SEC Tournament: Preview & Odds

March 12th, 2009

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:



The SEC Tournament, in Tampa, features a divisional seeding system, similar to the Southern conference, which could boost a deeper East division to some first round wins.















Louisiana St.






South Carolina


















Mississippi St.










































LSU is the obvious favorite, but I did a double take in finding out that the #2 favorite is from the West division as well, in a surprising Auburn team. It’s not a matter of strange seeding; the Tigers have legitimately been the conference’s #2 team. I’m not sure how ‘real’ this is: the unbalanced schedule has allowed Auburn more chances to beat up on a soft lower half of the West and boost itself, but don’t be too surprised to see the Tigers make a serious challenge for the title. Beyond the top two, there are five other teams that seem to have legitimate chances, suggesting a wild week may be in store.


East #1 – Tennessee Volunteers (19-11, 10-6) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.049

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Sweet Sixteen)


Tennessee was ranked in the top ten at one point this season, but, like much of the SEC, struggled to find consistency down the stretch. This is typified by its finish, which saw it beat three of the league’s better teams, then lose to a below-.500 Alabama at home to end the year. Tennessee has been the conference’s best on the offensive interior, averaging 54% from two-point range, and doing well on the glass, making them the 2nd best SEC offense. Their opponents, however, have done the same thing, averaging 52% inside and taking most of their shots inside the arc.


Players to watch:

6-7 JR Tyler Smith, 17.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 47.4 eFG% - Smith is a very effective player in spite of being an average-at-best shooter; he is a solid rebounder who combines a high assist rate with a low turnover rate, and gets to the free throw line often, where he shoots 75%.


6-9 JR Wayne Chism, 13.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 52.7 eFG% - Chism is one of the conference’s best rebounders, and his offensive game has rounded into shape after a fairly quiet 2008. Most of his scoring comes inside, but he has been able to step out and hit a three, and his free throw shooting has significantly improved, up nearly 15% over last year.



West #1 – Louisiana St. Tigers (25-6, 13-3) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.123

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (Final Four)


There’s been no question who the #1 team in the conference is, as LSU ran away with the conference title after a 13-game winning streak. Two straight losses to end the season can’t be encouraging, though. The Tigers have done it with the SEC’s best defense, holding opponents under 30% behind the arc, and also dominating inside, allowing just 46% and getting back most of the misses they force. They haven’t been great on offense, but hold on to the ball well, and are decent shooters, on average better than most of the league.


Players to watch:

6-4 SR Marcus Thornton, 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 54.7 eFG% - Thornton seems to be peaking at the right time, as the SEC’s second leading scorer has averaged nearly 25 points over the last month. He’s a pretty good shooter, but not spectacular, the key to his game has been able to maintain good percentages at very high usage. He also rarely turns the ball over, which means most of his possessions turn into shot attempts, not a bad result for LSU.


6-7 JR Tasmin Mitchell, 16.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 54.6 eFG% - Mitchell is another one of the conference’s best scorers, and also rebounds well. He shoots a similar percentage to Thornton, and having two players who shoot that well, while taking nearly half the team’s shots between them, is a very dangerous combination.



East #2 – South Carolina (21-8, 10-6) ; Efficiency

Margin: +0.031

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2004 (1st Round)

The Gamecocks are the weakest of the teams that earned a first round bye, but in a tightly-packed league like the SEC, that’s not really indicative of a whole lot, as they’re not far behind the others. They play the conference’s fastest pace, and while that allows opponents a lot of chances inside, and results in terrible defensive rebounding, it also helps them to force a turnover on 25% of opponents’ possessions. Their offense hasn’t been as successful, as they haven’t scored well inside the arc, and are terrible free throw shooters.


Players to watch:

5-9 JR Devan Downey, 20.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 3.0 SPG, 50.0 eFG% - He may not be big, but Devan Downey is one of the conference’s best guards, an excellent scorer who also is one of the best in the conference in assists, and tops the SEC in steals. He’s not a great shooter, but does enough well that he doesn’t need to be to be a very effective player.


6-7 JR Dominique Archie, 10.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 55.9 eFG% - Archie is an excellent inside player, shooting a good percentage and putting up solid rebounding rates. He’s also chipped in well on the defensive end, with good steal and block rates.



West #2 – Auburn Tigers (21-10, 10-6) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.062

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1998 (2nd Round)


Seemingly coming from nowhere and with no warning, an 8-1 finish to the SEC season saw Auburn race past the middle of the pack and earn itself not only a first round bye, but the conference’s second best efficiency margin, and a great chance to make a splash in the tournament. The Tigers haven’t been spectacular in any area, but are smart with the ball and defend the perimeter well. They’re not great shooters, but good enough to have an above average offense, and besides LSU the only team to rank in the conference’s top four on both ends of the floor.


Players to watch:

6-7 SR Korvotney Barber, 12.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 54.0 eFG% - Barber hasn’t gotten a lot of love from national media, but he’s the SEC’s best rebounder, and just a fraction short of averaging a double-double. He’s also a solid inside scorer, but his abysmal free-throw shooting, just 45%, is a glaring weakness.


