I knew going into last week feeling like every game was going to be straightforward would be a sign that the opposite was bound to happen. That’s almost exactly what ended up happening with Ole Miss, Georgia, and South Carolina all getting big upsets over Tennessee, Auburn, and Florida. So the 11th, 10th, and 13th teams in my power rankings took down the 4th, 6th, and 2nd teams in my power rankings with two of those upsets being road upsets.
I still managed to salvage a 3-3 record on games and my season record is sitting at 47-26. With just five games this weekend after Arkansas-Texas A&M and Florida-LSU getting postponed for COVID issues, I’ll need to finish with a winning record this weekend to reach my 50th correct pick on the season.
Given that outside of Alabama being the best team in the SEC, I’m not sure who is good or bad that this point. Add in Alabama playing who I think is now the second-best team in Missouri and I’m not very confident in my picks this week, but they’re picks nonetheless.
There are 11 different teams that are between four and six games back from Alabama for first place. Everyone is playing for second place, but just about everyone is also still in contention for second place. Even Auburn at 12th place is just two or three wins away from being in second place in the SEC. This weekend is likely just going to be even more craziness, and I can’t wait.
Alabama (10-0) at Missouri (5-3)
I think it was a combination of LSU being unable to stay on the level of Alabama on both sides of the court and the Crimson Tide being re-energized after the loss to Oklahoma, but Alabama looked just as good in their most recent win over the Tigers. Alabama is finding more ways to win than just drowning teams in threes, and their defense is a major part of that.
Missouri didn’t beat Kentucky by as much as I expected, but they’re still clearly one of the only teams that still have a chance to beat Alabama. Jeremiah Tilmon will probably be a major advantage for the Tigers in this game, and the homecourt advantage might be worth enough to give Missouri a chance to give Alabama their first SEC loss.
Dru Smith had a big game against the Wildcats, and Xavier Pinson continues to show he’s one of the best guards. But they’ll have to face the best defense they’ve played so far this season and might be outmatched when they’re on defense because of how many options Alabama has to score from the backcourt.
Alex Reese has been stepping up in a big way with Jordan Bruner still out for a few more weeks for the Tide, but I’m not sure he’ll be enough to slow down Tilmon. With this being one of maybe three games left for Alabama where they have even a chance of losing, I think I’m going to have to go with the Tigers.
Alabama is still the best offense and defense in the SEC, as shown by their growing lead at the top of the league standings, but Missouri’s defense will be one of the better ones Alabama faces in SEC play. The Tigers’ offense is still only the ninth most efficient offense in the SEC, but I think Tilmon’s mismatch in this game and the continued improvement of Missouri’s guards will give them enough to get a narrow win at home and end Alabama’s run at a perfect SEC regular season.
Prediction: Missouri 70, Alabama 69
Mississippi State (4-6) at South Carolina (3-4)
These two teams might still be the most inconsistent and hard to predict teams in the SEC. Mississippi State is on a four-game SEC losing streak but has wins over Florida and Missouri and also looked really good in their blowout of Iowa State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
South Carolina on the other hand has gone from a massive blowout to Auburn to a big win over Georgia to a loss to Vanderbilt then a big upset over Florida. The pattern would indicate that this would be another drop-off game for the Gamecocks, but maybe Frank Martin finally has his team rolling.
AJ Lawson continues to be a major piece for South Carolina that is allowing their offense to stay in the top half of the SEC. Seventh Woods had a good, efficient game against Florida and if he can continue to be a more valuable asset for the Gamecocks, they might be able to avoid the big drop-offs in games like the loss to Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Mississippi State on the other hand has the fifth-best defensive rating in the SEC at 98.2, but their offense is even worse at 95.4, which is 12th in the league.
This is a toss-up for me because I’m not sure which version of either team will show up. With the game being in Columbia, I’m inclined to lean towards South Carolina, but if their pattern of alternating good and bad performances continues, this could also be a big win for Mississippi State. Both teams are trying to avoid staying in the bottom half of the league with a losing record amongst a very crowded group of teams.
For South Carolina to have the best chance, they need to score from the outside, which AJ Lawson is particularly good at, and speed up the pace of the game to make Mississippi State uncomfortable. Being at home, I think they can do both and will get out with a close win to move to 0.500 in SEC play.
Prediction: South Carolina 68, Mississippi State 63
Ole Miss (4-6) at Auburn (4-6)
Auburn missed a major opportunity by letting Georgia outplay them on their own homecourt on Tuesday. After a tough week the prior week, maybe fatigue was an issue, but even if it was, Auburn should have been talented enough to win and should have been more energized for a rivalry game.
