It seems like more than a week ago that Alabama traveled to Rupp Arena with first place in the SEC on the line. While Kentucky appears to have fallen back to mediocrity again, Alabama has another important road game, this time against LSU, with first place in the league on the line again.
While that game has the most on the line this week, almost every other game is between teams that I have within a few spots of each other in my most recent power rankings.
The two games that feature teams that are further apart in my rankings are also rivalry games. Ole Miss travels to Mississippi Stae and Tennessee goes to Florida. With that game being in Gainesville, Florida still has enough ability to potentially give Tennessee a hard time.
I was afraid last weekend was off to a bad start when I missed on both of my picks, but despite some of the other games also cutting it close, I still finished the Saturday slate with a 5-2 record and improved to 23-13 on the year.
South Carolina (1-1) at Missouri (2-2)
Coming into the season, I expected both South Carolina and Missouri to be two teams that could play above their expectations because of the wealth of experience they returned. In the non-conference schedule, Missouri majorly lived up to that, and now in SEC play, South Carolina has been better than I expected.
South Carolina gave LSU all they could handle on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for a dry offensive spell in the final minutes, the Gamecocks would have won a game against one of the best teams in the SEC on the road, without trailing.
Missouri has been up and down in league play so far with two big losses and two decent wins. The most recent win on Saturday came against a Texas A&M team that struggles to score.
Based on South Carolina’s performance on Saturday, it looks like they have figured some things out on offense. AJ Lawson is averaging 26 points per game through the Gamecocks’ first two SEC games and he also got help from Keyshawn Bryant who also had 26 points and 7 rebounds against LSU.
Missouri has been led by Jeremiah Tilmon who is seemingly flying under the radar despite being the best player in every SEC game Missouri has played.
Both of these teams lean more towards their defense, but because they have played just two SEC games so far, South Carolina currently has a better offensive and defensive rating.
I think the key for Missouri will be using a combination of their quality guards to make AJ Lawson have a game that is more like the second half against LSU instead of the first half. The Tigers are currently the second-best team in the SEC allowing opponents to shoot just above 40% from the field.
If Missouri is able to contain AJ Lawson on the outside, I think that Jeremiah Tilmon can win his matchup with Keyshawn Johnson and the Tigers’ experience will overcome the Gamecocks’ experience in a close one, mostly because they’ve got more games under their belt this season.
Prediction: Missouri 69, South Carolina 67
Tennessee (4-1) at Florida (3-3)
Following two big losses to Alabama and Kentucky, Florida then got a close win and close loss without Scottie Lewis against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. With Lewis still not cleared to play tonight, it’s going to be a tall order for the Gators to turn things around and take down Tennessee, who has remained one of the best teams in the league.
Tennessee’s defense has been a strength all year long, and it will continue to make things even more difficult for Florida. But the thing that is making Tennessee even better since losing to Alabama is the improvement on the offensive end. Now, against Florida’s defense that is currently 12th in the SEC giving up 1.056 points per possession, the Volunteers should be looking to keep up their offensive success.
Colin Castleton might have a slight edge over John Fulkerson tonight, but the rest of the roster for Tennessee is going to be too much for the Gators. I want to think that Florida can still find some way to make this game closer than I’m inclined to think, but that will require other players like Tre Mann and Tyree Appleby to step up to try and replace production missing from Scottie Lewis.
Florida is going to have to turn things around quickly if they want to stay in the conversation as one of the best teams in the SEC, but I don’t think they have enough available players to get that streak started against Tennessee.
Prediction: Tennessee 76, Florida 67
Ole Miss (1-4) at Mississippi State (4-2)
While I want to believe all of the metrics that point towards Mississippi State as one of the best teams, and certainly most underrated teams in the SEC right now, they’re going to need to learn how to close to keep their record where it should be.
The Bulldogs are in a good position at 4-2 in the league, but they are also a few plays from being 6-0 or even 2-4 with close losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M and close wins over Vanderbilt and Florida. None of those teams have a equal record to Mississippi State and none are above them in my power rankings.
