The second to last weekend of SEC regular-season games is here, and everyone but Texas A&M is available once again. Alabama appears to be the only team to have clinched a double-bye in the SEC Tournament, so seven other teams still have a good bit to play for over the final few games, including some important matchups on Saturday.
After losing to Arkansas on Wednesday, Alabama is still just one win away from clinching the SEC regular-season title. It’ll be best for them to go ahead and clinch it sooner-rather-than-later with potentially tricky games against Auburn and at Georgia up next.
Ole Miss and Kentucky will also be battling to keep their slim chances at an NCAA Tournament birth alive with games against Vanderbilt and Florida respectively ahead of their matchup next week that could decide the final fate for either team, barring an SEC Tournament title.
With another 4-2 record on the midweek games, I reached the perfectly nice number of 69 but still want to reach my goal of finishing the season with twice as many correct picks as misses. A perfect 6-0 tomorrow could get me there, but since I stand at 69-37 overall now, another winning record on the day will keep me in range.
Tennessee (9-6) at Auburn (5-10)
Tennessee has looked increasingly worse lately, and most recently barely got by a Vanderbilt team that was playing without their two best players while Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu were out with injuries. Now the Volunteers will have to travel to Auburn and face a team that they’ve lost five-straight games too.
However, Auburn is also likely playing without their best player as Sharife Cooper tries to heal from an ankle injury before the year. Auburn was already trending down even with Cooper playing, but without him in the lineup, the Tigers looked even worse against Florida, especially in the first half.
If somehow Sharife Cooper is able to play, I think Auburn can easily handle Tennessee, despite their issues lately. Auburn’s offense should be able to score on Tennessee and the Volunteers haven’t been able to keep up with people over their past few games. Even with Cooper likely not playing, I think Auburn will have had enough time to adjust after looking better in the second half against Florida, even if the game was out of reach the entire time, and keep their winning streak going against Bruce Pearl’s former team.
Prediction: Auburn 75, Tennessee 73
South Carolina (3-10) at Georgia (7-9)
South Carolina has had some bad games throughout this season, but they’re on one of their worst stretch of games after losing each of their last three contests by 20, 15, and 21 points respectively. Georgia on the other hand has been finishing the year strong, including wins over Missouri and LSU in their last three games.
Georgia has won their last four games at home and Sahvir Wheeler has gone on another run of impressive games including a triple-double this week against LSU. I expected Wheeler to truly break out next year, but him being slightly ahead of schedule is only better for the Bulldogs.
With this game being at Georgia and both teams trending in almost complete opposite directions, it seems pretty easy to pick the Bulldogs in this one. For South Carolina to have a chance in this one, AJ Lawson will have to produce a lot of points and Justin Minaya and Keyshawn Bryant should really test the size mismatch they’ll have against Georgia. The Bulldogs still have the second-worst defense in the SEC, but their offense has been improving, especially lately.
This game will be a fast-paced game between the fourth and fifth-fastest teams in the SEC currently. I expect Sahvir Wheeler to have another big game and lead the Bulldogs to a second-straight win and set up an interesting rematch against Alabama next Saturday.
Prediction: Georgia 90, South Carolina 75
LSU (9-5) at Arkansas (10-4)
LSU was looking almost as good as Arkansas coming into this week and technically still had a shot to challenge Alabama for a share of the regular-season championship. However, LSU became the most recent team to suffer a loss in Stegeman Coliseum and are not fully out of the race for a regular-season title.
Arkansas had a much more important game earlier in the week and made the most of a lopsided foul differential and put Alabama away to keep a slight shot at a share of the SEC regular-season title alive. Arkansas has now won eight-straight SEC games, and with a home win over LSU, they could set themselves up to stretch that run to the end of the regular season.
If Arkansas were to finish the regular season on this winning streak, their 11-game streak would top Alabama’s ten-game streak that started SEC play, and that would be their only shot at a share of the SEC title. Alabama would still have to help out with some losses, but Arkansas is the only team that can potentially share the title with them, and that could be even more motivation to keep playing well against LSU.
