16:51 by LSU
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▪ Kentucky was outscored 36-22 in the final 16:32 by Miss. State
Something to watch closely in Saturday’s showdown with Tennessee, and in other upcoming match-ups against Dance-bound SEC foes. The long hot streak is now in the rearview mirror after the LSU loss. Kentucky had won 10 games in a row before LSU, and was 20-2 straight up since the Duke loss. Against market expectations, the surging Wildcats had covered eight in a row before Tuesday’s double-digit miss.
Will oddsmakers be giving Kentucky “too much” credit if this young collection of talent is going to hit a wall late in close games? Something to ponder as you make your final betting decisions.
Tennessee hopes to remain undefeated straight up in SEC play, entering the weekend with an 11-0 record. The Vols are 9-4 against the spread their last 13 outings, but didn’t cover Wednesday night as pricey 15-point favorites in a comfortable win over outmanned South Carolina.
▪ VSiN’s estimate of “market” Power Ratings in the SEC showed Tennessee and Kentucky in a dead heat through midweek point spreads. We build a scale reflecting neutral court margin estimates based on recent lines, adjusting three points for home court advantage. Our latest…
Tennessee 87, Kentucky 87, Auburn 84, Mississippi State 81, LSU 81, Ole Miss 79, Florida 79, Alabama 78, Arkansas 77, South Carolina 74, Texas A&M 73, Missouri 73, Vanderbilt 72, Georgia 71.
If Kentucky settles at -3 Saturday, then we’ll leave both leaders at 87. Any variation from standard home court value will give you a sense of who oddsmakers and sharps believe would be the neutral court favorite. Note that LSU may rise from 81 after its impressive showing in Lexington (and overall strong recent play).
Feel free to make adjustments yourself as the season progresses. On this scale, better than 85 is “championship caliber.” Looks like the bubble cut-off is going to be near 78, though that could change the next few weeks.
▪ Mississippi State visits Arkansas Saturday (SEC Network, 7:30 p.m.) after an impressive 81-62 rout of Alabama Tuesday night. It was a double-digit cover for the 5.5-point favorites. The Bulldogs forced 18 turnovers while hitting 50% of their two-point shots, 47% of their three-point shots, and winning the battle of the boards 31-25. Though, be aware that State is 0-5 against the spread after its last five covers. It will be looking to establish better consistency in Fayetteville.
▪ Ole Miss hosts Missouri Saturday (SEC Network, 2:30 p.m.). The Rebels are fresh off a 60-55 upset of Auburn Wednesday night as 8-point underdogs. Ole Miss held Auburn to 33% shooting (25% on three-pointers) while forcing 14 turnovers in a slow-paced game. A great defensive effort!
Ole Miss is now 18-6 ATS for the season, a stellar 75% cover rate. More importantly, the Rebels may be getting hot again. That’s two straight covers after a mini-slump.
VSiN returns next week for continuing market coverage of your favorite betting sports. We’re really looking forward to riding shotgun with you down “the road to March Madness!”