Fans of Ole Miss and Mississippi State will have to wait until Friday to root for their favorites in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. But, the Southeastern Conference as a whole will be a prominent part of the Big Dance beginning early Thursday. Seven schools received bids, topped by Kentucky and Tennessee…who both earned No. 2 seeds in a talented field.
Let’s see how sharps (professional wagerers) have been betting the SEC seven. Games are presented in tip off order.
▪ LSU vs. Yale (Thursday, truTV, 11:40 a.m.): This is a 3-14 matchup being played in Jacksonville. Yale is a dark horse that’s been priced respectfully all season. LSU is going through some recent turmoil. So, the early-week point spread of LSU -7.5 was by far, the lowest of any 3-14 matchups. Sharps have been betting underdog Yale whenever +8 or more is available. The public is more likely to lay “affordable” points with the major conference entry. Pro bettors will likely take Yale at +7.5 or more between now and tip off.
▪ Auburn vs. New Mexico State (Thursday, TNT, 12:30 p.m.): Another live dog for sharps, as New Mexico State was on the watch list of many even before brackets were announced. Auburn is in a letdown spot after its stunning run to the SEC tournament championship. Sharps bet the opener of New Mexico State +8.5 all the way down to +6.5. That establishes that pro bettors want this dog at +7 or better. They will re-invest if public money moves the number higher. This is a 5-12 game in Salt Lake City, a common seed matchup for first round upsets.
▪ Florida vs. Nevada (Thursday, TNT, 5:50 p.m.): Sharps were enthusiastic about Nevada early in the season. That soured in recent months. Florida was bet aggressively at the opener of +3 in this 7-10 seed matchup to be played in Des Moines. The game moved quickly down to a solid two. Florida was also a popular bet on the money line to win outright. Worth remembering that many pro bettors are based in Nevada, which means they get a good look at lesser known teams out West you may not be familiar with. Observers should probably respect “proximity” bets on NMSU and against Nevada.
▪ Kentucky vs. Abilene Christian (Thursday, CBS, 6:10 p.m.): Sharps generally avoid projected blowouts because the money winner is often determined by backups in garbage time. Some soft early interest shown in the opener of Kentucky -22, with some stores testing 22.5. If the public drives that to -23 or more, sharps would likely fade the move for value by betting the big ugly dog. In terms of the point spread, this is basically a 1-16 matchup, though it’s in the brackets as a 2-15 game in Jacksonville.
▪ Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma (Friday, truTV, 11:40 a.m.): Moving to Friday, be sure you figure out where truTV is on your dial! Both Mississippi schools will be featured on that lesser known network. Ole Miss drew early sharp support at the opener of -1.5. The market soon settled at a solid Ole Miss -2. Support did stop for the Rebels at that point. This is expected to be a tightly contested 8-9 battle in Columbia, South Carolina with the winner very likely to face top seed Virginia Sunday.
▪ Tennessee vs. Colgate (Friday, CBS, 1:45 p.m.): Another high line, though sharp support came early for Colgate at +18. Some stores dropped to 17.5 to attract Volunteers money. That’s fairly uncommon for this price range or for a 2-15 matchup generally. Pro bettors usually wait for the public to take the well-known favorite. So, it’s telling that many sharps wanted Colgate right away for this game in Columbus, Ohio. Another respected dog.
▪ Mississippi State vs. Liberty (Friday, truTV, 6:27 p.m.): This final chapter for the SEC in the round of 64 sounds like the rest of the book. Sharps aren’t embracing the SEC entry, instead betting the opposing underdog. Mississippi State opened at -8, and was bet down to -7. There were indications it could drop further. Another 5-12 matchup with upset potential. This one is in San Jose.
Observers shouldn’t necessarily take early betting as a condemnation of the SEC. Six of seven entries are still favored after early line moves. And, Florida over Nevada is a popular upset call. Generally speaking, sharps believed that oddsmakers had slightly overpriced the SEC. They “sharpened” openers with their respected money.