SEC Basketball Predictions: Alabama and Minnesota face off in Brooklyn

In Features by Blake Lovell

The SEC scored several quality wins on Friday, with Florida’s double overtime thriller against Gonzaga in Portland being the game of the year thus far in college basketball.

It was also a good day for my picks, as I was an Arkansas win over North Carolina away from running the table.

But on a football-filled Saturday, there’s only one game on the SEC hoops slate, and it’s a big one as Top 25 teams square off in Brooklyn.

As always, my predictions are based solely on team analysis and who I think will win. Score projections are purely for my own amusement.

Let’s get to today’s pick.

Season Predictions Record (straight up): 63-8

No. 25 Alabama vs. No. 14 Minnesota – 5 PM EST, Facebook Live (Barclays Center Classic)

Here’s what stood out for me in Alabama’s win over BYU: The Tide shot 75.0 percent from the free-throw line in knocking down 12 of 16 attempts.

And while that may not sound like anything special, it was a step forward from the 54.5 percent average entering the game (348th nationally).

Making free throws is certainly what separates the good from the great, and Alabama must be more consistent in making shots from the charity stripe.

There’s a good chance that free throws will come into play in this game, as it figures to be a close game from start to finish.

Minnesota is an experienced team that has depth and plenty of playmakers.

While Jordan Murphy is getting plenty of attention due to grabbing a double-double in every game thus far and averaging 22.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game, there’s still Nate Mason (12.7 ppg), Amir Coffey (12.5 ppg), and Reggie Lynch (11.8 ppg) to deal with.

However, Alabama certainly has enough scoring itself to compete with a lineup like that. Freshmen Collin Sexton and John Petty have been fantastic, and Dazon Ingram and Donta Hall are both scoring in double figures as well.

But here are the two areas that could decide the game: 3-point shooting and free throw shooting.

I’ve already mentioned the Tide’s free throw problems, although Minnesota hasn’t been much better in shooting 65.3 percent this season (279th nationally).

As for 3-point shooting, the Golden Gophers are allowing teams to shoot 40.0 percent from beyond the arc (313th nationally) while Alabama is making 9.2 per game and ranks 32nd in the country in shooting 41.8 percent.

I say all of that to say this: Good luck figure out who wins this game. These two teams are still working through a few weaknesses, but overall, both have superb talent that can take over a game at any time.

But I do think that because this game will be decided by a couple of points, this may be where the poor free throw shooting hurts Alabama more than Minnesota.

Sexton should give the Tide plenty of scoring opportunities, but the Golden Gophers hold tight on defense down the stretch to grab a narrow victory.

It might not meet Florida/Gonzaga, but this is still going to be a must-watch game if the Facebook Live stream works.

Prediction: Minnesota 79, Alabama 76

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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.