Saturday’s seemingly one-sided matchups ended up providing a day with plenty of upsets and even more almost upsets. These midweek games already appear to have more interesting matchups, including one of the best we’ve had all year when Alabama travels to Arkansas, so I have high expectations for the quality of games this week.
Texas A&M had to delay another game, this time against Kentucky, so instead of the Wildcats getting to build on their quickly progressing winning streak, the Aggies will likely finish the season with almost half the games played as the rest of the league.
Alabama at Arkansas is obviously the biggest game of the week, but Tennessee at Vanderbilt, Florida at Auburn, and even Ole Miss at Missouri could all be pivotal games the those first two having the opportunity to be potential upsets.
Even with Arkansas at Texas A&M game getting postponed and Ole Miss and Tennessee suffering upsets, I managed to go 4-2 on my picks for Saturday’s games and I’m now 65-35 on the season with just a few games left.
LSU (9-4) at Georgia (6-9)
LSU certainly looked to have everything figured out on offense against Auburn. Some of that is because the Tigers are one of the best offensive teams in the country and are hitting their stride, but a lot is also due to Auburn’s poor defense.
Fortunately for LSU, Georgia has an even worse defense than Auburn and this could serve as another game where they can keep things rolling and keep building momentum for the postseason. The goal in this game for the Tigers will be to keep Georgia’s offense from hanging around like they’ve been able to do against teams like Tennessee and Florida recently.
Georgia playing at home will give them a little bit more of a chance since they have not lost in Stegeman Coliseum since hosting Florida exactly a month ago. Georgia plays fast enough and with enough energy, that they’re capable of giving teams a scare, or even finishing off the upset as they did against a Jeremiah Tilmon-less Missouri, but LSU is playing like one of the top teams in the league right now and I think Georgia won’t be able to keep up in a shootout and really won’t be able to slow LSU down.
I don’t expect LSU to have as impressive of a shooting night as they did against Auburn, but they might be able to get even more points inside from guys like Darius Days and Trendon Watford. At this point, only LSU and Arkansas have a slight chance of catching Alabama at the top of the standings, and while Arkansas gets to directly affect that this week, LSU just has to win out.
Prediction: LSU 93, Georgia 80
Florida (7-5) at Auburn (5-9)
The challenge for Auburn in this one will be coming up with enough motivation to play to their potential in this one. The Tigers would have to win out, including a makeup game against Mississippi State just to finish 0.500 in SEC play this season, and with no postseason to look forward to, even that is the smallest of accomplishments for this season.
These two teams will want to play at two different paces, and that again is something that Auburn can use to give them an advantage, especially at home with Sharife Cooper running the show. Florida’s defense is statistically middle-of-the-pack in the SEC, but it’s not nearly as good as what Auburn will face the rest of the way against Tennessee and Alabama, who are second and first respectively right now.
An Auburn team playing at home usually hits a few more shots, but they’ll need a much better defensive performance than they’ve shown over the past few games to win this one. Colin Castleton is going to give the Tigers issues, but looking back to the game against Missouri for Auburn, they’ve at least shown somewhat recently that they can score enough to win, even with a big man dominating their frontcourt.
If Auburn can play to their potential, and that’s a big if, the Tigers should have more talent than the Gators. Florida also let Georgia hang around on Saturday even when the Bulldogs had a miserable start. I think both of these teams have had slightly disappointing seasons and both can likely blame that on issues outside of their control, but Florida has more to play for in this game, like seeding in the NCAA and SEC tournaments coming up soon.
I think Auburn can keep this close, but based on their recent performances, even at home, it’s hard to feel confident in picking the Tigers.
Prediction: Florida 78, Auburn 76
Ole Miss (7-7) at Missouri (7-6)
Ole Miss is likely going to need an SEC Tournament run if they want to make the NCAA Tournament now after their loss to rival Mississippi State on Saturday. Missouri on the other hand got a big win over South Carolina with the return of Jeremiah Tilmon, who is the most important player for a very experienced Tigers team and might be one of the best players in the SEC this season.
There’s no doubt that a statement win at Missouri could really help the Rebels in their pursuit of an at-large bid, but it’s going to take a much better performance from Devontae Shuler than he had on Saturday.
Another big game from Romello White, like he had against Auburn and others recently, would help level the competition in the frontcourt, but I still think Jeremiah Tilmon and Mitchell Smith will be too much for Ole Miss to overcome.
Missouri lost the first matchup, and it wasn’t close, which launched Ole Miss onto a nice run of their own. That run now appears to be over for Ole Miss and the revenge factor could give Missouri even more of an advantage at home. In the last rematch that the Tigers had against a team that won the first matchup, they flipped the result from a 20-point loss to a 9-point win against Tennessee. Interestingly enough, Missouri lost the last matchup by 21, and it was on Ole Miss’s home court.