Like Georgia getting a pretty big upset over Auburn, Ole Miss got seemingly one of the biggest upsets over Tennessee. It’s a little more clear now that there really aren’t many truly good or bad teams in the SEC this season, so wins like Ole Miss’s are hard to automatically count out going forward.
Auburn already has a loss to the Rebels from earlier in the season and the team should have plenty of motivation to come out strong and get a convincing win in this game to prove that they can still finish the season strong and make something of this talented roster, even without any postseason chances.
This game is between two teams that almost couldn’t be any different. Auburn is averaging over ten extra possessions a game compared to the pace of Ole Miss. The Rebels were able to slow the game down when the game was in Oxford, and that was before Sharife Cooper had been cleared.
With this game being at Auburn Arena and Cooper now running the offense, Auburn should be able to speed things up to their pace which will hopefully loosen up Ole Miss’s great defense that caused so many problems in the first game. The real test for Auburn will be how well they can speed the game up without getting sloppy and allowing Ole Miss to turn them over and get easy points.
Ole Miss has the highest steal rate in the SEC at 13.0% while Auburn has a turnover rate of their own above 20%. With Cooper, the turnovers have not been as big of an issue because Auburn is also second in the SEC with an assist rate of 56.5%.
I’m hesitant to put too much confidence in Auburn in this game because of the way they played against Georgia and the history of success Kermit Davis has against Bruce Pearl. I still think the Tigers will win, but it might not be the blowout that it probably could be if Auburn truly played their best.
Prediction: Auburn 75, Ole Miss 65
Vanderbilt (1-6) at Georgia (4-6)
I thought that Georgia’s big loss to South Carolina was a bad sign that their season was basically over. Instead, the Bulldogs have responded with two good wins over Mississippi State and Auburn. Georgia is not sitting at 4-6, which puts them right amongst the group of four other teams with four wins and five or six losses.
Vanderbilt was also looking to pick things up on offense when they got a big win over South Carolina. Unfortunately, the Commodores had to miss their game against Texas A&M that would have likely been another good opportunity for them to keep up their momentum and build on their first win of the SEC season.
After what seems like quite a few games with no offense in SEC play so far this season, this one will likely be a game where defense is nonexistent. Georgia showed how well they can play against a bad defense when they just kept blowing by Auburn for easy points at the rim.
The real advantage for Georgia in this game will be their growing number of options to step up. Against Auburn, Georgia had six different players with 11 or more points. Vanderbilt on the other hand relies mostly on Scotty Pippen Jr. being the only consistent scorer. There have been other players like Dylan Disu and most recently Maxwell Evans that can step up to help, but Pippen Jr. is about all the Commodores can rely on.
Scotty Pippen Jr. is playing very well and could be good enough to keep Vanderbilt in this game and have a chance to get this win, but I think I’ll go with the number of options for Georgia over the quality of option for Vanderbilt here.
Georgia wins this game and surprisingly has a chance to climb into the top half of the SEC standings soon thanks to the chaos in the middle of the league.
Prediction: Georgia 88, Vanderbilt 84
Tennessee (5-4) at Kentucky (4-5)
At the beginning of the season, I thought these two teams would be the front-runners for the SEC regular-season title and the two surest option to be nationally competitive for the SEC. Instead, this game will feature two teams with a combined record of 9-9 where a win for Kentucky would just put both teams at an even 0.500.
Both teams have had defenses about as good as we expected, but their offenses have been way bigger issues than I expected. Instead of this being a big game to determine which team could win an SEC title, this game will be a big game for both programs to avoid having an even more disappointing season.
Kentucky has already lost any chance at an NCAA Tournament appearance in my eyes, but the loss to Ole Miss also made Tennessee less of a lock for the NCAA Tournament. I think the Vols still have a shot to play for second in the SEC and might be able to climb for a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, but this has turned into a game that they really don’t want to lose.
This game proves that either team is good, but a loss can certainly make one team look even worse. After starting SEC play 4-1, a loss for Tennessee would be their fourth loss in just their last five SEC games.
I trust the veteran leadership of Tennessee to turn around from the Ole Miss loss and be motivated to play this game. Rupp Arena is not nearly as intimidating this year and no one is scared of the Wildcats just because of their jerseys after what they’ve shown many times this season.
Tennessee will win this game, and the more interesting thing will be what head-scratching things John Calipari says in the post-game press conference.
Prediction: Tennessee 60, Kentucky 56