Barring any last-minute COVID issues, it appears that this will be the first full slate of SEC basketball games this season. All 14 teams are matched up and it should be a good Saturday for SEC hoops.
On my predictions side, the hot streak was certainly snapped as I went just 2-3 on the midweek games. Texas A&M and LSU had some pretty shocking performances. Or more accurately, Mississippi State and Arkansas did as both teams did not show their best this week.
My record is still 18-11 on the year and hopefully, a full weekend of games will allow me to improve on that and finally learn a little bit more about South Carolina.
This might be my least confident week of picks, but I think that’s a sign for good matchups that should make for some entertaining, close games.
Georgia (0-4) at Ole Miss (1-3)
Georgia is coming into Oxford after suffering two big losses at the hands of Arkansas and Auburn. The Bulldogs got KD Johnson cleared, and he looks like he’ll make them better, but the team overall still has a log of issues that need to be addressed soon or Tom Crean is going to have to start answering more questions at the end of year three in Athens.
Ole Miss is also trying to snap a 2-game losing streak of their own, but their losses to LSU and Florida weren’t as big of margins as Georgia’s losses.
Based on who I think is a better team overall, I’d lean towards Ole Miss in this one, but the styles of play are different enough that Georgia could get the win on the road if they force Ole Miss to play their way.
Georgia currently leads the SEC at almost 82 possessions per game while Ole Miss is in 10th with just 70 possessions per game. Both teams shoot the ball poorly, but Ole Miss has struggled quite a bit and is currently last in the league in both effective field goal percentage (43.3%) and true shooting percentage (51.5%).
In a game where both teams struggle to score, I think I’ll go with the better defensive team, Ole Miss, but this could be a game that Georgia has a shot at winning if KD Johnson can repeat his debut performance and get a little more help from the rest of the team.
Prediction: Ole Miss 65, Georgia 60
Missouri (1-2) at Texas A&M (2-3)
My prediction for the Texas A&M game against Mississippi State looked like it was on track and then ended up being way off when Texas A&M came back from double-digits to get another close win in the final seconds. So far in SEC play, Texas A&M either wins in the final seconds or gets blown out.
Missouri hasn’t been much more consistent, either. The Tigers have been on a pause and missed their last two games, but before the break, they got beat badly by Tennessee and Mississippi State but managed to get a good win on the road at Arkansas.
The Tigers have established in the non-conference that if they all show up, they can beat anyone. But on the other hand, they’ve also shown that they might not have the upside to beat many people on their off games.
Both of these teams have had bad offenses, with Texas A&M having the worst offensive efficiency in the league so far. I trust Missouri to find a way to score, but the Aggies are going to make it really tough, as they did against Mississippi State down the stretch.
This is another game where it makes sense to pick Missouri, but after their break and Texas A&M’s big comeback against Mississippi State on the road, they might be poised to pull off another upset here.
I usually don’t believe in the transitive property, but both of these teams played at Mississippi State for their last games and only one team, Texas A&M, got the win.
The offense is hard to watch, but I think I trust Buzz Williams to create enough problems on defense and then give his guys the motivation to pull off the upset at home. If I’m wrong, Missouri could also run up the score, as that seems to be the other option for Texas A&M this season.
Prediction: Texas A&M 58, Missouri 56
Kentucky (4-1) at Auburn (1-4)
Right when everyone was starting to buy back into Kentucky, Alabama exposed a lot of the same flaws they had in the non-conference schedule and handed the Wildcats their first SEC loss.
Auburn once again showed that they are a totally new team with Sharife Cooper now cleared and beat Georgia by 18 on the road in a game in which the score might have been better than how the game actually went.
Auburn Arena has not been kind to Kentucky recently, but as I’ve had to mention several times this season, that’s not as big a factor this season. I won’t say it’s a non-factor, especially for a team like Auburn, because the comfort of shooting in your own gym is still a pretty good advantage.
Kentucky is going to need to hit shots at a better rate or slow the game down to get the win over Auburn. Alabama exposed how outdated Calipari’s style of play looks this year, especially when he hasn’t been able to figure out the best way to use the players he has this year.
If Kentucky struggled against Alabama at home, and they don’t make big changes, they’ll likely have the same problems with Auburn, who is not playing fast again and has always enjoyed taking threes. Add Justin Powell into the mix and this might be an even better matchup for Auburn.
Like most games for both of these teams, especially this year, whichever team can make their shots will have a massive advantage in this one. Auburn comes into this game with the highest three-point rate at 47% while Kentucky is the second-lowest in the league at 26.5%. The difference now, though, is that Auburn doesn’t necessarily need a ton of threes to score a lot of points.
Against Georgia, Auburn managed to put up 95 points and only 15 of them came from behind the arc. Kentucky’s defense is much better than Georgia’s and Isaiah Jackson, who leads the SEC in blocks per game at 4.3, won’t let the Tigers get to the rim at will as Georgia did.
If Justin Powell is able to play, and it seems that he will, then this will be the first time Auburn has played at full strength this season and that’s not a good thing for Kentucky. I have a feeling Calipari is going to regret letting an in-state shooter like Powell get away from him, especially this season.
Prediction: Auburn 80, Kentucky 72
Arkansas (2-3) at Alabama (5-0)
I thought that Alabama would finally slow down and trip up in Lexington on Tuesday, but they did quite the opposite and got another big win, despite playing most of the game without Herbert Jones and also losing Jordan Bruner to injury in the second half.
Arkansas on the other hand looked very unprepared against LSU and while they woke up a little in the second half, they still left Baton Rouge with a 16-point loss and 2-3 record in SEC play.
