The SEC has quietly been one of the strongest conferences in college basketball this season. Typically, the SEC is just Kentucky and everyone else, but this year is different.
Of the six teams likely to make the NCAA Tournament from the SEC, five of them are nationally ranked in the AP Top 25 (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, and Tennessee). In the SEC West, Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn are the best teams. In the SEC East, Kentucky and Tennessee are the best teams.
In an inter-division matchup on Saturday, Tennessee (17) hosts Auburn (3) in their lone regular-season meeting of the year. Auburn is the higher-ranked team, but Tennessee is likely to be favored since they’ll be playing at home.
Currently, Auburn is ahead in the SEC regular season standings with a 13-2 conference record, but Tennessee is not far behind in third place with a 11-4 record. On Saturday, we are likely to find out which team is superior.
Please note that all college basketball odds and lines are not listed as of 2 p.m. ET on Friday, February 25.
Auburn vs Tennessee Predictions
Tennessee has been through the gauntlet this season, playing the seventh-toughest schedule in the country.
In their non-conference schedule, they played Villanova, Texas Tech, Arizona, and Texas. Among those non-conference teams, the Volunteers beat only Arizona, who is likely to be a one-seed in March. Even though UT lost to Texas Tech and Texas, both games were narrow losses.
In conference play, Tennessee has losses against Arkansas and Alabama, but they split the season series with Kentucky and LSU. Based on record alone, they should be underdogs against Auburn even at home, but looking beneath the surface, Tennessee is a better team than their record suggests.
Once you adjust their defensive stats to pace and level of play, Tennessee has the third-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country. Against a typical opponent, Tennessee should allow only 0.88 points per possession.
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Auburn is going to test Tennessee’s defense. The Tigers have the 15th-best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country and an up-tempo offense that will try to tire out the Volunteers.
For a while, Auburn was the consensus No. 1 team in the country, until narrow losses against Arkansas and Florida this month. They also eked out wins against weak Georgia and Missouri teams.
On their best day, the Tigers will easily brush away their competition, including a nine-point victory against Kentucky. Whether Auburn wins on Saturday depends on which team shows up.
According to KenPom, the Volunteers have nearly a four-point homecourt advantage at the Thompson Bolin Arena, which is the fourth-largest in the country. Despite that advantage, I believe that Auburn will win a close game.
Auburn vs Tennessee Prediction: Auburn 67, Tennessee 65
Auburn vs Tennessee Best Bet
Best Bet: Auburn if +3 or better at Caesars
Wager: 1 Unit
Tennessee deserves to be the favorite based on their defense and playing at home, but Auburn is still the better team.
The Tigers have every incentive to win this tough game. If they win, they are likely the regular season conference champion which gives them a higher seed in what is expected to be a tough SEC conference championship tournament.
I am not usually a believer in handicapping teams based on motivation, but I believe that once the Tigers reached the top of the AP Top 25 poll that they took their foot off the gas. After a dejecting road loss against Florida last weekend, I believe that Auburn will either win this weekend or lose by only one possession.