This past week was not good for me and my predictions, and it exposed quite a bit for various SEC teams as well. Tuesday saw a handful of blowouts, including upsets by Florida and Ole Miss, and then Wednesday had good games that just went the opposite direction of what I landed on in my picks.
The slate of games for Saturday doesn’t appear to be as exciting, but that never actually ends up being the case in the SEC, so it’s only a matter of which team or teams will throw all of my predictions and expectations out the window and make either an exciting game out of a game I don’t think will be close or turn a close matchup into a blowout.
I’m most curious to see how Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee bounce back. LSU and Tennessee will need to bounce back if they want to have a hope of keeping up with Alabama at the top of the standings, but Missouri could also get revenge on the road at Tennessee and stay in the race themselves.
Despite my poor performance of 2-4 in the midweek games, I’m still comfortably above 0.500 and hope that these picks can get me to the 30 correct picks mark before the end of the day. I’ve gone 5-2 and 5-1 the past two Saturdays, so another 5-2 record would put me back at a good overall record of 30-19.
Auburn (2-5) at South Carolina (1-2)
Auburn was looking good over the last three and half-ish games with Sharife Cooper, and then Arkansas turned it around and completely flipped the script to comeback against the Tigers and make them an even 2-2 with Sharife Cooper on the floor.
Cooper still makes Auburn a much better team, but he also does so much, that Arkansas showed that cutting him off can severely limit the rest of Auburn’s offense just like Cooper normally helps elevate those around him.
South Carolina, who is still a relative unknown given their lesser amount of games in SEC play, is coming in with another opportunity to show where they stand in the SEC this year.
The Gamecocks have had one of the better defenses throughout league play, but a lot of that is still statistically weighted on the first game against Texas A&M, who struggles on offense as it is, where South Carolina held them to just 54 points. On the other hand, the Gamecock offense seems to be further ahead than I expected.
They gave LSU quite a scare on the road a week ago but then couldn’t hang with Missouri. However, both of those were road games, and that could have made a slight difference, especially against LSU.
South Carolina will now welcome Auburn to Columbia, where the Tigers have not won since 2013. It’s been established that homecourt advantage is not much of a thing this year, but in a close matchup like this, I think it might be the difference.
If Auburn is going to win this road game after a short break since Arkansas, they will need more players to step up and take the load off of Sharife Cooper. That may be Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson, JT Thor, or even Jaylin Williams or Devan Cambridge. Cooper will likely continue to be the best and most important player on the court for the Tigers, but he needs one or two other guys to play well enough that defenses can’t just focus all of their energy on him.
For South Carolina to win this game, they’re going to hit their shots from the outside to keep up and maintain their good rebounding where they’ve been second in the SEC in both rebounds per game (39.7) and rebounding rate (53.1%). I’d say the Gamecocks continuing to do what they’ve done will be enough to beat Auburn, because as of now, they are statistically better than the Tigers in several key areas, but that ignores the fact that South Carolina has just three games of SEC play under their belt and Auburn’s stats are also pulled down from their four games without Sharife Cooper.
In the end, I think without Justin Powell, Auburn has the potential to be too one-dimensional, and with the blueprint that Arkansas showed for slowing down Cooper, Frank Martin will likely be able to get his experienced team to take advantage of that, especially on the short turnaround for Auburn and an extra day of preparation on top of not having to travel.
Prediction: South Carolina 83, Auburn 80
Arkansas (3-4) at Vanderbilt (0-4)
If you read my power rankings from last week or my preview for Arkansas’ game against Auburn, I had taken a major step off of the Muss bus. Now, after their big turnaround against Auburn, it appears that their effort is clearly back and they still have plenty of different options that can power the offense and defense when they’re clicking.
While I’m still not sold on Arkansas being as good as they were in non-conference play, they’re also likely not one of the worst teams in the conference and instead just had too much piled on them when they faced four of the best teams in the conference with just a game against Georgia to break up that streak.
Vanderbilt on the other hand is doing more and more to push me out of their camp. I still think that this roster has more ability than previous years, but that’s mostly because they haven’t had a major injury derail them this season (and I hope it stays that way). Even at full strength, the level of talent is not where some other SEC teams have gotten, especially when it comes to depth.
