It all comes down to this, or almost all of it. While Alabama clinched the SEC regular season title a week ago and Arkansas has already locked up the 2-seed in the SEC Tournament, no other seed has been set and there are still two teams that can jump into the group of double-byes, joining Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU.
Whether it’s playing for SEC Tournament seeding or even NCAA Tournament seeding, most of these games have something on the line, even if some of the matchups look to be a little onesided. The last weekend of the season can often be extra exciting, so I don’t expect these games to go as most people are expecting.
The randomness likely won’t be good for my last shot at a perfect week of predictions, but I was so close yet again on the midweek games. With just these seven games over the next two days being my last picks to count towards my season record, I’m 77-42 on the year and would at least like to get correct pick number 80, while the 2-1 correct picks to misses ratio is still on the table.
South Carolina (4-11) at Kentucky (7-9)
South Carolina’s big win over Georgia last weekend was definitely an outlier, as they went right back to the receiving end of the blowouts against Arkansas at home. The Gamecocks will now travel to Kentucky with nothing to play for other than trying to stay out of the very bottom of the standings.
Kentucky has already clinched a losing record in SEC play which has not happened since 1989, but a loss would cause the Wildcats to end with the fewest SEC regular season wins since they finished 6-0 in 1946.
An SEC Tournament run is the only way that Kentucky will make the big dance this season, but I’d like to think their guys have enough pride to at least end the regular season with a win as well. Just a week ago some people were starting to say Kentucky could be a dangerous team in Nashville, but they’ll need a really impressive performance against South Carolina to bring those takes back.
I still think Kentucky will win, especially with the game being in Rupp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if South Carolina makes this a closer game than it should be, given their recent blowouts.
Prediction: Kentucky 75, South Carolina 69
Mississippi State (8-9) at Auburn (6-11)
Sharife Cooper still didn’t play against Alabama despite mind games from Bruce Pearl leaving the possibility of him being close to available leading up to the game and his absence showed once again. If he was truly “not close” to playing against Alabama, I’d think he’s also less likely to be available for Mississippi State.
It’s a shame that the shortened season of Cooper was shortened even more with this ankle injury, but I don’t think he should play in this game unless he’s 100% healthy, which seems unlikely. He shouldn’t do anything else to potentially risk or hurt his draft stock if he is planning to take that route, and another game without him, especially against a slightly lesser team like Mississippi State, can be good for Auburn’s other young players, whether Cooper decides to come back next year or not.
With the drop off of Tennessee and the fortune of playing a game against Texas A&M, Mississippi State’s defense is now up to the second most efficient defense in SEC play. The Bulldogs are giving up just 0.969 points per possession on defense, but still, have a negative net rating due to their offense only scoring 0.963 points per possession which is 13th in the league.
With Auburn playing at home, I think they’ll have another improved offensive performance and the defense looked better than in recent weeks against Alabama. Almost nothing has gone right for Auburn this season in a year that was already expected to be a step back from their recent success. A win on Saturday won’t make all of that better, but it will at least make the long offseason feel better for Auburn fans as they await what will be an even more talented, and slightly more experienced team next season.
Prediction: Auburn 78, Mississippi State 65
Alabama (15-2) at Georgia (7-10)
With the SEC regular season championship secured already and the season sweep of Auburn under their belt, I originally thought this might be a game where Alabama would let off a little bit and set up an opportunity for Georgia to “shock” them on the road and get a win.
On second thought, I really don’t think this Alabama team is the type to take it easy at this point and they still have the chance to play for a 1-seed in March Madness, so every win will be important going forward.
Georgia’s success has been tied pretty closely to the success of Sahvir Wheeler this season, and that was very evident over the last two games. Against LSU, Wheeler had a triple-double while Georgia got the big upset over the Tigers. Then, against South Carolina, Wheeler has just 7 points and 7 turnovers as the Gamecocks flipped the script and came out with a big win.
Alabama forced a ton of turnovers against Auburn on Tuesday, and they could potentially do the same against Georgia, depending on how aggressive they opt to play defense. On the offensive side, this could also be a good opportunity for Alabama to shake off some of the lesser offensive performances they’ve had lately since Georgia’s quick style of play and second-least efficient defense in the SEC should put up little resistance against Alabama, especially inside, which will open up their kick-out offense even more.
Maybe Alabama will overlook this one or play at less than full effort with bigger goals ahead, but I think they still have enough importance in this game that they’ll show up and get the easy win against a team that they should be way better than.
Prediction: Alabama 95, Georgia 75
LSU (10-6) at Missouri (8-7)
LSU has already clinched a double-bye in the SEC Tournament next week, and with both Alabama and Arkansas looking really good, I’m not sure there is a huge difference between the third or fourth seed for the Tigers.
