SEC Basketball Predictions: South Carolina/Temple, Missouri/UCF, and more

In Features by Blake Lovell

The SEC went a perfect 4-0 on Wednesday, and the conference will look to keep the momentum going on Thursday.

Today’s action is highlighted by two teams playing games away from home against AAC foes, with both matchups offering a bit of intrigue.

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

Let’s get to the picks.

Season Predictions Record (straight up): 74-12

North Dakota State at Mississippi State – 7 PM EST, SEC Network

The Bulldogs haven’t exactly been on fire thus far, and the 5-0 record may be a little deceiving considering that they haven’t faced elite competition just yet.

In its past three games, Mississippi State has beaten Green Bay by nine points, Stephen F. Austin by five points, and Jacksonville State by three points, so it’s clear that Ben Howland’s squad is still working through some things.

The good news for the Bulldogs is that they are finding ways to win close games, which is something that they struggled to do last season.

Meanwhile, North Dakota State only lost by 10 at USC a few weeks ago and is coming off a four-point loss to Stephen F. Austin.

Neither team has been entirely smooth on the offensive end of the floor, as Mississippi State is 344th nationally in shooting 26.2 percent from 3-point land, and North Dakota State is 286th nationally in averaging only 68.7 points per game.

Just like the previous games, my guess is that this one isn’t pretty, but the Bulldogs pull away late for the win.

Prediction: Mississippi State 75, North Dakota State 68

UT Rio Grande at No. 9 Texas A&M – 8 PM EST, SEC Network+

This seems to be a bit of a mismatch, which shouldn’t surprise a lot of people.

The Aggies have been as good as advertised early on in the season, and it’s obvious that this team has Final Four potential with the playmakers and depth on the roster.

Perhaps there could be a minor letdown here due to the recent win at USC and the upcoming matchup against Arizona, but it still shouldn’t be close.

Prediction: Texas A&M 92, UT Rio Grande 57 

South Carolina vs. Temple – 9 PM EST, ESPNU (Madison Square Garden)

Now this one should be fun.

The Gamecocks are known for their defense, and things are going well on that side of the court thus far. South Carolina is holding opponents to just 60.7 points per game (23rd nationally) and continues to make things difficult due to its pressure and tenacity.

As for the Owls, they’ve been very effective in two particular categories: 3-point shooting and free throw shooting.

Temple is shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc (30th nationally) and an incredible 81.2 percent from the charity stripe (fifth in the nation).

And therein could lie the problem for Frank Martin’s team. South Carolina is only connecting on 66.2 percent of its free throws, so that could come into play in what figures to be a close game.

If the Gamecocks can guard well enough on the perimeter, which they have for most of the season in allowing only 30.8 percent shooting from 3-point range, they’ll have a chance to win this game.

However, I feel like Temple does such a good job of getting to the free-throw line that it could cause Chris Silva to find himself in foul trouble. And when he’s not on the court, South Carolina is an entirely different team.

I’ll go with the Owls in a nail-biter.

Prediction: Temple 72, South Carolina 70

Missouri at UCF – 9 PM EST, ESPN2

Here’s another game that should come down to the wire.

It’s safe to say both teams aren’t where they expected to be at this stage of the season. Missouri is dealing with the effects of not having Michael Porter Jr. for the rest of the season, while UCF will be without star guard B.J. Taylor for a while due to a foot injury.

Both players being out has given others the chance to step up, and both teams are still capable of putting together quality seasons.

When looking at this particular matchup, what immediately stands out is just how putrid the Knights have been from the 3-point line. UCF is the worst outside shooting team in the country in shooting 21.7 percent, with Johnny Dawkins’ team making only 18 3-pointers in six games.

As for Mizzou, it’s biggest problem has been taking care of the ball (293rd nationally in committing 16 turnovers per game), but the Tigers should be able to learn a few things from going up against the pressure defense of West Virginia.

The easy thing to do here would be to look at common opponents and see how each team fared:

  • Missouri beat St. John’s by eight and lost to West Virginia by four
  • UCF lost to St. John’s by three and lost to West Virginia by 38

But as we all know, college basketball is a weird sport, and it’s never as easy as relying on outcomes against the same opponent.

Even with that in mind, I think Missouri is the better team and scores another victory in Orlando to snap the long road losing streak.

Prediction: Missouri 70, UCF 65

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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.