Right when the SEC was looking to have all teams available once again, an abnormally extreme winter across the south made things difficult for games to go on as scheduled. As it stands now, it looks like every game has found a solution and now we’re treated to a full seven-game slate stretched across three days instead of the normal two.
I’m glad the conference and each of the teams were able to make things work because there are a couple of really good matchups this week. Arkansas and Florida as well as LSU and Ole Miss are each trying to stay in the hunt for a double-bye in the SEC Tournament while Auburn and Vanderbilt will look to climb a little higher in the standings against struggling teams in Mississippi State and Kentucky.
I managed to go 4-2 on the weekend games, which brings my season record to 59-31. This week will hopefully push me over 60 correct predictions, but I think my new goal is to have twice as many correct picks as I’ve had incorrect picks before the end of the season.
Missouri (6-5) at Georgia (5-8)
Both of these teams went 0-2 last week, but Missouri especially needs to snap that losing streak quickly to prevent their fall in national rankings and more importantly NCAA Tournament seeding.
Jeremiah Tilmon had to miss the game against Arkansas on Saturday, and he clearly would have likely made a difference as the Razorbacks got out with just a 5-point win in overtime, even in his absence. If Tilmon plays against Georgia, he’ll once again give the Tigers a big mismatch down low against an undersized Georgia team.
Before their recent losing streak, Georgia had three wins in a row based mostly on playing harder than their opponents. That might be a recipe for success against Missouri who has struggled to get big wins this year and tends to make every game, even wins, a little too close.
Even with the slight homecourt advantage, I don’t think Georgia’s backcourt is good enough to outperform Xavier Pinson and Missouri’s backcourt, but they’re almost certainly not good enough to also make up for the disadvantage they’ll have inside. I think Missouri bounces back with a good win, but in their growingly typical fashion, I think it will be closer than it probably should be.
Prediction: Missouri 75, Georgia 72
Florida (6-4) at Arkansas (8-4)
After another pause due to COVID issues among their previously scheduled opponents, Florida is getting treated to an unfortunate return against one of the hottest teams in SEC play, on the road, when they travel to Arkansas.
Ignoring their last game, a disappointing loss to South Carolina, Florida was looking like one of the better teams in the SEC. But that South Carolina performance, paired with the fact that they’ll be playing after a slight delay, doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the Gators against Arkansas, especially on the road.
Arkansas statistically is just right behind Florida in net rating but has the fourth-best defense in the league, which closes that gap. If both teams had been playing games last week, this would be a really hard game to predict and could be a matchup between the two teams with big claims to the title of “second-best team in the SEC.” However, I think the pause, and travel, will hurt Florida too much in this one.
The Razorbacks win their seventh straight SEC game and set up for a “break” against Texas A&M after three straight big SEC matchups.
Prediction: Arkansas 85, Florida 78
Kentucky (5-7) at Vanderbilt (2-8)
Kentucky had one of their best offensive weeks of the year and finally found their outside shot last week, but still just went 1-1 with a 2-point win over Auburn thanks to a big three by Davion Mintz.
Vanderbilt on the other hand had a close loss to Auburn followed by a blowout of Mississippi State where they finally had a defensive performance that matched its offensive success they’ve had at times this year.
I’ve been tempted to pick Vanderbilt a lot this year because of how good their offense can be. Their defense has just always been the issue and pulls their overall net rating all the way down to 12th in the SEC. Fortunate for the Commodores in this one, they’re coming off their best defensive performance in SEC play and now get to play a Kentucky offense that has struggled for most of the season.
The Commodores will need a very good performance from Scotty Pippen Jr., but I think he can come through and continue the great performance they had against Mississippi State. Kentucky looks like they’re figuring things out on offense, but every other time I’ve thought Kentucky had turned a corner, they turn around and lose a game they shouldn’t, and I think that this can be another situation where they do that.
I’ve missed one game and had two games delayed the only times I picked Vanderbilt to win this season, but I hope I can turn that around with this pick.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 74, Kentucky 70
South Carolina (3-7) at Tennessee (7-5)
Every time Tennessee starts looking good again like they should be capable of playing all the time, they drop a game and/or look bad on at least one side of the ball. Most recently that came against LSU where the Volunteers could not slow down the Tigers and couldn’t keep up on offense with a Tigers team that seems to be reaching its potential once again.
This should be a game that Tennessee wins with ease, but that also sounds like the perfect scenario for South Carolina to have one of their good games where everything clicks and they play like one of the top teams in the conference for just a game or two. For most of SEC play, South Carolina was having major ups and downs, so with three straight losses since beating Florida on the road, this also seems like a game where they could come out and shock everyone with a win in Knoxville.
