The first set of games in SEC play included all six games being double-digit margins of victory and every road team won on Wednesday, so it’s looking like the SEC is off to a pretty crazy start, which was a fitting way to bring an end to 2020.
I started out by picking the first two games on Tuesday correctly, but then came back to reality on Wednesday where I just got one game right, Tennessee over Missouri. I went out on a limb by picking Auburn and Vanderbilt, but I thought there could be some home-court advantage for both teams, especially with them facing an Arkansas team that hadn’t left Bud Walton Arena and a Florid team that was playing their first game back without Keyontae Johnson.
With nothing but a weird non-conference schedule to go by, I’ll take even fifty-fifty to start the season with my game predictions. While I’d obviously like to be able to tell you exactly who is going to win and by how much so we can both make a lot of money, my main goal is just to get more right than wrong this season. With that said, here are my picks and few thoughts on each matchup for the second half of week one in SEC play.
Arkansas (1-0) vs Missouri (0-1)
Arkansas played a rather week schedule and never left Fayettville in their non-conference schedule, but they won every game convincingly. The question was how it would stack up in SEC play and I think they answered that pretty well with a double-digit road win in Auburn Arena (albeit not as hostile with no fans) and managed to hold a lead basically the entire game, despite a great shooting night from the Tigers.
Missouri came into SEC play against Tennessee with both teams being the only SEC representatives in the AP Top 25 and the Tigers having an impressive list of wins, including those over Oregon and Illinois. However, Tennessee’s defense proved to be too much and their balance of experience and talent was too much for Missouri’s experienced team, even at home.
The loss for Missouri could have exposed them as not as good as the non-conference schedule showed, or it could have just been the case that Tennessee is far and away better than everyone else in the SEC this season. I’m leaning a little bit towards the latter, but also think that Missouri might still be behind Arkansas, LSU, and maybe Florida at the moment.
Given that this game is in Bud Walton Arena, I’m going to give Arkansas the edge, but I think that Missouri’s very experienced roster will bounce back well after the big home loss and make this one closer to prove that they are still a team to be taken seriously in the SEC this season.
Prediction: Arkansas 88, Missouri 80
Florida (1-0) vs LSU (1-0)
It was a little advantageous of me to try and pick Vanderbilt to upset Florida on Wednesday, but I just put too much stock in the weirdness of Memorial Gym and thought that Florida would have more rust after taking a two-week break and playing their first game without star teammate, Keyontae Johnson.
For LSU, the Tiger’s offense continued to look like the best in the SEC, especially talented freshman scorer, Cameron Thomas. Trendon Watford even had an off game and LSU was still able to beat Texas A&M by more than 20 points.
If I was truly picking this game today, I’d likely lean towards LSU, even on the road, but I’m going to stick with my pick from early last week and say that Florida will be able to open up the SEC home slate with another win on the year. With these two teams playing, plus us having Arkansas/Missouri and Tennessee/Missouri all in the first week, I think we really will be getting a good idea of how the top five teams in the SEC stack up against each other.
In their only home game so far this season, Florida beat Stetson by 46 points, and in LSU’s only road game of the season, they lost to Saint Louis by 4. I may be giving Florida a bit too much of a home-court advantage in this one, but I think that if they can find a way to at least hold Cameron Thomas to around 20 points, the Gators can move to 2-0 in SEC play.
Prediction: Florida 76, LSU 75
Texas A&M (0-1) vs Auburn (0-1)
Texas A&M started their SEC season with the most lopsided loss of the early league schedule, but it was on the road against one of the better teams, especially offensively.
Auburn had a good shooting night with their young squad, and hung around most of the game with Arkansas, but could never really get over the hump due to too many turnovers and poor free throw shooting. In the end, Arkansas pulled away on Auburn’s home court and the Tigers snapped their five-game winning streak.
Now both teams get to swap situations with Texas A&M getting to have their SEC home opener while Auburn has to play away from Auburn Arena for the first time since December 12th against Memphis. If Wednesday was any indication, home courts might not be a big advantage this season without fans. Because of that, I think Auburn’s talented team will be enough to get a win in College Station, especially if they can limit the turnovers and keep up the improved defense.
Emanuel Miller for the Aggies is currently the new top player based on my selection of statistics, but Auburn has two guys, Justin Powell and Allen Flanigan that are both significantly higher than A&M’s next player. The season is early, so these statisticall rankings don’t mean much right now, but if Justin Powell can bounce back and score like he was in most of the non-conference play, the Auburn offense should be more complete and able to put enough points on the board to get the road win over Texas A&M.
Prediction: Auburn 72, Texas A&M 70
Mississippi State (1-0) vs Kentucky (0-0)
Kentucky has yet to play an SEC game since their game with South Carolina was delayed due to COVID, but the non-conference schedule didn’t show a lot of good news for the Wildcats as they finished with a miserable 1-6 record.
Mississippi State also didn’t look great in their non-conference schedule and had three losses of their own, but the Bulldogs had an impressive win in Athens when they knocked off the other Bulldogs by 10 points on the road.
Since Iverson Molinar has been playing for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs have only lost one game in double-overtime to Dayton. Molinar is currently playing like one of the top players in the SEC according to my combination of advanced metrics. Surprisingly, Kentucky on the other hand has their best player, Brandon Boston Jr., at just 40th in my statistical rankings.
I’d be lying if I said the 1-6 start hasn’t made me question my confidence in John Calipari actually getting this Kentucky squad of supposedly talented guys to figure it out, but at the end of the day, I still think that they’ll get it going eventually. Kentucky may not be a top team in the SEC this season, but I still think that they should beat Mississippi State, even on the road in Starkville.
Prediction: Kentucky 69, Mississippi State 65
Tennessee (1-0) vs Alabama (1-0)
The good Alabama team playing at home showed up on Tuesday against Ole Miss and the Crimson Tide pulled away with a nice 18 point win. Despite foul trouble from Herb Jones, Jahvon Quinerly and Alex Reese stepped up well to keep Alabama ahead.
Tennessee showed that their dominance in the delayed non-conference schedule wasn’t a fluke as they walked into Missouri and destroyed what looked like one of the other top teams in the SEC this season.
If this game was in Tuscaloosa, I might give Alabama more of a chance, because I think John Petty Jr. is still due for one of his insane shooting games where he lights up another team by himself. However, this game is not in Tuscaloosa and instead, I expect the worse side of the Jekyll and Hyde Alabama team to show up, especially when facing what appears to be a Tennessee team that is comfortably the best team in the league.
The Vols have shown that they have an offense that is good enough to score enough points, but also has one of the best defensive teams in the country and will likely slow down offenses even as good as Alabama. I think Tennessee is able to shut down Alabama and I don’t think the Crimson Tide has the defense to slow down Tennessee’s many weapons, especially on the road.
Prediction: Tennessee 80, Alabama 65
My picks are currently just 3-3 on the year after the first half week of the SEC schedule.