Here’s a look at the NCAA Tournament picture for SEC basketball

March Madness has finally arrived in America’s Southeast quadrant, with the loaded Southeastern Conference tournament already underway in Nashville. It looks like an almost-certain seven teams, and possibly eight (or nine) will qualify for the Big Dance that begins next week.

It’s possible that the SEC will have three teams seeded in the top eight, as Joe Lunardi’s “bracketology” at had pegged Kentucky as a No. 1 Dance seed, and both Tennessee and LSU as #2’s entering the new week.

Further down the ladder, Auburn (projected as a No. 5), Mississippi State (No. 6), Ole Miss (No. 9) are invitation locks. Florida entered the week on the right side of the bubble (No. 11), with Alabama listed on the wrong side amongst the first four out. Of course, the winner of the SEC tournament automatically qualifies, which could allow a regular-season struggler to shock Music City Sunday afternoon for a bonus bid.

Bettors must deal with an interesting dynamic in this conference. LSU is the top seed in Nashville, even though it would be a clear market underdog to either Kentucky or Tennessee head-to-head on a neutral court. Unheralded South Carolina (not even on the bubble!) is a FOUR-seed in the SEC. The Gamecocks would be a much bigger dog to either the Wildcats or Volunteers.

What’s going on? Both LSU and SC got the best of it in tight finishers. That helped them swing above their weight in the standings. LSU went 7-2 in league games decided by five points or less, South Carolina a perfect 4-0. Kentucky (4-2) and Tennessee (3-2) won blowouts more impressively, but were slightly worse in “nail biter percentages.”

You regulars know we’ve been trying to estimate how the sum components of betting markets have “Power Rated” the SEC from top to bottom this season. We do that by building a scale that uses settled point spread differentials from recent regular season meetings. We adjust a standard three points for home court advantage. After last Saturday’s regular season finales, VSiN’s scale looked like this…

SEC: Tennessee 87, Kentucky 87, LSU 83, Auburn 82, Mississippi State 81, Florida 79, Ole Miss 78, Alabama 77, Arkansas 78, South Carolina 76, Missouri 73, Texas A&M 73, Georgia 73, Vanderbilt 73.

Feel free to tweak those this week as new matchups hit the board. No home court adjustments need to be made moving forward. (Vanderbilt is based in Nashville, but plays in Memorial Gym rather than Bridgestone Arena).

Barring upsets, Tennessee and Kentucky are slated to meet in Saturday afternoon’s semifinals. The market will likely have that as a toss-up. The winner would be favored over LSU in the finals if the Tigers aren’t grabbed by the tail before then.

You’ve watched enough SEC tournaments to know it’s far from a sure thing that favorites will avoid upsets in this event. Bettors should be thinking about which underdogs have a chance to make headlines this week because of skill set advantages in the areas of defense, rebounding, and guard play.

The Mississippi schools highlight Thursday evening’s second-round double header. Ole Miss battles Alabama (SEC Network, 6 p.m.) in a virtual pick-em. That’s a huge game for the Crimson Tide who would likely miss the NCAA’s with a loss. Mississippi State will then have a rest advantage over a Wednesday night first-round winner (SEC Network, 8:30 p.m.).

Looking ahead, the winner of Ole Miss/Bama will play Kentucky, while Mississippi State has its eye on Tennessee in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Next week at this time, we’ll take a look at how SEC entries to the Big Dance compare to other championship threats on our estimated “market” Power Rating scale.

Betting notes

Ole Miss ended the regular season as the best betting team in the SEC, posting an astounding 23-8 record against the point spread. That’s a 74 percent success rate! It only takes 52.4% to earn a profit. LSU wasn’t far behind at 19-11 ATS (63 percent). Georgia was the only other team to finish in the black at 17-14 ATS (55 percent).

Vanderbilt, winless straight up in the SEC, was unsurprisingly the worst investment. Oddsmakers were slow to realize how far the Commodores had sunk this season. Vandy finished 11-20 ATS (37%). Other clear money losers were Alabama at 12-18-1 ATS (40%), Florida 13-18 ATS (42%), and Arkansas 14-17 ATS (45%).

Kentucky (16-15-1)and Tennessee (15-14-1) were slight money losers because of the 11/10 vigorish on lost bets. Kentucky’s “betting record” was 16 wins and 16.5 losses, Tennessee’s 15 wins and 15.4 losses.