Over the last week, I missed just two predictions (I had Missouri beating Mississippi State and Florida beating Kentucky), and that brought my record on the season all the way up to 16-8 through two full weeks.
As I mentioned in my updated power rankings, it seems that we are starting to get a good idea of where teams stand right now. Kentucky and Auburn both getting key new pieces could mix things up a little bit, but only time will tell if Keion Brooks Jr. and Sharife Cooper’s season debuts were a sign of what they can do on a weekly basis.
It’s still hard to tell what impact homecourt advantage has this year since home teams went 7-0 in the midweek games, but then road teams won 5 out of the 6 games on Saturday.
For the midweek games this week, there are at least two really good matchups that have early SEC title ramifications. Alabama and Kentucky both put their undefeated SEC records on the line when the Crimson Tide travels to Lexington on Tuesday and then Arkansas travels to LSU to see which team belongs right behind Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the regular-season championship race.
Tennessee (3-1) at Vanderbilt (0-3)
Tennessee bounced back after the loss to Alabama with two wins last week and the loss looks like even less of a concern since Alabama is still undefeated in conference play and might be one of the hottest teams in the country right now.
Vanderbilt on the other hand kept both games close against Kentucky and Mississippi State but ultimately lost each one to remain winless in SEC play so far.
Vanderbilt hasn’t caught a break with their early schedule as they have now lost to teams that are a combined 7-2 going into this week and now the highest-ranked team in the SEC, Tennessee, comes to town at 3-1 in SEC play.
If the Commodores can make this another close game, I’ll be further convinced that they are set up to win a few games in the league this year, especially when the schedule gets a little easier, relatively speaking.
However, I’m not sure Vanderbilt will be able to keep this one close, even on their home court. Tennessee struggled offensively against Alabama but has started to get things going again over the last two games. Despite the Vols still being 9th in offensive rating in the SEC so far, they are about to face a Vanderbilt team that is dead last in defensive rating through three games.
This will likely be another game for John Fulkerson, Victor Bailey Jr., and the other key offensive pieces for the Volunteers to keep figuring out their rhythm with little resistance against the Dores. Tennessee’s defense is also one of the best in the conference, and country, and shouldn’t have a problem stopping or at least slowing down Scotty Pippen Jr. and the few other offensive weapons Vanderbilt has.
Prediction: Tennessee 78, Vanderbilt 63
Ole Miss (1-2) at Florida (2-2)
Ole Miss had a pretty up and down week last week with a fairly convincing win against Auburn and then a game where they got mostly dominated by LSU, even without Cameron Thomas.
Florida had an even worse week as they found out how well Alabama was playing in the midweek game and then learned that Kentucky might have really started to figure things out in a big home loss in Keion Brooks Jr.’s debut.
I think that Florida is poised for a bounceback game, but I’m not sure Ole Miss and Kermit Davis is the coaching matchup that favors Mike White and the Gators.
While Florida should have more talent on paper, even without Keyontae Johnson, the Gators didn’t look prepared at all against Alabama and Kentucky last week. Ole Miss on the other hand had a scheme that gave Auburn plenty of problems and then never gave up against LSU, even though the score was out of hand most of the night.
There are no “must-win” games this early in the season, but if Florida does want to chase a regular-season conference title and reassert that they’re a top team in the country, this is a game they probably should win, especially at home.
Both of these team’s main contributors, Devontae Shuler and Scottie Lewis struggled in their last game with each scoring just 2 points. I think Scottie Lewis has more guys around him such that he doesn’t have to be the star for Florida to be good and I am not sure if Devontae Shuler has shown that he can answer the lofty preseason expectations I and others gave him so far this year.
I’m going to stick with the home team in this one and say the Gators get a close win. This will be a matchup of an average offense and bad defense (Florida) versus an average defense and bad offense (Ole Miss) and I think the level of competition each team has played so far makes Florida’s numbers more excusable.
Prediction: Florida 67, Ole Miss 62
Alabama (4-0) at Kentucky (3-0)
I’m sure I’ve said enough about how well Alabama is playing already, and the point should be clear as I have the Crimson Tide at the top of my SEC power rankings as well as in my most recent top 25 college basketball rankings.
Kentucky is also off to a good start in SEC play and seems to have made a quick turnaround compared to their worrying non-conference performances and results.
Alabama was able to survive the rivalry game in Auburn, but traveling to Kentucky will be the ultimate test of if they are truly the best team in the SEC, or just off to a hot start. The Crimson Tide hasn’t won in Rupp Arena since 2006 despite a few home wins in that time, so more than just first place in the SEC is on the line on Tuesday.
It feels hard to pick against Alabama right now as the Crimson Tide has the 6th best offensive rating in SEC play so far as well as the best defensive rating if you don’t count South Carolina’s one game. But on the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kentucky has the 4th best offense and 3rd best defense with the same stipulations.
Sure, Alabama has played a more difficult schedule so far, but I think the added pressure of playing against Kentucky in Rupp might give the Wildcats an advantage. It’s also worth something that Kentucky beat Florida by slightly more on the road than Alabama did at home.