The Crimson Tide continues to look unstoppable, but I’m afraid the worst way to be slowed down, injuries, might have caught up with Alabama as well. Alabama was able to keep chugging along against Kentucky without Jones and Bruner, but I think that game was just such a style of play mismatch and Alabama’s entire team has bought into Nate Oats’ system.
I hope both teams show up with their best effort because this game should be a fast-paced, exciting game, even if both teams are going to be missing key players (Justin Smith is an important piece that is likely still out for Arkansas).
Alabama comes into the game with the second-best offensive rating in SEC play and would have the best defensive rating as well if you don’t count South Carolina’s one game so far. The effort against LSU gives me more concerns about Arkansas and I don’t think Moses Moody and others will be able to score as easily against this Alabama defense.
Not having Jones to anchor the defense and do just about everything will hurt Alabama, but I think if Jahvon Quinerly is back, Alabama has bought into the defense enough as a team that they’ll still be able to at least hold Arkansas to less than the large number of points they’ll put up as well.
I learned my lesson in picking against Alabama on Tuesday. Even with the injuries, I think I’m sticking with Alabama until they show they actually have a weakness in conference play.
Prediction: Alabama 88, Arkansas 82
Florida (3-2) at Mississippi State (3-2)
Going into this week I thought that Mississippi State was a surprise team that was being underrated. Then they let the game against A&M slip away and I’m not so sure about them anymore.
Florida has also been in a similar position where I thought they were one of the best teams in the SEC but then had pretty bad losses at Alabama and against Kentucky before figuring things out against Ole Miss on Tuesday.
Colin Castleton has been playing very well in SEC play and has stepped up to increase his contribution without Scottie Lewis available. The Gators also got good production from Tre Mann and Noah Locke against Ole Miss.
On the other side, Mississippi State shouldn’t be overlooked. Iverson Molinar, DJ Stewart Jr., and Tolu Smith have been playing well with all three players averaging 11 points or more in SEC play with Molinar leading the way at 20.2 points per game.
These teams are pretty even in a lot of statistical categories so far in SEC play. They are within one or two spots for almost every advanced stat in SEC play, with some of the only separation being Mississippi State being five spots better in defensive rating. Florida’s poor defense gives them a negative net rating while Mississippi State has the 5th best net rating, offensive rating, and defensive rating in the conference.
I think letting Texas A&M come back and get the win on Wednesday will be a good wakeup call for the Bulldogs and Florida still being without Scottie Lewis could pose more problems.
This will probably be a close game between two similar teams that both like to play slower and value their possessions, but I think Mississippi State will bounce back with a good win.
Prediction: Mississippi State 72, Florida 70
Vanderbilt (0-3) at Tennessee (3-1)
The first of what was supposed to be a back-to-back ended up not happening because of COVID, but that likely prevented Vanderbilt from getting another loss to Tennessee for now.
It stinks that the game that was canceled was the Vanderbilt home game because I think they need all the advantage they can get in this one.
Tennessee’s defense has been good in every game except for when they hosted Alabama, so I think they’ll be able to manage Scotty Pippen Jr. in this one. Outside of Pippen Jr., who is playing like one of the best players in the SEC, Vanderbilt again doesn’t have much talent to answer a team like Tennessee.
Dylan Disu has established himself as a good second option for Vanderbilt, but the Commodores are still far from being able to stack up against John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Josiah-Jordan James, Victor Bailey, Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, and the rest of the wealth of skill and experience Tennessee is loaded with this season.
This might have been more of a trap game if Tennessee was traveling to Vanderbilt, but with the extra few days to prepare and the only game now taking place in Knoxville, I think Tennessee will use this as another opportunity to show that the Alabama game was not the norm and this Vols team is still someone to be taken seriously on a national stage.
I think Tennessee smothers Vanderbilt on defense and continues to evolve their offense in this one.
Prediction: Tennessee 75, Vanderbilt 62
South Carolina (1-0) at LSU (4-1)
After missing three more games with their third COVID pause of the season, South Carolina will be traveling to face a red-hot LSU team and doing so without their head coach, Frank Martin.
South Carolina had an impressive win against Texas A&M in their only SEC game so far and that one data point has been throwing off a lot of my stats and standings. I’m looking forward to seeing more of what South Carolina has to offer and if they can keep it up, even without their coach in attendance.
LSU on the other hand didn’t have to play without their star freshman Cameron Thomas for very long since he immediately came back for the Arkansas game after playing just 4 minutes against Ole Miss due to injury. He may still be slightly limited since he only had 17 points, but if 17 points are limited, he’s doing alright for himself and LSU.
Other than Thomas, LSU still has plenty of other weapons like Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart, and even Darius Days and a Mwani Wilkinson who have been stepping up more lately. The Tigers have the best offense in the SEC, and so far the defense has been good enough and currently sits as the 4th most efficient defense in the SEC.
South Carolina’s defense is one of their biggest strength, but none of the teams they’ve faced this season, and certainly not Texas A&M in the SEC, are nearly as good as LSU’s offense. The Gamecocks will be lucky if they can find a way to slow down one or two players for the Tigers, but I don’t see a path for them to stop all five or six guys that have been showing they can score in double-figures any given game.
For South Carolina to put up a fight, the defense will have to remain good while AJ Lawson continues to carry most of the offense. Lawson scored 30 on Texas A&M, but he might need more than that just to keep up with Cameron Thomas.
I like LSU in this one and think this game will just be a warmup to set up for a big showdown against Alabama on Tuesday.
Prediction: LSU 80, South Carolina 64