After a wild first week of SEC games, my early record in predictions isn’t looking too hot. I was feeling good with a 2-0 start on opening night, but quickly was brought back down to earth and finished 5-6 on my picks for the first week.
But that’s okay. While I’d love to be right more often than not, me missing that many usually means that there are some surprising and fun matchups, and I’ll welcome chaos whenever SEC basketball wants to give it to us (which is quite often).
I went out on a major limb in picking Vanderbilt to upset Florida, mostly because I expected the Gators to be a little out of it after taking a few weeks off and playing without Keyontae Johnson for the first time. I was majorly wrong, and the Gators dominated Vanderbilt in Nashville, and then followed it up with an even more impressive win over LSU on Saturday.
While I thought Vanderbilt stood a chance at the major upset, I did not give Alabama a shot. However, the Tide had their best shooting game of the season and saw John Petty Jr. really light it up from deep to power the team to a big upset over Tennessee, who I still think is the best team in the SEC, on the road.
It’s a new week and barring any more COVID issues, we should finally get to see every SEC team in action this week. The first two nights should provide some interesting matchups, with probably the best game of the week coming first when Florida travels to Alabama to put both team’s perfect SEC records on the line.
Florida (2-0) at Alabama (2-0)
If I learned anything from the first week of SEC play, homecourt advantage will probably not be a major factor for the foreseeable future. With that said, if Alabama shoots as they did at Tennessee, they can beat just about any team, anywhere.
Alabama can usually hit major ups and downs throughout a season, and given that Saturday was one of their best games of the year, I might expect them to cool off even more against the Gators. Or they could continue to make me look bad and John Petty Jr. still goes off.
Both teams had co-SEC Players of the Week in Petty and Colin Castleton for Florida. The Gators currently have two active players, Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, ahead of Alabama’s best player in my current SEC player rankings, but both teams still have plenty of weapons on offense.
Granted, Florida did play one of the worst overall teams in Vanderbilt, and then one of the worst defensive teams in LSU, but the Gators still managed to put up 174 points across their first two games. Alabama on the other hand also played better defense than I would have expected and is currently first in the SEC with a defensive rating of 86 through the first two league games.
Looking at the season as a whole gives a little bit more of an advantage to Florida. The Gators have the 4th best offensive rating at 111.6 and the 5th best defensive rating at 92.8. Alabama sits at 9th in offensive rating at 103.9 and 8th in defensive rating at 94.4.
Florida has shot the ball better and relies less on the three-pointer, but as I mentioned earlier, if Alabama is hitting a high percentage of their deep shots, it will be hard for Florida to keep up if they’re mostly shooting from inside the arc.
Whether it goes in Alabama’s favor or not, I think this game, like a lot of their games, will come down to three-point shooting. Florida is currently allowing opposing teams to shoot 36% from deep (worst in the league) on the 4th fewest three-point attempts. I think Alabama is going to shoot well over 21 threes at home, and even if they do just hit 36%, it should be enough to bury the Gators.
On Florida’s side, if they win, it will be because Scottie Lewis and Colin Castleton are too much on the inside for Jordan Bruner and Alex Reese to handle.
I’m a firm believer in threes are better than twos, so I’m going to go with the Tide.
Prediction: Alabama 85, Florida 80
Vanderbilt (0-1) at Kentucky (1-0)
Kentucky finally snapped their 6-game losing streak and discovered that Dontaie Allen might have been a solution to their problems all along on Saturday. The Wildcats finally had a shooting presence and were able to come back and win in double-overtime on the road against Mississippi State.
Vanderbilt on the other hand let Florida score at will on their home court and still relies too much on Scotty Pippen Jr. to provide their offensive production. Considering Florida was able to get anything they wanted down low against the Commodores, Kentucky might not even need good shooting to move to 2-0 in conference play.
I’m not near fully sold on Kentucky after just a great shooting game from Dontaie Allen, especially since Terrance Clarke is also expected to still be out for at least this game and possibly more. Kentucky has leaned on their defense, even in losses, and I think Calipari and his staff will have a scheme to do their best to take Scotty Pippen Jr. away.