On the other side, Missouri cannot reach one of the top-4 seeds for the SEC Tournament but a win over LSU would be yet another impressive addition to their resume. Coming off the road win over Florida, Missouri could carry their momentum into Nashville with another win over a top SEC team.
For Missouri, Dru Smith has been making a recent run at one of my All-SEC teams, and this matchup against Javonte Smart and Cameron Thomas could also be key in him making a case for Defensive Player of the Year. I still think that Jeremiah Tilmon is the best player on Missouri’s team, but Dru Smith stepping up alongside him provides a nice boost for the Tigers, especially with Xavier Pinson not being super consistent this year.
With this game being in Columbia, I think Missouri will be able to dictate the pace a little more and their defense will give LSU enough problems where the home Tigers can come out with a final win in the regular season.
Prediction: Missouri 77, LSU 76
Texas A&M (2-7) at Arkansas (12-4)
With over a month off from basketball, I had forgotten just how bad Texas A&M’s offense was but was quickly reminded when they finally returned against Mississippi State on Wednesday. The Aggies have a few guys that can score, mostly led by Emanuel Miller, but overall, the offense is just hard to watch and struggles to score at anything above a snail’s pace.
Despite the offense being bad, the Aggies didn’t look as rusty as I would have expected. That may have been due to them playing at home, or them facing another slow team like Mississippi State. If either of those played a factor, they certainly won’t against Arkansas as the Razorbacks get to host this matchup after both the originally scheduled home and away games were postponed earlier during Texas A&M’s long pause.
Arkansas didn’t have enough time to catch Alabama for the SEC regular season title, but they’re still on a season-best in the league ten-game winning streak. On top of that Arkansas has played themselves up to a high seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket and could potentially get as high as a 2-seed, which would give them an even better chance of making a Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.
I’ve loved the Razorbacks over the last month, and I’m certainly not going to pick against them with Texas A&M of all teams. The Aggies will likely succeed at slowing the game down enough that Arkansas isn’t able to score triple-digits for the second consecutive game, but the Razorbacks will still win by double-digits.
Prediction: Arkansas 80, Texas A&M 52
Vanderbilt (3-12) at Ole Miss (9-8)
Scotty Pippen Jr. was incredible in his return against Cincinnati, but now Vanderbilt will have to go on the road again with a short turnaround time and face a better Ole Miss team that will be looking for revenge after the Commodores got the best of them a week ago and all but eliminated them from at-large NCAA Tournament contention.
Vanderbilt is still without Dylan Disu, so they’ll be shorthanded and undersized against Ole Miss, especially against Romello White. Jordan Wright has been playing well since Disu went down, but aside from Scotty Pippen Jr. playing even better than he did against Cincinnati, I don’t think Vanderbilt will have enough firepower to score against the tough Ole Miss defense.
With the first loss to Vanderbilt a week ago, Ole Miss will now need to win the SEC Tournament if they plan to go dancing this year, but that should make them even more eager to get their revenge. A home game with a healthier roster than the Commodores should give Kermit Davis’s squad enough to get past Vanderbilt this time.
Devontae Shuler could use another big game to lock up a spot on one of my All-SEC teams, but he’ll need to outshine Scotty Pippen Jr. in this one. I think the game will be won for Ole Miss on the defensive side of the ball and down low, but they’re never their best without Shuler playing well. Shuler had the game-high 25 points in the first matchup, but the Rebels still lost. Now he’ll need to have another good night, and hopefully keep Pippen Jr. at bay, if they are going to get revenge and end the regular season on a high note.
Prediction: Ole Miss 72, Vanderbilt 70
Florida (9-6) at Tennessee (9-7)
The game with the most on the line had to be saved for Sunday, and it could be a great game to wrap up the regular season. The winner of this game will get the last double-bye in the SEC Tournament, but Tennessee could fall as low as the 7-seed with a loss.
Tennessee looked awful against Auburn in their last game, but they’ve had over a week to prepare for this final game of the regular season, so hopefully, the experienced roster and the talented freshmen were able to get on the same page and put together one more quality offensive performance to end the regular season.
Florida was potentially heating up with three-straight wins before their close home loss to Missouri, but a win on the road at Tennessee would reassure my hopes for the Gators doing something in March. Tennessee on the other hand is going to be a trendy first-round exit pick if they lose this game to finish the year at just 9-8 after being most people’s pick as the preseason SEC champion.
The Volunteers have alternated wins and losses for each of the last six games, and I think they’ll keep up that trend, barely, against Florida. I’ll chalk their loss to Auburn up as just the game they seem to always lose in recent years and if both freshmen and at least one or two of John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, or Victor Bailey show up, they should have enough offense to get by the Gators at home.
Prediction: Tennessee 69, Florida 64