The Commodores are relying on players like Scotty Pippen Jr. to carry most of the load, and as Arkansas showed against Auburn, they’re fully capable of taking option number one away, or at least limiting them, if other players do not step up to take off the pressure.
Dylan Disu might be the guy that is that second option for Vanderbilt, and he’s scored 14 or more points in each of the first SEC games, but after those two, there is still a lot missing for Vanderbilt. And that’s mostly just the offense. Defensively, there are even more issues for Jerry Stackhouse’s squad. The Dores are last in the SEC with a defensive rating of 118.9, and that’s only from games against Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Tennessee who aren’t known for their offense this season, outside of maybe Florida.
I think Arkansas flipped a switch late in the first half against Auburn and this game against a poor Vanderbilt defense will only give them more of an opportunity to get back to the level the Razorback fans expected coming into SEC play. Arkansas is also in a position where if they still want a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to win this game and then start rolling another good win streak together.
Prediction: Arkansas 88, Vanderbilt 74
Florida (4-3) at Georgia (2-4)
Florida played one of their best games of the season on Tuesday night, and it was without three of their best players. Georgia also had a big win on Wednesday when they snapped a 14-game losing streak against Kentucky on PJ Horne’s layup in the final seconds.
Georgia’s win, over Kentucky, is not nearly as impressive as what Florida did to a good Tennessee team, but if the Gators are still without Scottie Lewis and Colin Castleton on Saturday, it might be hard for them to repeat that performance from Tuesday.
I think Florida needs just one of the two players to be cleared for this game to have a clear advantage over Georgia, but with both, they should be a bigger favorite.
Especially without Castleton, I think Georgia and Florida are kind of similar in that they don’t really have a go-to player, but have a handful of good players that can all step up in different ways. Overall talent-wise, I still think Florida has an advantage at most positions, but if that was how basketball games were won, clearly Kentucky would be doing better this season.
I’m going to assume that at least one of Colin Castleton or Scottie Lewis will be cleared for Saturday’s game, and if they do I think they, plus Tre Mann, Tyree Appleby, and the rest that powered the win over Tennessee will be too much for Georgia.
While I’m picking Florida, a win here for Georgia could be the opportunity for them to get things rolling because their next games after this are just against South Carolina, Ole Miss, Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M.
Prediction: Florida 76, Georgia 65
Texas A&M (2-4) at Ole Miss (2-4)
Do you like watching good offense in college basketball? If so, you’ll probably want to skip this game. Through six games in SEC play, Texas A&M has the worst offensive rating at just 87.3 and Ole Miss is second-worst at 97.2. Because they are both also two of the slowest teams in the SEC, those offensive ratings only correlate to 56.3 and 66.3 points per game respectively, which are also 14th and 13th in the league.
While both teams have poor offenses, they also have both found ways to win two games and both have identical 2-4 records right now. On top of that, both of their wins have come against Auburn and Mississippi State.
All that being said, there isn’t a lot separating these two teams and they’re both coached by two of the better coaches in the league who are trying to do the most with less overall talent.
Most of Texas A&M’s production has come in the frontcourt while Ole Miss is turning to Devontae Shuler and the backcourt more and more. This could lead to both teams trying to do very different things and forcing one side to have to find an advantage with their “second option.” If that’s the case, I think Ole Miss has competitive enough bigs in KJ Buffen and Romello White and they should be able to not only slow down Emanuel Miller but also provide more options for scoring down low.
Ole Miss also does a better job rebounding and forcing steals than Texas A&M, which can be even more advantageous in a game between two offenses that have to value every possession.
Prediction: Ole Miss 63, Texas A&M 57
LSU (5-2) at Kentucky (3-3)
LSU was the latest team to face the wrath of Alabama, and they might have gotten the worst of it so far. However, I’m going to chalk a lot of that blowout to Alabama just coming out shooting even better than they normally do and putting LSU in way too deep of a hole before the Tigers could even get their legs under them.
