All betting odds courtesy of Bovada
Odds to win NCAA: 7/2
The Kentucky Wildcats finished 29-11 last season and 12-6 in the SEC, making it to the title game in the NCAA before falling to UConn by six points. The Wildcats were just a 8th seed in opening round play, and the champion UConn was a 7th. This season, expectations are much higher for a Wildcat team that returns most of its core, plus another strong recruiting class.
Julius Randle and James Young were lost tot he NBA, but the Cats still have six guys who will likely matriculate to the Association the next couple drafts. Coach John Calipari said “For the first time I’ve had players return who had the chance to put their names in the draft.”
The Wildcats will be strongest on the perimeter with a mix of big men that will rival the best in NCAA history. Kentucky boasts three seven-footers. Junior Willie Cauley-Stein was projected a a lottery pick in last year’s draft but chose not to declare. Sophomore Dakari Johnson will see far more minutes and has shown flashes already. And Karl Towns is a freshman expected to see minutes.
The biggest return may be 6’7” swingman Alex Poythress, who also could have been a top-10 pick in the draft. He averaged 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season, but will max that by a good bit this year, and will be well-suited to playing small forward this year. Poythress had a bit of a disappointing sophomore season, but the talent is there.
Another freshman will be in the mix in Trey Lyles, who is a rangy 6’10” to help round out the Cats tough interior. The Cats simply have talent everywhere and the Harrison twins are one of the best backcourts in the NCAA. Aaron averaged 13.7 points per game and Andrew was good for four dimes a game. Both will likely be first round picks in June.
Florida finished 36-3 last year with a perfect 18-0 SEC record. The Gators season was ended in the NCAA tournament by eventual champion UConn by a score of 63-53. The Gators only return one starter from last year’s team, with Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Will Yeguete all gone.
The Gators benefitted from having so many upper classmen and seniors, and will rely heavily this season on Michael Frazier II, who led the SEC in three-point shooting at 44.7 percent and averaged 12.4 points per game (3rd on team).
Sophomore Kasey Hill and a fully healthy Chris Walker will make sure the Gators don’t fall off much. Hill can run the point effectively averaging 5.5 points and 3.1 assists per game; and Walker is supremely gifted athletically, a long 6’10” who saw sparing minutes last season. He’ll be aiming to improve his NBA prospects, so expect Walker to have an increased focus this season.
The Arkansas Razorbacks were 22-12 last season with a 10-8 SEC record, and lost in the postseason 75-64 in the second round of the NIT. It marked the sixth straight season, though, that the Razorbacks had been bounced in the opening round of the SEC tournament. The team returns Rashad Madden, Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls.
The Razorbacks lost five seniors last season, but only one of those was a major difference maker (Coty Clarke). Madden led the team with 12.7 points per game, though it may be Portis who is the star of the team this year. Portis is 6’11” and a former McDonald’s All-American. He ranked 2nd on the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game while snagging nearly seven boards a night. Madden and Portis will keep this team fighting for an at-large berth.
Georgia finished 20-14 with a 12-6 SEC record last season. The Bulldogs lost 79-71 in the second round of the NIT to Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs won its last six games in SEC play, tying Kentucky for the second-best record in the conference. Arkansas suffered no major losses from last season’s core and the backcourt of Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines is the team’s strength. Mann led the team in scoring last year with 13.9 points per game, and Gaines averaged 13, as well.
The Razorbacks are hoping that tandem, along with a healthy Marcus Thornton, can make the difference. Thornton is a 6’8” forward who has been plagued by knee issues, but if he can stay healthy, this team will be on its way towards an impressive season. Without him, the Razorbacks will be mediocre at best.
LSU went 20-14 last season with a 9-9 record in the SEC. The Tigers lost 80-67 in the second round of the NIT, falling to SMU, a team that was snubbed out of an NCAA tourney bid. The Tigers lost All-SEC forward Johnny O’Bryant III to the NBA and Anthony Hicker transferred to Oklahoma State. Longtime spark plug Andre Stringer graduated after a successful NCAA career.
The Tigers are going to look to two strong interior players this season: Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Mickey averaged 12.7 points and a team-leading 7.9 rebounds last season, while Martin came in as a high prized recruit who should show more signs this year. Landing 7’1” center Elbert Robinson III will be big too, as he was a top-50 national recruit. Josh Gray has to head this team up from the point guard spot and the 6’1” junior guard is a great JUCO transfer who should be up to the task of playing in a major conference.