Bridgestone Arena, Nashville,Tennesssee
Record: 26-5, 16-2
Kentucky hasn’t been truly elite the last couple seasons, but still managed to win this Tournament in 2015 and 2016. The Wildcats are close to that elite level this season, but there are plenty of doubts surrounding them, despite coming into this having won eight straight. Nothing has been all that easy for them this season and even during that winning streak only won one of those Games by more than 10 points. To help, their route to the championship is extremely favorable. While Georgia has played them tough this season, it’d be a surprise if the Bulldogs upset them. But if the Cats can get past that Game, should be fine against South Carolina or Alabama, as both are struggling. Anything can happen in that championship Game, especially if Florida gets there, but the Gators have a tough road of their own and haven’t looked nearly as good without John Egbunu.
Record: 24-7, 14-4
The Gators had a legit shot to steal the regular season title from Kentucky, but lost two of its last three including the Game against the Wildcats. Florida lost Egbunu a couple weeks ago and hasn’t been as trustworthy, struggling in three recent road Games. Another issue is that the Gators could draw Vandy in their first Game, a team that already swept them. But if they can get past a hungry Commodores team, should be fine against Arkansas in the semis. Florida is a deep team that can make a run in this Tournament, but the absence of Egbunu will cost them at some point.
Record: 23-8, 12-6
The Razorbacks made a late-season run to get off the bubble and look set for the NCAA Tournament, winning six of their last seven. No matter who they get in their first Game (Ole Miss, Auburn), they shouldn’t have any issues, but after that all bets are off. The Hogs may be playing well but got handled at Florida a week ago and it’d be hard to back them in that situation, and the same could even be said against Vanderbilt.
Record: 22-9, 12-6
Not many will be betting on the Gamecocks to win this Tournament having lost Four of their last six and five of their last eight. OUtside of Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina isn’t getting enough production and can’t survive on defense alone. They’ll likely draw Alabama in the first Game, a team that took them down at home in Four overtimes and then Kentucky will be in the waiting.
Record: 17-14, 10-8
The Commodores may be the most enticing team to bet on in this Tournament as they remain on the bubble and need at least one or two wins to insure an at-large bid. They’ve won Four of their last five and assuming they get by A&M, could have a chance to beat Florida for a third time. After that, anything can happen in this Conference with Arkansas being the likely opponent. The ‘Dores have played well enough this season that it wouldn’t be surprising if they made the championship Game as a 7-seed.
Kentucky is the top seed and where most of the money will be coming in for this Tournament. Their run to the championship Game looks straightforward and shouldn’t be a problem while the bottom of the bracket is more of a toss up. That’s reason enough to back someone like Vanderbilt, although hoping the ‘Dores beat Florida three times this season may be too much.