Texas A&M is still dealing with COVID issues, so they remain on pause. That means this Saturday still won’t be a full slate, but at least it is one more game than last week and there should be enough games going on that there isn’t an awkward break after the start of the day.
There isn’t really a challenge for the top spot in the league unless Alabama has a major collapse, but just about everything else is up for grabs. This weekend will feature another handful of games between teams that can move up or down a few spots depending on their outcome.
Alabama’s 3.5-game lead over the three teams tied for second place is a bigger gap than the 3-game gap between those second-place teams and Kentucky all the way down in the 12th spot of the current SEC standings.
If Missouri hadn’t gotten upset in their blowout loss to Ole Miss, I could have completed my first perfect set of picks of the season in the midweek games. Instead, I finished 5-1, which was my fourth time finishing with just one loss. My total record still grew to 55-29 and I’m definitely looking to expand on that tomorrow (or today depending on when you’re reading this).
Vanderbilt (1-8) at Mississippi State (5-7)
Both of these teams are coming off of home losses in the middle of the week, and both had defensive performances that were a bit uncharacteristic. Vanderbilt has been the worst defense in the SEC but managed to hold Auburn to just 73 points in a slower game than normal for both teams. Mississippi State gave up 94 points to a great LSU offense when their defense was previously their better half.
Scotty Pippen Jr. fouled out in the second half against Auburn and the game started to get out of reach after that for the Commodores. Pippen Jr. is still the biggest scoring threat for Vanderbilt and he’ll need to stay in this game for the entire time if Vanderbilt can score enough against this Mississippi State defense, especially on the road.
For Mississippi State, DJ Stewart Jr. struggled on offense with just 5 points but second and third-leading scorers for the Bulldogs, Iverson Molinar and Tolu Smith, managed to still finish with 16 and 24 points each. Derek Fountain also contributed 20 points and he adds a potentially valuable scoring asset if he can keep that up after not playing in several games this year but now finding an expanded role.
LSU’s defense allowed the Bulldogs to get to 80 points, but this will be another matchup they can work on their offensive game and try to get their three stars in sync for a run down the stretch or start to establish other options such as Derek Fountain on the offensive end.
If Vanderbilt couldn’t get past a struggling Auburn team at home, I don’t think they’ll have enough to pull the road upset over a Mississippi State team that has been up-and-down most of the year but still has a few quality pieces.
Prediction: Mississippi State 82, Vanderbilt 74
Auburn (5-7) at Kentucky (4-7)
Kentucky found another embarrassing way to lose another game that they were in towards the end. The Wildcats also managed to lose a game in which they had a very good three-point shooting night and outrebounded Arkansas by 9.
Despite it being a rebuilding year for Auburn with their extremely young team, this is still one of their best opportunities to finally snap their losing streak in Rupp Arena and get their first season sweep of Kentucky ever.
Auburn certainly has the guards, led by Sharife Cooper, to get past Kentucky, but if the Wildcats are able to slow the game down and make it more of an inside game where they thrive, they could pull this one out with a more comfortable lead that they could hold onto unlike in the first matchup in Auburn. Kentucky’s bigs, mainly Olivier Sarr and Isaiah Jackson will provide a big mismatch for Auburn’s young frontline, but they’ll still need to play well to overcome the disadvantage they’ll also have around the perimeter.
It’s a shame that Auburn will still be without Kentucky native Justin Powell for this game, but Jamal Johnson seems to be on another good shooting stretch that could help Auburn get more production from outside, which is a great way to beat Kentucky this year. The Tigers were able to beat Missouri and their great inside game a few weeks ago, but since then the bigs have been giving up even easier scoring inside and Kentucky will almost certainly take advantage of that, even if they’ve struggled with easy shots at times this season.
I don’t think it’s likely that Kentucky will shoot over 50% from deep in this game with 14 made threes, but if they have a game that’s at least close to that, I think it’s enough to beat Auburn right now even though it wasn’t enough for Arkansas.
For Auburn to win, they’ll need to establish the tempo on Kentucky’s court as the Wildcats did in Auburn Arena last time. If this game is played at a fast pace like Sharife Cooper and Auburn would like, Auburn might have enough volume scoring to get another close win.
I think Kentucky is slowly getting better and this looks like it’s setting up to be a game where they catch Auburn at the right time and keep their long win streak in Rupp Arena going for another year. Bruce Pearl and Auburn have caught up to John Calipari and the Wildcats in recent years, but I still think Kentucky is able to pull one more out at home and at least keep their hopes of a double-digit win season alive.
Prediction: Kentucky 73, Auburn 71
Tennessee (7-4) at LSU (7-4)
LSU got back in the win column with their win over Mississippi State after Darius Days returned from missing the Alabama game and produced a great game in his return. With Days played as the fourth major option for LSU, they can certainly still be one of the best teams in the SEC, as long as their defense just does enough.
Tennessee on the other hand has had their two five-star freshmen step up big on offense lately with Jaden Springer specifically having a combined 53 points over the last two games. Tennessee’s defense has made them good all year, but when the offense is playing well, they’re actually a team to be feared on a national level.
Georgia’s defense certainly isn’t impressive, but for Tennessee to score 82 or more points against Kentucky and the Bulldogs in back to back games is a good sign, especially with the Kentucky game coming on the road. The Volunteers gave up more points to Georgia than they probably should have, but that was without their best defensive play in Yves Pons and the Bulldogs have been on a good run lately.
I think this will be a game that both teams would like to win for seeding purposes in March, but LSU might need this one a little more to further establish that they’re “back” after a few recent losses. Tennessee will be at a disadvantage playing on the road because LSU is actually one of few SEC teams with better results at home compared to on the road this year. The Tigers have just one SEC home loss, and that was the blowout against Alabama.