Even in a rivalry game, Ole Miss has been playing like a team Mississippi State should beat convincingly if they are for real as a team in the upper tier of the SEC right now. It also doesn’t help Ole Miss’s case that they’re coming off a loss to Georgia at home.
Kermit Davis is up there in coaches I don’t like to count out, but while each of their losses has gotten closer, they also only hold a win over Auburn before they had Sharife Cooper.
The Bulldogs are currently scoring 10 points more per 100 possessions than Ole Miss and are giving up almost 6 points less per 100 possessions. Tolu Smith and Iverson Molinar have been leading the way for Mississippi State, but DJ Stewart Jr. and Abdul Ado also can’t be forgotten.
Ole Miss’s current best player in SEC play, Devontae Shuler, is ranked below all four of those guys in my SEC player rankings. Alongside Shuler in the backcourt is also Austin Crowly who has been the best player in two games for the Rebels, but still barely cracks my top-85.
For Ole Miss to pull off this upset, and start getting more wins in SEC play, Crowly and Shuler will need to have more good games at the same time while Romello White and Luis Rodriguez start contributing more in the frontcourt like they were in the non-conference schedule.
Mississippi State flew under the radar last year as well but managed to hold on to finish 4th in the SEC. With an almost entirely new roster, it still looks like Ben Howland’s Bulldogs could do the same thing again this season. For that to happen, though, they’ll need to take care of their rival, especially at home. I think that they can do that.
Prediction: Mississippi State 72, Ole Miss 65
Alabama (6-0) at LSU (5-1)
I made the mistake of thinking that Alabama would come back down from their high against Kentucky last week. Instead, they blew out the Wildcats and Arkansas and I’m sticking to my plan to not pick against them until they lose.
That being said, LSU will be another one of the toughest teams they’ve faced because they’re the only other team that can match Alabama’s offensive abilities. Auburn gave Alabama their biggest challenge this year because they were able to run with them and keep up in the scoring department. Auburn’s problem at the end was they relied on just Sharife Cooper at the end and he ultimately couldn’t get the job done in his debut.
For LSU, if they can get in the same situation, they will have multiple quality options that can close, like they did against South Carolina. Trendon Watford and Cameron Thomas have shown that they can score almost whenever they want. Javonte Smart can get hot at the right time, and Darius Days is a solid fourth option.
The Tigers’ goal should be to keep it close all game so that they have the opportunity to close this one out like Auburn failed to do. But keeping it close will be no easy task. While LSU’s offense is great, they have not played a defense as good as Alabama’s yet. South Carolina was close, and they gave LSU enough issues.
Alabama is mostly back to full strength and is just missing Jordan Bruner for a few more games. It would have helped to have Bruner to go against Watford and Days, but Alabama likely doesn’t need him.
I’m not sure if Nate Oats will use Herbert Jones on Cameron Thomas, or leave Petty to hold his own against the best scorer in the SEC. Regardless of who is tasked with staying in front of Thomas, slowing him down will likely make the difference for Alabama. This is the best defense that LSU has faced this season and I’m not sure the homecourt advantage will be enough this season.
I will continue to ride the incredible hot streak Alabama is on until they show signs of cooling down.
Prediction: Alabama 95, LSU 88
Texas A&M (2-4) at Vanderbilt (0-4)
It stinks that this game and Kentucky at Georgia game fall at the same time on the same night because both are likely going to be hard to watch with little on the line.
Texas A&M is finding a way to get wins that they probably shouldn’t while Vanderbilt can’t win no matter how close they keep games, even down to the final few minutes.
This will be a matchup between the worst offense and the worst defense. If Texas A&M can’t manage to score on Vanderbilt, they might be doomed to stay under 60 points per game the rest of this season.
As for Vanderbilt, they’ll want to show they can at least stop someone and give their offense hope to actually finish a game.
Emanuel Miller has taken a slight step back in SEC play down from his very impressive performances in the non-conference schedule. On the other hand, Dylan Disu has been stepping up more and more lately as the second option to Scotty Pippen Jr.
