2017 SEC Basketball Tournament Predictions: First Round

In Features by Blake Lovell

First round action in the 2017 SEC tournament officially gets underway on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

The two games likely won’t feature teams that’ll be playing this weekend, but they will feature fascinating storylines based on recent developments.

Let’s jump into the predictions for the games.

Season Prediction Record: 77-39

No. 12 Mississippi State vs. No. 13 LSU – 7 PM ET, SEC Network

Motivation levels are always interesting when you have teams with little to play for.

Mississippi State was the surprise team to start SEC play after going 3-1 in its first four games, which included wins over Arkansas and Texas A&M. Then came the close loss to Kentucky in Starkville that featured perhaps the Bulldogs’ most complete performance of the season.

And this team hasn’t been the same since. Ben Howland’s squad has lost 11 of its last 14 games, with this team’s youth on full display in a lot of those losses.

The good news for Mississippi State is that, the last time it stepped on the court, it beat the team that it’ll be playing in this game. The Bulldogs scored an 88-76 win over LSU last Saturday, completing the season sweep of the Tigers.

But, of course, that isn’t the main storyline heading into this one.

News broke on Tuesday that Johnny Jones would be fired as LSU’s head coach once the Tigers were ousted from the SEC tournament, which surprised absolutely no one. Jones failed to meet expectations during his tenure in Baton Rouge, and this season’s 2-16 conference record wasn’t a good follow-up to the enormous disappointment of last season.

The last time LSU took the court at Bridgestone Arena for an SEC tournament game, it was blasted 71-38 by Texas A&M in the semifinals. This game shouldn’t be anything like that.

However, Mississippi State is the better team. And just like after last season, LSU fans will be wondering what comes next for a program in turmoil.

Prediction: Mississippi State 75, LSU 67

No. 11 Auburn vs. No. 14 Missouri – 9:30 PM ET, SEC Network

Speaking of the last time a team stepped on the floor at Bridgestone Arena, Auburn’s performance nearly rivaled that of LSU.

The Tigers were handed a 97-59 loss by Tennessee in the 12/13 game last season, and it marked the end of what had to be one of the most frustrating seasons of Bruce Pearl’s career.

Fast forward a year later, and some of that frustration still remains. Auburn’s young talent has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but the lack of consistency on the defensive end of the floor has left the Tigers once again playing on opening night in the SEC tournament.

And they’ll be matching up with a Missouri team that has had more than just consistency problems in recent years.

The school officially announced the resignation of Kim Anderson as head coach after he led Missouri to three straight seasons of 20+ losses. Anderson’s exit was one that all of us saw coming, and now it’s a matter of who the Tigers can land to get the program back on track.

But here’s something I don’t want to gloss over: Anderson’s handling of the whole situation. He’s handled the entire experience with pure class, and that’s what you’d expect from a coach that is as well-liked as Anderson is.

A part of me thinks that Missouri will come out and play well here given everything that has taken place over the past few days. Another part of me thinks that Auburn will take the momentum of last Saturday’s win over Missouri and keep things rolling.

I think Mustapha Heron and company will push the pace and be too much for Anderson’s team in this spot.

Let the new era begin for Missouri basketball.

Prediction: Auburn 80, Missouri 70

Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.