The Tigers got decent games from three of their four main guys against Georgia, but to win at Arkansas, they’ll need all of their best players to step up. Arkansas has been playing better defense week after week, and they have enough different offensive weapons to win a high-scoring game as well. LSU has the best offense in the SEC, but I think Arkansas will be able to slow it down just enough where they’re able to get the ninth SEC win in a row.
Prediction: Arkansas 82, LSU 74
Ole Miss (8-7) at Vanderbilt (2-11)
That loss to Mississippi State could still be a final blow to Ole Miss’s at-large hopes, but the road win against Missouri at least helped them out and kept the door cracked. They’ll now need to keep it up and can’t afford to lose to another team as low as Vanderbilt.
The Commodores were starting to become a sneaky good team with great play from Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu, but now with both those guys dealing with varying levels of injury, I’m not sure Vanderbilt will be able to score enough points on a pretty good Ole Miss defense.
Ole Miss’s offense hasn’t been great, but as long as Devontae Shuler and others are able to not have a completely terrible game, they should have no problem putting up points on Vanderbilt’s worst defense in the SEC. There were moments this year that Vanderbilt looked like they could finish above the last place for the first time since 2018, but with the most recent injuries, that seems like it could be more difficult than it looked a week ago.
I think Ole Miss will win this one and set up for a battle with Kentucky next week as both teams cling to any slight chance of making the big dance.
Prediction: Ole Miss 74, Vanderbilt 67
Florida (8-5) at Kentucky (7-7)
Florida had a huge first half against a Sharife Cooper-less Auburn team on the road on Wednesday. It would have been nice to see the Gators keep their foot on the gas in the second half, but they still walked away with an almost 20-point road win against a talented, but inexperienced Auburn team.
Kentucky has been figuring things out lately, but they’re still in the same boat as Auburn in terms of talent and experience levels. Kentucky has more to play for as they need to win out and likely win the SEC Tournament just to get to the NCAA Tournament.
I hate to be that guy, but based on Kentucky needing to win out, the way their playing, and the belief that it’s just too good of a story for the Wildcats (and the SEC) this just seems like another game where Kentucky will find a way to win and possibly even get some fortunate “luck” to go their way after almost none of it did early in the season.
Florida has looked good for the most part, but I think this is a game where not having their best player catches up to them again. Colin Casleton has been able to thrive against smaller teams, but Isaiah Jackson and Olivier Sarr should be a combo that can really limit him and give Florida issues on the other end.
Kentucky wins their fourth-straight game, to match their equally long losing streak just a few weeks ago.
Prediction: Kentucky 72, Florida 69
Alabama (13-2) at Mississippi State (7-8)
I picked Alabama to lose at Arkansas on Wednesday because I believed Arkansas has caught up to the Tide and both teams were trending in slightly different directions. I did not expect Arkansas to win as comfortably as they did, but I think the way the foul differential did any favors in regards to the final margin of victory.
The most concerning thing about that loss for Alabama was their reaction down the stretch. I don’t blame them for being frustrated, but they seemed to start losing their cool even before the game got fully out of hand. The Crimson Tide need to put that game behind them and know that they are still in a strong position to clinch the SEC regular-season title with a win in any of the next three games.
In order to avoid more pressure and to show that they’re not actually trending downwards, Alabama really needs to win this game at Mississippi State. Despite the Bulldogs playing much better in their last two games, they had lost six of their last seven before that and currently have the second to last offense in the SEC.
Alabama’s defense keeps them in games and makes them the great team that they are, even when shots are falling. Mississippi State can possibly win this if Iverson Molinar, DJ Stewart Jr., and Tolu Smith all have big games and Alabama has another disastrous night from behind the arc. Otherwise, I think Alabama’s defense is just too good and they’ll bounce back from the loss to Arkansas and go ahead and get the SEC title clinched so they can start focusing on even bigger things in the postseason.
Prediction: Alabama 80, Mississippi State 64