While the SEC was supposed to get their first full slate of games last week, a massive winter storm across Texas and most of the South had other plans. Games that were originally rescheduled for Thursday had to be postponed after all which adds even more games to the long list of games some SEC teams need to make up before the end of the season that is fast approaching.
Now the weather should be better everywhere so that we get a full slate of Saturday games, but at first glance, it looks like each one should have a favored team in every matchup. The seven teams that are either likely to make the NCAA Tournament or on the cusp will each be playing a team that likely won’t be playing in the postseason without an SEC Tournament auto bid.
There are some of these games that might be closer on paper than people think, and this Saturday might end up being a day with lots of surprises, but for my picks, I’ve gone all “chalk” for who I think will be the favorite for most people, without looking at official lines.
I went just 2-2 in the games that were able to be played so far this week, so I’m now 61-33 on the year.
Kentucky (6-7) at Tennessee (8-5)
It’s hard to tell if Kentucky’s offense is getting better or their last two wins were just a result of playing two of the lesser defenses in the SEC against Auburn and Vanderbilt. Playing at Tennessee will surely make it clear which is more the case since the Volunteers still have the second-most efficient defense in the SEC.
While Kentucky’s offense is up to the ninth-best in the SEC now, their defense is only seventh. Tennessee is right ahead of them in the offense now, at 1.013 points per possession, and as I mentioned the defense is still safely statistically better than the Wildcats.
Tennessee’s two top freshmen, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer have had the benefit of slowly getting better throughout the year while they aren’t relied on for carrying the team’s success. Kentucky’s many talented freshmen didn’t have that chance, and it showed, especially with the missing practice time before the year. Their just now starting to look a little bit better, but I still don’t think they have what it takes to knock off one of the top teams in the league that is starting to play a little bit better.
If Tennessee’s offense doesn’t show up, Kentucky might be able to get a big upset, but with the number of different options the Volunteers have that can step up in each game, it’s hard to see them going so flat again.
Prediction: Tennessee 68, Kentucky 64
Vanderbilt (2-9) at Alabama (12-1)
Vanderbilt almost did enough in the second half against Kentucky to make my crazy pick look smart. However, the Commodores still came up short, despite a massive game from Dylan Disu, and will not have to travel to face an Alabama team that continues to look better than every other team in the SEC and will be looking to clinch the regular-season title soon.
Despite giving up his starting role to Josh Primo in SEC play, Jahvon Quinerly has found ways to be productive on offense and is now shooting over 53% from behind the arc in SEC play. Quinerly has the second-best three-point percentage in SEC play for Alabama behind only Herbert Jones and has more makes than everyone on the Crimson Tide other than John Petty Jr. and Josh Primo.
I mention Quinerly because having a very good second option coming off the bench will be a key for Alabama to go as far as they can in the postseason. This game will also be a good chance for him and others to show what they have on defense when they face Scotty Pippen Jr., who has been one of the many good guards in the SEC this season.
Dylan Disu had a great game against Kentucky and was good enough to launch him all the way up to second in my SEC player rankings. Now he and Scotty Pippen Jr. are both in my top-5 for now. The issue is that they’re just doing it all on their own for the most part and their production has not led to many wins for Vanderbilt. Alabama has been on the opposite side of that coin, especially in SEC play, where players don’t look as good as they might be statistically because the team is so deep and plays so well with each other.
Disu and Pippen Jr. might put on a slight show, but Alabama is a way better team in this one, and without having to go to Memorial Gym, it shouldn’t be close.
Prediction: Alabama 95, Vanderbilt 82
Missouri (6-6) at South Carolina (3-8)
Missouri has now lost three straight games, most recently against Georgia, and while they were without Jeremiah Tilmon for two of them, they can’t afford to lose to this South Carolina team if they want to stay comfortably in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
Cuonzo Martin said that Tilmon is back and should play for Missouri against South Carolina. That’s big news for the Tigers, but he’ll still be needed to get a win over the Gamecocks, who have been trending even further down lately but have shown they’re capable of upsetting teams still like they did against Florida a few weeks ago. Tilmon had just six points and six rebounds in his last game, a blowout against Ole Miss, so hopefully, he’s shaken off the rust from his two-game break from the team.
Like the two teams I picked above, Missouri should be able to beat South Carolina, but they’re the first “better” team to not have the home-court advantage as well. I want to say that Missouri will win this game handily and reassure me and others that the last three games were just a bad stretch, but it’s hard to overlook the way they lost to Ole Miss and the concerning road loss at Georgia, even without Tilmon.
South Carolina kept things interesting for a little bit against Tennessee before the Volunteers pulled away. If they can keep this game close, it’ll force Missouri to prove that they can finish a game well, which hasn’t been their strong suit for most of this season.
I’m going to stick with Missouri, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this one ends in another upset for South Carolina, since they’re fully capable of beating good teams if they play their best.
Prediction: Missouri 74, South Carolina 71
Georgia (6-8) at Florida (6-5)
After a four-game losing streak, including blowouts at the hands of Arkansas and Auburn, Georgia has now won four of their last six and six of their last eight to be knocking on the door of the top half of the SEC standings.
The Bulldogs will now have a chance to catch Florida on their home court and see if they’re able to pull the upset that South Carolina was able to do right before the Gators went on a stretch of postponed games. Florida is currently on a two-game losing streak after letting Arkansas pull away at the end of their first game back, so this will be a game the Gators need to win if they want to stay above 0.500 in SEC play.
