Underdog Vols Start SEC Title Quest At ‘Bama

With a recent home win over Arizona in its back pocket, No. 14 Tennessee (9-2) hits the road Wednesday night for its SEC opener against No. 19 Alabama (9-3). Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

Tennessee and Alabama are expected to be two of the top teams in the SEC this season, and Wednesday’s game could prove important in the regular-season title chase. The Crimson Tide enter Wednesday with the betting edge, as major Tennessee sportsbooks favor the home team, which has lost two of its last three games, but has defeated Gonzaga and Houston this year.

The Volunteers are 3-point underdogs at Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel, TwinSpires, and WynnBET, while BetMGM lists Tennessee as 3.5-point underdogs. Tennessee’s moneyline can be found ranging from +125 at BetMGM and DraftKings to +130 at Caesars, TwinSpires, and WynnBET. FanDuel has Tennessee at +126 to upset the Crimson Tide.

Expect a fast pace

KenPom.com, a basketball analytics website, tracks each college basketball team’s tempo, and Alabama and Tennessee are each in the top 75 nationally in tempo. Alabama ranks 34th nationally in tempo, as the team averages just over 15 seconds per offensive possession. 

A quicker tempo doesn’t necessarily mean a game played in the 80s, though. The total for the matchup sits at 148.5 at Tennessee’s major sportsbooks as of Wednesday morning, perhaps in part due to the defensive prowess of the Volunteers, who rank second nationally in defensive efficiency. Tennessee has yet to allow more than 73 points in a game this year. 

Alabama, however, will test Tennessee unlike any offense the Volunteers have seen this season. The Crimson Tide rank ninth nationally in offensive efficiency, and they’re one of the best 2-point shooting teams in college basketball. 

Given the speed of the game and Alabama’s offensive efficiency, there’s reason to believe the game may be higher scoring than the current total. For those who believe in Alabama’s offensive attack – it has seven 80-point efforts this year – DraftKings has Alabama’s team total at 75.5 points. Tennessee’s team total is listed at 73.5 on DraftKings. 

Tennessee among SEC title contenders

Futures odds for conference winners fluctuate by the sportsbook, and some books don’t have those odds up currently. With COVID-19 postponements and cancellations impacting games, the SEC recently changed its COVID cancellation policy, eliminating potential forfeits. 

As of early this week, Kentucky (+260) was the betting favorite on DraftKings to win the SEC, but Alabama (+320) and Tennessee (+600) are close behind. Arkansas (+650), Auburn (+800), Florida (+900), and LSU (+900) are all also in the fray, as the SEC is expected to be jam-packed at the top of the standings. 

When it comes to Tennessee’s chances, the Volunteers have decent value at +600. Tennessee isn’t the favorite, but KenPom.com  projects Tennessee and Auburn to finish 13-5 in the SEC, while Kentucky and LSU are predicted to finish 12-6. 

If one thing is clear, it’s that the SEC race should be tightly contested, as betting markets and KenPom expect six or seven teams to contend for the title.

Photo: Randy Sartin/USA TODAY