6-2 JR Tay Waller, 12.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 53.5 eFG% - Waller isn’t typically a big scorer, but is the most efficient Auburn shooter, putting up a lot of threes, and hitting them at a solid 37% clip. He is capable of having a huge game, having put up 32 against Mississippi St., but doesn’t consistently string together big performances.



East #3 – Florida Gators (22-9, 9-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.056

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2007 (National Champions)


Sitting 16-3 on the final day of January, a 4-6 finish, including not winning a single game outside of Gainesville, torpedoed a promising looking season for the Gators. They have had one of the country’s best offenses, excellent shooters from all over the floor, including hitting 39% of three attempts in SEC play, and put up a stellar turnover rate. They haven’t managed to figure out how to play defense and they’ve also struggled on the glass, not a good combo.


Players to watch:

6-6 SO Nick Calathes, 17.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.4 APG, 2.0 SPG, 57.7 eFG% - Calathes is one of the best all-around talents in college basketball, recording a triple-double against Georgia, and coming only a rebound short of doing it a second time in the return matchup. He leads the conference in assists, and is second in steals, while also being a very good shooter, 55% inside and 41% outside.


6-8 SO Alex Tyus, 12.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 59.6 eFG% - Tyus has been a very strong inside player to complement Calathes for the Gators, an excellent rebounder who rarely gives the ball up and dominates inside, shooting 60% from the field.



West #3 – Mississippi St. Bulldogs (19-12, 9-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.026

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


Mississippi St. is a perfect example of a team that could sneak its way through a crowded field; the Bulldogs haven’t been great in conference play, but still have a reasonable chance of claiming the title. The Bulldogs have shot well, both behind the arc and at the line, and while they’ve struggled inside, they’ve been one of the conference’s better offenses overall. Defensively, they’ve also been decent, but not great, defending the interior well, but getting beaten out on the glass and not holding opponents’ percentages down on three-pointers.


Players to watch:

6-9 JR Jarvis Varnado, 13.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 4.5 BPG, 55.4 eFG% - Varnado is an impressive inside force, a solid rebounder who is the country’s top shot-blocker. He’s also had to take on a bigger offensive role this season, and while his shooting percentage has dropped, in general he’s thrived, still hitting 56% from the floor and increasing nearly 20% to a very solid 69%  at the line.


6-2 FR Dee Bost, 11.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 45.6 eFG% - Bost is a good ball-distribution guard who has seen his scoring numbers increase in SEC play, but shooting just 38% from inside the arc has really hurt his play.



East #4 – Kentucky Wildcats (19-12, 8-8) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.046

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)


Kentucky is the last team in the conference that seems to have a serious chance of taking the conference title, but has the toughest draw of any of the contenders, with a reasonably challenging first round game and a quarterfinal against LSU being the first two hurdles it’d need to surpass. A 5-0 start seemed to augur well for the Wildcats’ chances, but going 3-8 since then has caused a lot of consternation in Lexington. They’ve had one of the conference’s best defenses, mostly because of their strength on the interior, where they’ve been as good as any team in the country. Kentucky’s problems have come when it’s had the ball, as only the two bottom seeds have been worse offensively. It does shoot well, though it hasn’t been as good inside the conference as it was in the non-conference schedule, but the killer is turnovers; it is one of the nation’s worst teams at holding onto the ball.


Players to watch:

6-9 SO Patrick Patterson, 18.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 61.5 eFG% - Patterson was not a unanimous selection to the All-SEC First Team, which simply amazes me, as he’s been spectacular this season, the conference’s single most efficient player. He’s one of the conference’s elite rebounders, and one of its best shot-blockers. He’s shot more than 60% from the field, and added to it with 78% free-throw shooting. On a relatively turnover prone team, he’s held on to the ball really well. While it’s true that he’s helped by Jodie Meeks, it’s equally true that Meeks is helped by having an interior force like Patterson.


6-4 JR Jodie Meeks, 24.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 56.4 eFG% - Meeks has exploded this season, sitting fifth in the nation in scoring and three times cracking the 40-point barrier, including a school-record 54 against Tennessee. He can make shots inside, outside and at the free throw line, with a 90% rate at the latter and a 41% rate on threes.



West #4 – Alabama Crimson Tide (17-13, 7-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.029

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)


Alabama finished strongly, winning four of its last five, to move up to 4th in the West, but are the highest seeded team not to have much of a chance at the conference title, having lagged well behind the leading group of contenders. The Tide have been good three-point shooters, but taken most of their attempts from two, and while they’re strong on the offensive glass, they also turn it over fairly often. Defensively, they’ve been average in basically every area but rebounding, where they’ve struggled. These two, less-than-effective units both rank 9th in the league in their respective categories, leaving Alabama stuck between the top teams and the cellar. 