Without Pippen Jr. having a big game, I’m not sure how this Vanderbilt team can get wins, especially on the road against teams as talented as Kentucky. Dylan Disu has been the Dores second-best player according to my player rankings, but after him, Vanderbilt’s next best player is Quentin Millora-Brown all the way down at 65th overall.
Almost any other opponent for Kentucky and I’d be hesitant to pick them since I do think the win Mississippi State is only being seen as impressive because Allen went off, but a home game against Vanderbilt will be as good a game for Kentucky to keep things rolling.
Prediction: Kentucky 68, Vanderbilt 57
Missouri (1-1) at Mississippi State (1-1)
For the final game of Tuesday night, Mississippi State and Missouri get a chance to show which of their first games was more representative of the kind of team they’ll be this season. The Bulldogs had a good win on the road against Georgia and then lost to 1-6 Kentucky at home in double-overtime. Missouri on the other hand got destroyed by Tennessee at home but bounced back to beat Arkansas on the road.
The loss to Tennessee was concerning, but I think Missouri bounced back well as I expected, given how much experience is on their roster. I think the Tigers will have to know that if they want to compete for an SEC title, this is a game that they need to win.
Mississippi State should have the bodies to slow down Jeremiah Tilmon much better than Arkansas did and the Bulldogs also currently have three players ranked ahead of the first Missouri player in my player rankings.
The Kentucky loss was only the second for Mississippi State since Iverson Molinar has been playing and both came in double-overtime.
If this game was played in normal season, I might take Mississippi State here with the homecourt advantage, but Missouri is too experienced of a team and I still see them as one of the best teams in the conference. I’m not fully sold on Mississipi State yet and think Cuonzo Martin will have his team ready, even on the road.
Prediction: Missouri 72, Mississippi State 69
Arkansas (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1)
Both teams in this game will be looking to bounce back from losses in games that they probably should have won at home. Tennessee fell to a hot-shooting Alabama team and Arkansas just couldn’t find hit their shots and had no answer for Jeremiah Tilmon down low.
The injury to Justin Smith appeared to be an even bigger issue than expected against Missouri and Tennessee also has a team that might be able to take advantage of that missing size. If the Razorbacks are going to win, especially against a very good Tennessee team, they’ll need even more contribution from their frontcourt: JD Notae, Desi Sills, and Moses Moody.
Tennessee showed that they have the weakness of potentially not being able to keep up with high scoring teams against Alabama, but prior to that game, they’ve shut just about everyone else down and forced other teams to play at their pace.
If Arkansas is to win this game, they’ll have to go back to shooting and scoring as they did against Auburn and all of their non-conference schedule. Otherwise, Tennessee can beat them from too many other areas for the Razorbacks to get a win on the road.
Especially coming off of a wake-up call loss, I expect Tennessee to be very prepared for this matchup and show why they’re the best team in the SEC and one of the best teams in the country.
As long as Yves Pons isn’t in early foul trouble, he’ll anchor the Volunteer defense and should be able to keep Arkansas’s offense at bay. On offense, the Vols have plenty of weapons and should be able to take advantage of an inside advantage and score the way they’d prefer, instead of getting caught up in a three-point shooting contest.
Prediction: Tennessee 69, Arkansas 60
Georgia (0-1) at LSU (1-1)
Other than maybe the Vanderbilt at Kentucky game, this might be the most lopsided game of the week. Georgia looked good against the below-average competition for most of the non-conference play and even looked like they might be even better when they handled Cincinnati comfortably. But even if a good Georgia team shows up, they’ll be facing one of the best offenses in the country coming off a close loss in a big game.
I don’t think anyone will be able to stop Cameron Thomas from scoring this season, and only a few teams can hope to slow him down. Including games against worse opponents, Georgia does have the third-best defensive rating at 87.3, but against Mississippi State, they gave up 1.113 points per possession.