Even without Keyontae Johnson, Florida has the players to be more successful than they’ve been this season. Georgia on the other hand doesn’t appear to have anyone that was expected to be a goto guy but has still managed to figure things out lately and play the role of a dangerous team in the SEC.
By the numbers, Florida still looks like one of the better teams in the SEC and the country, but they can’t afford another loss in a game like this after letting South Carolina take them down on their own home court. I liked what I saw for most of the second half against Arkansas and think that the Gators can get more of that against Georgia’s defense which is still the worst in the SEC.
Georgia will bring enough energy to prevent this from being a blowout, but Florida is still too talented of a team to give the Bulldogs a big chance when playing at home.
Prediction: Florida 82, Georgia 74
Auburn (5-8) at LSU (8-4)
Auburn had their home game against Mississippi State postponed due to weather last Thursday, and will now have to jump straight into their tough final four-game stretch without that game to get an easier win.
LSU didn’t get their recently scheduled game against Ole Miss either, so both teams will be coming in with the same week of rest.
While each of these teams is on the opposite ends of the SEC standings, they’re actually very similar statistically. LSU has the slightly better offense in SEC play at 1.088 points per possession (Auburn’s at 1.059), but Auburn has a slightly better defense giving up just 1.039 points per possession compared to LSU’s 1.049. Both teams are also in the top-6 of pace in a conference that has been one of the quicker ones in the country this year, so this will likely be a shootout.
If it does become a shootout, I don’t think it will be one that Auburn can keep up with. While Auburn has several options that are capable of stepping up and adding a major scoring presence, none of them will be able to do so as well as Cameron Thomas has this season. Along with Thoams, LSU also has Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, and Darius days as well as plenty of other role players that are each capable of making a small but important difference.
Auburn will rely on Sharife Cooper like they’ve done the entire time he’s been eligible to play, but they’ll likely need at least two of JT Thor, Jaylin Williams, or Allen Flanigan to step up and be solid second and third options in scoring. Ideally, for Auburn, it’s a game where Cooper scores a lot by getting to the FT line, but otherwise gets more of his production by setting up the previously mentioned guys and others through assists.
Both teams are more even on paper than most would expect, but LSU has been playing better as of late, and with the game being in Baton Rouge, I think they’ll be the victorious Tigers on Saturday.
Prediction: LSU 95, Auburn 90
Mississippi State (5-8) at Ole Miss (7-6)
Mississippi State is just a few games behind Ole Miss in the conference standings, but the two teams have been on opposite trajectories coming into this game. Ole Miss has won four straight games while Mississippi State has lost six of their last seven SEC games with just a win over an also struggling South Carolina team keeping them from being 0-8 in their last eight conference games.
The Bulldogs have three capable offensive players in Iverson Molinar, DJ Stewart Jr., and Tolu Smith, but they’ll have to all play well if Mississippi State is going to reverse their recent results against a good Ole Miss defense. For Ole Miss, they’ve been getting even better play from Devontae Shuler, Jarkel Joiner, and Romello White, and therefore will be favored to win this one, even if they’re not able to stop the Bulldogs as they’d prefer.
This game is a rivalry game, so you can’t just expect each team will play just like they’ve been playing recently. When looking at the entire SEC season, they’re actually still closer than expected on paper, similar to LSU and Auburn, but with more reliance on defense than offense.
Like the LSU and Auburn game, I’m going to stick with the hotter team and the one playing at home, but I don’t think Mississippi State will just lose without a fight, especially in a rivalry where they already lost the first matchup by 20 on their own floor.
Prediction: Ole Miss 67, Mississippi State 59
Arkansas (9-4) at Texas A&M (2-6)
The weather seems to be improving in Texas, so hopefully, this game still goes on as scheduled after Alabama’s trip to Texas A&M had to be canceled due to the crazy winter storm we just had all across Texas and the surrounding states. With this being the last game of the day, there should be even more time for the slightly higher temps to thaw more of the ice and snow.
Getting to play this game will only be half the battle for Texas A&M since the Aggies haven’t won a game in SEC play since playing Mississippi State over a month ago. They’ll now play their first game overall in almost three weeks and get the red-hot Razorbacks to start. Arkansas is on a seven-game SEC win streak and should be a heavy favorite in this one, but sometimes those can be the games where a team finally slips up.
Arkansas needs to make sure they don’t look past this game with rematches against Alabama and LSU coming up next week. If the Razorbacks are able to focus on this game and don’t allow the Aggies to slow this game down and make it ugly, they should get out with their eighth straight win and move even further up in the national rankings.
For most of the matchups on Saturday, I have been able to make a case for how they might be closer than expected, despite every game being between a team with a shot at the NCAA Tournament and teams without a shot, but I don’t think I can make a case for Texas A&M winning this game other than no one expects them to and they shock everyone.
Arkansas, with the help of their last seven games, is now the third-best defense in the SEC and fifth-bet offense which gives them the second-best net rating at almost a full five points. Texas A&M on the other hand is dead last in offense scoring just 0.88 points per possession and only 12th in defense giving up over 1.06 points per possession in SEC play.
If the Hogs show up for this one and don’t let up too early, they should win comfortably and set themselves up for a massive rematch with Alabama.
Prediction: Arkansas 80, Texas A&M 55