I’m not confident enough in South Carolina’s abilities to win to pick them here, mainly because they’ve been so inconsistent and overall don’t look like they’ll figure things out this year. I think they have the potential to keep this close, sort of like they did against Alabama, but ultimately, Tennessee will bounce back from the LSU loss with a win and try to make a run down the stretch to secure a higher seed in the SEC and NCAA Tournament.
Prediction: Tennessee 64, South Carolina 61
LSU (8-4) at Ole Miss (7-6)
Along with Arkansas, and obviously Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU are coming into this week as teams that are playing well right now. While this game wasn’t originally on the schedule, they both had a free slot in the middle of the week and the teams and the SEC did the best thing in playing this game so that Ole Miss could get back to an 18-game schedule and LSU will not just need to make up one game.
These teams are almost exact opposites as Ole Miss is the third-best defense in the SEC and 11th on offense while LSU is second on offense and has the 11th-best defense. LSU has about a 3.5 point advantage in net efficiency, but Ole Miss also gets the advantage of staying put and hosting the Tigers for the second time this season.
I think LSU is a better team if both teams are playing at their best, but Ole Miss will have the advantage from a coaching standpoint. Devontae Shuler has been on a great run of games, but he’ll really need the continued help from Romello White, Jarkel Joiner, and at least one other player if Ole Miss is going to keep up with the LSU offense.
The Tigers have played at a pretty average pace so far this season, but Ole Miss will still want to slow the game down even more and limit the number of possessions they have to stop LSU’s big four of Cameron Thomas, Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart, and Darius Days.
Javonte Smart was awarded the SEC Player of the Week for last week, but Devontae Shuler might take that as extra motivation to build on his 31 points against South Carolina and make his case as one of the better guards in the SEC. There are quite a few guards in the SEC that are vying for the All-SEC First Team, but this game will feature two of them and offer a good opportunity to stand out.
Ole Miss lost the first matchup to LSU by 14, but they’ve improved significantly on offense since then and I think they can get the revenge and extend their winning streak to five games.
Prediction: Ole Miss 80, LSU 79
Alabama (12-1) at Texas A&M (2-6)
Texas A&M has missed two straight weeks of games due to COVID, and their first game back comes against an Alabama team that has been the best team in the SEC for most of the season and look to be hitting their stride once again.
The Aggies would barely stand a chance against Alabama under normal circumstances, but with them coming off of a pause and Alabama looking to clinch the SEC regular-season title this week, I think their chances are even closer to zero.
Alabama has the best defense, best offense, and therefore the best net rating in the SEC. The trip to an oddly frozen Texas might pose some issues for the Crimson Tide, but once they get there, I don’t think they’ll have any issues against the worst offense by far in the SEC and a defense that is still just 12th-best in the league.
I just hope no one gets hurt in this game and Alabama travels safely, because this game shouldn’t be close by halftime.
Prediction: Alabama 82, Texas A&M 54
Mississippi State (5-8) at Auburn (5-8)
These two teams have identical records both in SEC play, and overall, and are just now facing each other for the first and only time this season. While their records are the same, their stats and metrics certainly are not.
Auburn has found themselves on the wrong end of just about every close game this season and played their first three SEC games, all losses, without Sharife Cooper. The Tigers won four out of their first six games with Cooper eligible, but have since lost three of four with just a win over Vandy.
Mississippi State has it even worse over that span since they started SEC play winning four of six and then have lost six of their last seven games with a blowout against Vandy at home being their most recent result, which doesn’t bode well for this game.
On Saturday, I stuck with the stats when I picked Arkansas over Missouri, and the stats didn’t fail me then. This game seems to be an even bigger disparity in metrics despite the same records. Auburn currently has the fourth-best offense, tenth-best defense, but sixth overall net rating. Mississippi State looks like the mirror on offense (13th) and defense (fifth), but their offense is bad enough that it drags their net rating all the way down to -4.33 points, which is the fourth-worst in the SEC and is trending down.
The last time Auburn had a home game where they were the clear favorite, they ended up losing to Georgia. This could potentially be another opportunity for that, but I think Auburn’s young team would have learned their lesson and Bruce Pearl will remind them of it if they have not. This is the last winnable game on paper for Auburn as they have LSU, Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama to wrap up the season after this. With that remaining schedule, it will be a tall task for the Tigers to finish at least 0.500 in SEC play, but if they want a chance, they certainly can’t lose this one.
The Bulldogs will make it difficult to score inside, but I think Auburn still gets enough scoring from other areas of the court to spread out Mississippi State and get a comfortable win at home.
Prediction: Auburn 76, Mississippi State 65