Rick Barnes says that Yves Pons will likely be back for the game tomorrow, and if he does indeed play, I think the Volunteers defense will be good enough to limit LSU’s big four and I think their offense has been playing well enough that they can put up enough points if it does become a shootout at times.
Prediction: Tennessee 83, LSU 79
Georgia (5-7) at Alabama (11-1)
Alabama picked up another win, although close, on the road at South Carolina to extend their lead at the top of the SEC standings even more. The 12th place team in the league, Kentucky, is not closer to second place than Alabama is.
Because of this, I am again reiterating that this is a good time for Alabama to rest up Herbert Jones so that he can be at his best when Alabama actually needs him as they try to make a deep postseason run. Based on Jones’s toughness and the comments from Nate Oats this week, it doesn’t sound like that will actually happen, but I really hope he doesn’t extend his injury or make it worse all for a bigger lead in the SEC.
Georgia is certainly not in the same realm as Alabama, and practically no one in the SEC is, even though they’ve regressed a little from their peak a few weeks ago. However, the Bulldogs were on a three-game winning streak before they lost to Tennessee on Wednesday and they hung in that game until the very end. This game will be in Tuscaloosa, which give the Crimson Tide a better shot of not coming out slow, but in any circumstance, they can’t just overlook Georgia completely.
This will be a fast-paced game since both teams are currently in the top-5 of the SEC in possessions per game. However, Alabama is also in the top-5 (first and third) for both defensive and offensive efficiency in SEC play. Georgia on the other hand is just seventh in offense and 13th on the defensive side. Georgia was able to score 81 at Tennessee who was playing without Yves Pons, but I don’t think they’ll be able to get the same results in Tuscaloosa. And if Alabama is shooting the ball moderately well, they’ll still likely pull away at the end.
Georgia could make this game interesting in the first half if Alabama overlooks them and starts the game slow again, but in the end, Alabama is still just on another level and can run away with this down the stretch.
Prediction: Alabama 90, Georgia 75
Arkansas (7-4) at Missouri (6-4)
Missouri was back in the national discussion again after a big win over Alabama, but it turns out that their awful finish to that game carried over and they became the latest victim of Ole Miss’s upset run. Arkansas on the other hand walked into Rupp Arena and came out alive and now sits in a three-way tie for second in the SEC that doesn’t include the Tigers.
Arkansas has won five SEC games in a row going back to the back-to-back road losses to LSU and Alabama a few weeks ago. The Hogs are one of the hottest teams in the SEC and this might be the perfect time for them to catch Missouri. Missouri got completely dominated by Ole Miss and the Rebels did so without a big game from Romello White.
Jeremiah Tilmon, who was playing like one of my front-runners for SEC Player of the Year also had a bad game against Ole Miss and the Tigers aren’t built to win without him, no matter how well their guards play on the perimeter. Hopefully, for the Tigers’ sake, the game being at home will allow Tilmon and the team to bounce back well here.
The Razorbacks are a team that Tilmon could be especially dangerous against so a big game from him will be the key. With Justin Smith and Connor Vanover playing better and getting healthier, Arkansas might have enough to slow Tilmon down, but without a bad game on his own, completely stopping him is likely a small-likelihood option.
Looking just at resumes you’d think Missouri is the better team in this one, but the stats, especially lately, tell a much different story. They’ve been sliding under the radar, but with the help of the current five-game SEC win streak, Arkansas is now up to the third-best defensive efficiency and fifth-best offensive efficiency in SEC play which gives them the fourth-best net efficiency in the league. Missouri on the other hand is just 12th in offense and has slipped to fifth on defense as well which gives them the eighth-best net efficiency which is still in the negatives, barely.
I think this might be going out on a limb, but I’ve fully bought into the analytics and Arkansas’s great run. I think the Razorbacks hand Missouri their second loss of the week and catapult themselves into the national conversation where they can start playing for a higher seed in March Madness instead of just trying to get into the dance.
Prediction: Arkansas 75, Missouri 73
Ole Miss (6-6) at South Carolina (3-6)
The two losses to Georgia, as well as losses to both Wichita State and Dayton in non-conference play, might have dug too deep of a hole for Ole Miss’s postseason chances, but they’re certainly not playing like it recently. Since losing three straight to LSU, Florida, and Georgia in the middle of January, Kermit Davis’s squad has won five of their last seven including three straight with big wins over both Tennessee and Missouri with a road win against Auburn in between.
After making it through that gauntlet the last two weeks unscathed, a trip to South Carolina should seem like a chance to regroup but still get a win. South Carolina has been competitive and even looked like they could be good again when they knocked off Florida on the road, but despite keeping some games close, they’re finding themselves on the losing end too frequently.
This is a game that Ole Miss must win if they want to stay in the hunt of an automatic bid to March Madness since South Carolina is one of the games that they can’t afford to add to their already questionable loss column on their resume. Getting Romello White going again will give them a big boost but I think Jarkel Joiner and Devontae Shuler can outpace AJ Lawson in the backcourt.
South Carolina has been a middle of the pack team on both offense and defense in SEC play. While it makes them balanced, unlike quite a few SEC teams, they also don’t really have a strong side that they can rely on in close matchups like this. With Ole Miss having the fifth-best defense in SEC play, and the second slowest pace as well, I think the Rebels will slow this game down and make South Carolina value their possessions even more.
The Gamecocks play at the third-fastest pace in SEC play, so if Ole Miss is able to slow them down on their own home court, it will likely make them uncomfortable. Both of these teams are some of the most experienced teams in the SEC this season and have two of the best coaches that do the most with less, but I think Ole Miss is playing too well right now to just give up their shot at the NCAA Tournament just when it was picking up steam again.
Prediction: Ole Miss 65, South Carolina 60