I’m prepared for this to be one of my misses this week, but I’m picking the Cats.
Prediction: Kentucky 72, Alabama 69
Auburn (0-4) at Georgia (0-3)
After capping off Tuesday’s games with a battle for first place, Auburn and Georgia will open up Wednesday games with a battle to avoid last place in the league. Georgia is coming off a 30-point blowout on the road against Arkansas while Auburn lost a close one to Alabama at home.
If the NCAA hadn’t cleared Sharife Cooper on Saturday, this game could have been a pretty ugly game that no one should watch. But, with Sharife Cooper finally joining the Tigers lineup, this game at least has the potential to be exciting and hopefully faster paced, like the game against Alabama was.
Auburn has had a pretty rough stretch to start conference play and looked lost at times without a true point guard to lead the offense and keep things organized. Despite playing with their second or third option at the point, the Tigers still lead the SEC with an assist rate of 62.1% and also lead in three-point rate and effective field goal percentage.
As the Alabama game showed, Sharife Cooper appears to be the perfect missing piece to tie all of the other young playmakers on Auburn’s team together.
Georgia comes into this game as the fastest team through the start of SEC play at over 80 possessions a game, but I’m not sure they’ll want to turn this into a track meet. Auburn had been playing slower than years past to start this season, but in a game with 88 possessions against Alabama, the Tigers didn’t seem to have any problem playing fast.
Both of these teams struggle to get stops and both will want to keep the pace high. That’s a recipe for a fun, high scoring game. Sharife Cooper could be in for a game where he truly settles back down to the college game after a very impressive debut. But even if Cooper doesn’t put up 26 points and 9 assists again, I think his ability to make everyone around him better will be the difference in this one.
After I wrote this, it appears that Georgia has had their own player get cleared to play by the NCAA. I’m not sure KD Johnson will have a Sharife Cooper level impact in his first game, but it does give the Bulldogs another key piece that will make this game even more fun.
Prediction: Auburn 95, Georgia 85
Arkansas (2-2) at LSU (3-1)
If Alabama and Kentucky are the game of the night on Tuesday, then this is the game of the night on Wednesday. While the Tide and Cats are playing for first place in the league right now, this game will also have SEC title ramifications as well with both teams trying to stay in the hunt.
It’s a shame that this matchup likely won’t be played with either team at full strength. LSU has been missing Shareef O’Neal and then only got 4 minutes from star freshman Cameron Thomas against Ole Miss. Arkansas has taken a step back without Justin Smith and then also lost Khalen Robinson.
If Cameron Thomas plays and is at least mostly healthy, I think this is LSU’s game to lose. But if he doesn’t play like his normal self, Arkansas might be able to put enough points on the board to hold off the rest of LSU’s stars, even on the road.
This is a game between the third overall offense (Arkansas) and first overall offense (LSU) which should lead to another high scoring game on Wednesday night.
After the 30-point win and almost triple-digit scoring performance Arkansas was able to get against Georgia’s defense, I don’t think LSU will be able to slow them down much either. If Thomas doesn’t play, I don’t think LSU can keep up. If he does play, I still like the Razorbacks because of how well they played against Georgia and the way LSU seemed to let off the gas down the stretch against Ole Miss.
As of writing this, Thomas is questionable for Wednesday’s game and did not practice for LSU on Monday. Even if he does play, an ankle injury can have some significant effect on a shooter that relies on getting plenty of elevation on his jump shots.
Prediction: Arkansas 85, LSU 83
Texas A&M (1-3) at Mississippi State (3-1)
Mississippi State has been one of the bigger surprises in conference play so far. Their only loss came in double-overtime against a Kentucky team that had Dontaie Allen go off. Two of Mississippi State’s other games have been double-digit wins and then the Bulldogs showed they can also finish off a close game, even if it was against Vanderbilt.
Texas A&M on the other hand won their only game by holding off an Auburn comeback and getting a last-second layup. The rest of the Aggies’ games have each been lost by no less than 14 points including a 24-point beatdown at the hands of South Carolina in the only SEC game the Gamecocks played before pausing their season for COVID again.
Despite Texas A&M having the best player in my SEC player rankings and the 8th best scorer over the entire season so far, Emanuel Miller hasn’t been enough to make the offense any good. The Aggies are dead last in the SEC with an offensive rating of just 87 points per 100 possessions.
For Mississippi State, Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart Jr. are 4th and 5th in scoring in SEC play at 21.3 and 19.3 points per game respectively. They are also leading Mississippi State to the second-best offense in SEC play at almost 110 points per 100 possessions.
Mississippi State’s defense hasn’t been stellar so far in league play, but they don’t need to be really good to stop a mostly one-dimensional offense that has a 53 spot gap between Emanuel Miller and their next best player.
It’s a shame that this is the game that gets its own timeslot on Wednesday because I don’t think it will be close and I have the Bulldogs getting a comfortable win in Starkville to remain quietly in the hunt for the SEC’s top spot and remain one of bigger surprises in league play.
Prediction: Mississippi State 77, Texas A&M 60