Vanderbilt establishing more options around Pippen Jr. could be key for their chances the rest of this season and any hope at taking a step forward next year. This home game against A&M would be the perfect time to find out who is the best third and the fourth option for the Dores.
This never works out well, but I think I like Vanderbilt to get their first win here. I put up a poll on Twitter this week asking if Alabama would lose first or Vanderbilt would win first. This week is the best chance for both of those to happen, and I’m going with Vanderbilt winning their first one, going against what the majority of others thought as of writing this.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 67, Texas A&M 64
Kentucky (3-2) at Georgia (1-4)
Between last year for Georgia and this year for Kentucky, this game might be between the two SEC coaches that have done the least with the most. I was starting to get confident in Kentucky last week while Georgia looked worse with not much hope of turning it around.
Instead, Calipari has continued to refuse to make what seems like the obvious adjustments and Georgia has found a spark in KD Johnson. I still don’t think Tom Crean is playing the new freshman enough, but it could be due to other concerns I’m not aware of yet.
This is a hard game to pick. On one hand, Georgia has struggled against teams with plenty of post options. On the other, Kentucky has struggled with teams that try to move quickly and play modern basketball.
If Georgia is able to control the tempo and make Kentucky play fast, they could stand a chance to get their second win in a row while handing Kentucky their third straight loss.
I’m very tempted to pick Georgia in this one, but I think I’m still going to fall for Cal’s deception and trust that he is actually going to listen to what should have been obvious signs and adjust the lineup to prioritize Dontaie Allen and his guards over the big-dominated lineups he’s been sticking with.
My prediction is that this game will be the opposite of Kentucky at Auburn game. Georgia will get to set the pace early and could build up a sizeable lead. At that point, Kentucky starts to wear them down in the second half and show that they can still bully some teams with their size.
For Kentucky to hang around and keep it close enough so that they can hope to wear down Georgia and come back for the win, Dontaie Allen will need to shoot well throughout the game and should definitely play more than just 20 minutes.
Prediction: Kentucky 73, Georgia 70
Auburn (2-4) at Arkansas (2-4)
In the first rematch of the SEC schedule, these two teams couldn’t be in any more extreme of a flip than their first meeting. When Arkansas went to Auburn Arena and won in the first SEC game of the season, they were coming off an undefeated non-conference schedule and that game seemed to prove they were a real threat in the SEC as well.
Auburn was still waiting on the decision for Sharife Cooper but had a nice little win streak of their own going to end non-conference play. The game was an exciting one but ended up as a rare game where Auburn shot well and still lost.
Justin Smith got hurt in the first meeting, and his absence seemed to be the main reason for the dropoff for the Hogs over their next four-game. When Justin Smith returned against Alabama, it didn’t make that much of a difference because Arkasnas’s effort was still non-existent.
The way they started, and the quality of the teams they were playing, I can’t totally blame Arkansas for feeling hopeless in their last two blowouts. But coming into this game, they should be looking to start off on the right foot with confidence from the first win and some resemblance of a home crowd behind them.
Whichever team comes out on top, this game is going to be a must-watch in order to see the battle between Moses Moody and Sharife Cooper. Along with Cameron Thomas, they’re both in the race to be the SEC Freshman of the Year at the end of the season.
Arkansas’s offense has struggled in each of their last two games and is down to just barely over 1 point per possession, which is 10th in the SEC right now. That’s a big dropoff after scoring 97 against the Tigers in the first matchup.
Prior to their game against Kentucky, Auburn had put up over 90 points in their first two games with Sharife Cooper eligible and were looking like they could run with anyone. The uglier first half and then drastic turnaround against Kentucky makes me even more confident in Auburn going forward. They showed that they can get down and then find a way to adjust and finish the game on top. Arkansas has shown quite the opposite in their last two.
I don’t quite think that Auburn can blow out Arkansas as LSU and Alabama did, but these two teams are very different from the first matchup and I think Auburn has the edge now. Allen Flanigan will be looking to show he’s not far behind Cooper as Auburn’s best overall weapon, especially in his home state.
Prediction: Auburn 92, Arkansas 76