LSU currently has three different players in the top-11 of my SEC player rankings and that includes Trendon Watford having a slow start to SEC play. Toumani Camara is currently at 8th overall in the same rankings, but he’ll need Sahvir Wheeler to get back to his early-season form if Georgia is going to have a shot in this one.
Georgia won’t be alone in not having any match for LSU’s scoring this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that this will be a very difficult game on the road. I expect Trendon Watford to get back to his SEC Player of the Year type contribution and Cameron Thomas and Javonte Smart will also likely be too much for the Bulldogs to handle.
The close loss at Florida is fine, but if LSU wants to chase another SEC regular-season title, this kind of game at home is one that they should win.
Prediction: LSU 90, Georgia 74
Texas A&M (1-1) at South Carolina (0-0)
South Carolina was on pause due to COVID for almost an entire month, and then returned to barely get past a very bad Florida A&M team. I won’t count out Frank Martin quite yet, but he definitely needs to have his guys ready to start SEC play.
If the Gamecocks want to climb outside of the bottom tier of SEC teams, this game, at home, is one that they’d really like to win. Texas A&M is coming off of a close win against Auburn and a really bad showing against LSU. South Carolina is probably closer to Auburn in overall ability but has more experience and less overall talent to offer.
Because of the long break, South Carolina has way less of a sample size than Texas A&M and the rest of the league, but for now, the Gamecocks have AJ Lawson as the 15th best player and then Jermaine Couisnard and Justin Minaya barely squeezing into the top-50. Texas A&M on the other hand has Emanuel Miller as the current best player in my player rankings and also has Savion Flagg, Andre Gordon, and Quenton Jackson at 51st, 52nd, and 53rd in my rankings.
Both teams are well-coached and both teams have a main player that is expected to lead and a cast of several other decent contributors around them. While the close win over Florida A&M doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me to pick the Gamecocks, I’d also rather go with the unknown in SEC play versus an A&M team that just got beat handily by LSU and then got a win in the final seconds against Auburn, despite a turnover and foul ridden game by both teams.
If South Carolina loses this game, I might be more convinced that they are actually one of the worst teams in the SEC, but for now, I still have too much faith in Frank Martin to do some damage in the SEC, somehow.
Prediction: South Carolina 70, Texas A&M 68
The final game of the midweek games is Auburn going to Oxford to face Ole Miss. Even when Auburn has been the better team, Kermit Davis has found ways to give Bruce Pearl’s squad so much trouble at the Pavillion.
Both teams had pretty ugly weeks last week with Auburn losing to Arkansas at home, even with a good shooting night, and then failing to complete the comeback against Texas A&M. Ole Miss got beat from start to finish at Alabama and then went even lower by following it up with a loss at home to Wichita State to complete their non-conference schedule.
In order to really be a good team, it seems Auburn needs to either shoot very well from the outside or get better point guard play. The NCAA continues to take their sweet time on issuing a ruling on the eligibility of Sharife Cooper, so without that best option at point guard, Allen Flanigan and Justin Powell will have to keep figuring out that role.
The Auburn fan in me really wants Justin Powell to get back to his non-conference form and Allen Flanigan and Jamal Johnson to keep up their quality production in SEC play, but after the last two games, it seems Auburn just really needs a point guard if they’re going to reach their full potential.
Add in the fact that this game is in Oxford, even without fans, and I don’t like picking Auburn here. Ole Miss has Kermit Davis on the sideline and good players like Devontae Shuler, Romello White, KJ Buffen, and Luis Rodriguez to get the job done.
Auburn has the worst defensive rating overall and the 3rd worst through two SEC games giving up 1.132 points per possession. The Ole Miss offense hasn’t been good either, with an offensive rating of 103.6 overall and just 81.5 against Alabama, but I think this is the game where Devontae Shuler starts really starts his campaign to show that he’s one of the best guards in the SEC.
I’m sure this will be another game where Auburn gets down early and then makes a comeback throughout the second half, but as they did against Texas A&M, I think they’ll fall short if they get too far down early.
Prediction: Ole Miss 76, Auburn 73