With Jeremiah Tilmon back and with a game under his belt after his return, I think the Tigers have enough to get this win and keep their hopes of a higher seed in the SEC Tournament alive.
Prediction: Missouri 60, Ole Miss 56
South Carolina (3-9) at Mississippi State (6-8)
Mississippi State got an impressive win over rival Ole Miss on Saturday, so that keeps this game from being a total non-factor, but both teams are still firmly at the bottom of the SEC right now.
South Carolina is on a five-game SEC losing streak while Mississippi State has lost six of their last eight, including one of the wins being at South Carolina a few weeks ago.
Based on their recent win over Ole Miss and the fact that Mississippi State already won the first matchup on the road, they seem to be a pretty easy favorite here. If their key players DJ Stewart Jr., Iverson Molinar, and Tolu Smith all show up, this could be a good opportunity to start another winning streak.
Mississippi State hasn’t been great as of late, but with this game against South Carolina, a road trip to Texas A&M, and a makeup game against Auburn still on the schedule, there is still a decent chance they could finish 0.500 in SEC play, which would be a good result after all of their turnover in the offseason.
Prediction: Mississippi State 65, South Carolina 59
Tennessee (8-6) at Vanderbilt (2-10)
Tennessee comes into this game with a 7-game winning streak against the Commodores while the Volunteers only have four other winning streaks against SEC teams and none of those are more than a single game. Tennessee also just lost at home to Kentucky in a game that wasn’t close while Vanderbilt only lost to the Wildcats by four in the same week.
Even at just 2-10 in the SEC, Vanderbilt just always tempts me to pick them with these timely matchups and a dangerous offense led by Scotty Pippen Jr. and now Dylan Disu. Tennessee has owned the state for the past few years, but this might not be an easy win for the Volunteers based on how they played against Kentucky.
This is another matchup between two teams that are almost complete opposites. Tennessee has the second-best defense in the SEC, but the 11th-best offense, which can seem even worse than that in some games. Vanderbilt’s offense hasn’t been an issue this year as they’ve climbed to sixth in the SEC on that side at 1.038 points per possession. However, the Commodores are giving up over 1.105 points per possession as the worst defense in the league.
Tennessee will need Josiah-Jordan James and Yves Pons to be healthy in this one because the way they’re trending nationally, they can’t afford to let this be the game where Vanderbilt finally wins. If the Volunteer offense can’t put up points against this Vanderbilt defense, there are some big questions that will need to be answered in just a short period of time before the NCAA Tournament tips off.
Vanderbilt has let me down every time I pick them, and I still think Tennessee has to be good enough to beat a team like Vanderbilt, but I think the Commodores could jump out to a lead in this one and it will be much closer than it should be.
Prediction: Tennessee 72, Vanderbilt 68
Alabama (13-1) at Arkansas (9-4)
The SEC conveniently saved the best game of the week, and possibly one of the best games of the year, for the last game on Wednesday. Alabama has looked vulnerable against Vanderbilt and on the road against South Carolina, so they’ll need to figure that out quickly if they want to clinch at least a share of the SEC regular-season title in Bud Walton Arena.
Alabama’s offense slipped to second in the SEC after this weekend, but their defense has been keeping them in every game and still has a large lead over the rest of the league. Arkansas has been playing better defense lately, and it’s a large part of how they’ve managed to win seven straight games, but the Razorbacks still give up almost eight more points per possession than Alabama does, despite being the third-best defense in the SEC.
It’s really hard to pick against Alabama because even in games where they don’t play well, they just have so much talent and play so well together in Nate Oats’ system that they find ways to win almost every game. The rivalry aspect aside with Auburn, this is definitely Alabama’s most difficult matchup the rest of the way and is probably one of the toughest games they’ve had all season.
The Alabama team from the early part of SEC play blew through their tough matchups, but not the Crimson Tide have slowed down a little bit and now face a very talented Razorbacks team that is on a massive winning streak and is as good as they’ve been anytime in the last two decades.
The Auburn grad in me hasn’t been able to actually pick against Alabama this year with how dominant they’ve been, but I’m going to take the one chance I have and take the Razorbacks at home in a close one. It’s hard to say Arkansas has the “hotter team” when Alabama has won 13 of their last 14 SEC games, but the Razorbacks have not lost to another SEC team since losing by 31 in Tuscaloosa, and I think this top-20 matchup serves as a perfect opportunity for them to get their revenge.
Prediction: Arkansas 73, Alabama 72