Players to watch:

6-9 FR JaMychal Green, 10.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 53.0 eFG% - While the freshman still has yet to grow into a big offensive role, he hasn’t needed it to be an excellent player so far, leading the team in rebounding and showing a good touch for shot-blocks. When he does get offensive chances, he does a pretty good job with them.


6-6 SR Alonzo Gee, 14.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 46.8 eFG% - Gee leads the team in scoring, but while he’s a good rebounder, he creates a lot of misses with relatively poor shooting.   



East #5 – Vanderbilt Commodores (19-11, 8-8) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.022

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008  (1st Round)


Vanderbilt is another team that rallied from a poor start to a strong finish and should be the favorite for its first round matchup with Alabama. The Commodores have been excellent inside, strong rebounders who score and defend two-pointers very well. Their perimeter play hasn’t been as good; they haven’t made many threes, while struggling to stop opponents behind the arc, and tend to lose out on turnover margin fairly decisively. These two extremes combine to leave Vanderbilt as an average sort of team, and it’s not much surprise that it ended up at .500.


Players to watch:

6-10 SR A.J. Ogilvy, 15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 56.2 eFG% - Ogilvy leads the Commodores in scoring and rebounds, and enters the tournament pretty hot after scoring 28 against South Carolina and 33 against LSU.


6-3 JR Jermaine Beal, 12.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 53.7 eFG% - At 42%, Beal is the team’s best three-point shooter, and also distributes the ball well without turning it over much.



West #5 – Mississippi Rebels (16-14, 7-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.044

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2002 (1st Round)


Mississippi is the last team before the bottom really drops out, and has a chance to deal Kentucky a shock defeat, though the Rebels should be the clear underdogs. They’ve had a pretty solid offense, not really strong in any one particular area, but well-balanced with no glaring weakness. Mississippi has apparently saved these weaknesses for the defensive end, where it's been terrible at forcing turnovers, fouled more than any team in the league and been fairly ineffective on the inside.


Players to watch:

6-5 JR David Huertas, 18.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 52.1 eFG% - The Puerto Rico native and Florida transfer has been the Rebels’ leading scorer since Chris Warren went out with an ACL injury, and has shown an ability to score inside and outside.


6-7 FR Murphy Holloway, 8.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 54.7 eFG% - The freshman doesn’t score much, but is an good shooter who leads the team in rebounding and has committed few turnovers.



East #6 – Georgia Bulldogs (12-19, 3-13) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.186

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)


When the conference’s worst team sat at 0-9, it seemed like the least likely targets for wins would be Florida and Kentucky, but much to those teams’ chagrin, the Bulldogs not only won one of those games, but both of them, including a shocker at Rupp Arena. When you combine those good wins with Georgia’s great run from last season, it’s clear that they can’t be totally dismissed by their first round opponent, though they have next to no hope of repeating their tournament title. They’ve saddled themselves with a horrific offense that is the worst in major-college basketball, including hitting just 42% of two-point attempts and giving the ball up one out of every four times down the floor. Their defense hasn’t been as abysmal, but even if they defended as well as Louisville, they’d only be a .500 team, so a merely below average unit sees them fall way below the rest of the league.


Players to watch:

6-8 FR Howard Thompkins, 12.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 48.7 eFG% - Thompkins is an excellent defensive rebounder, and while his percentages would be fairly poor on other teams, he’s actually one of Georgia’s better shooters, helped by his 37% behind the arc.


6-7 SR Terrance Woodbury, 14.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 46.0 eFG% - Woodbury has led the team in scoring but has shot poorly from the field, though an 84% mark at the stripe shows he has some shooting talent.



West #6 –Arkansas Razorbacks (14-15, 2-14) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.115

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)


I am quite comfortable proclaiming Arkansas the most confusing team in the nation, as a team that entered SEC play after going 12-1 in the non-conference, including beating Texas and handing Oklahoma its first defeat, had an epic collapse, and ended up with the worst record in the conference. The Razorbacks have forced a lot of turnovers, but allowed opponents to light them up from three, leading to the conference’s worst defensive performance. The offense hasn’t been much better, shooting just 30% behind the arc, and not having any particular strength to fall back on.


Players to watch:

6-9 JR Michael Washington, 15.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1 eFG% - Washington leads the Razorbacks in points and is one of the SEC’s best rebounders, but shoots only 60% from the free throw line, almost the same percentage as he shoots on two-point attempts.


5-11 FR Courtney Fortson, 15.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.0 APG, 47.3 eFG% - Fortson has put up one of the country’s best assist rates as a freshman, but has committed a fair number of turnovers and not shot particularly well.



My statistical all-SEC team:

Kentucky JR G Jodie Meeks, 24.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 56.4 eFG%

Louisiana St. SR G Marcus Thornton, 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 54.7 eFG%

Florida SO G/F Nick Calathes, 17.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.4 APG, 2.0 SPG, 57.7 eFG%

Kentucky SO F Patrick Patterson, 18.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 61.5 eFG%

Mississippi St. JR F/C Jarvis Varnado, 13.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 4.5 BPG, 55.4 eFG%


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