Against Kentucky, I doubt that the Tigers will ever find themselves in a scoring deficit that can’t be overcome. The Wildcats still have a lot of things to figure out, especially on the offensive end, and while their defense is keeping games ugly for them, LSU has a lot of options to work with.
With Shareef O’Neal back in the lineup, LSU will at least have a bigger body to throw at Kentucky’s bigs, but the Wildcats are going to play too many big men anyway because that seems more and more to be all that Calipari knows how to do.
Even if Dontaie Allen has himself another hot game shooting, he’s nowhere near the offensive flamethrower that Cameron Thomas can be. And Cameron Thomas still has Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, and Darius Days to turn to who also keep up the pressure from every angle.
While LSU’s defense is nothing near Alabama’s they do have the ability to score better than anyone else, not counting Alabama. Kentucky didn’t slow down Alabama much at home, and then couldn’t contain Auburn or Georgia in the second half, leading to three straight losses.
I think LSU will have a big bounce-back game to hand Kentucky their fourth straight SEC loss and 10th loss overall on the season. I still think the Tigers are one of the top three teams in the SEC, and the blowout loss to Alabama was just another sign that Alabama is above and beyond the rest of the league right now, especially when almost all of their shots are falling.
Prediction: LSU 80, Kentucky 69
Mississippi State (4-3) at Alabama (7-0)
Speaking of Alabama being the best team in the SEC, that keeps becoming about the only things I’m more and more sure of in the league this season. Mississippi State has also done more to convince me that they’re not as good as I thought they could be.
Whether Mississippi State had won against Ole Miss or just convinced me that they’re still an underrated team, they definitely would not be on the level Alabama is at. I’ve said I’m not picking against Alabama until they lose, and it still doesn’t look like that is coming anytime soon considering they just ran the table against all the other SEC contenders and did so with an average margin of victory of 18 points.
The Crimson Tide are currently the best team in the SEC in both offensive and defensive rating as well as effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Alabama also has the second most possessions per game in SEC play and only turns the ball over at a rate of 18.1%, which is also second in the league.
Mississippi State leads the league in rebounding rate at 53.8%, but if Alabama shoots anything as they did against LSU, there won’t be many defensive rebounds for the Bulldogs to even attempt to get.
Can Alabama go for a third straight 30-point win? At home, in Coleman Coliseum, maybe so.
Prediction: Alabama 85, Mississippi State 60
Missouri (3-2) at Tennessee (4-2)
After Arkansas’s second win over Auburn, Tennessee will now be the second team looking for a season sweep against an SEC opponent, and the Vols get their chance at home as well. Missouri had their non-conference hype put behind them pretty quickly when Tennessee beat them by 20 in Columbia in the first conference game of the year.
Since that game, both teams have shown enough to make a case that they’re still some of the best teams in the SEC, but they also both have two odd losses. Tennessee looked downright bad against Florida, especially when the Gators didn’t have their best players, but the Vols also still only have losses to Florida and Alabama whereas Missouri got tripped up by Mississippi State and already has a loss to the Vols.
Both of these teams have a lot of experience and that experience on Tennessee’s side should have them bounce back from the performance against Florida. Both teams are also still the closest teams to Alabama in the SEC regular-season title race, but one more loss could put them out of reach the way that the Crimson Tide are playing.
I think Jeremiah Tilmon is going to give Tennessee all they can handle, but I think Tennessee is still the overall better team at other positions on the floor. John Fulkerson was the only player that could get anything going against Florida, but even he will be looking for more in this game.
If Missouri is going to win this game, they’ll need to do what they can to make sure guys like Victor Bailey Jr. have another poor shooting night. They’ll also need to keep up their good shooting against a tough Volunteer defense. The Tigers are right behind Alabama and are third and second in the SEC in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage respectively.
Combining what we saw Tennessee do to Missouri the first time with the fact that this team bounced back pretty well from their first loss, I think the veterans of Tennessee will be able to come out on top of the veterans for Missouri, but the young guys on Tennessee’s roster will also make the difference.
Prediction: Tennessee 72, Missouri 68