SEC Basketball Predictions: Alabama/Rhode Island, Vandy/MTSU, and more

In Features by Blake Lovell

It was an interesting night of action around the SEC on Tuesday, with everyone winning except for No. 7 Texas A&M.

The Aggies were knocked off by Arizona (which I sort of saw coming), although few should consider it an upset given the overall talent of the Wildcats.

There are five games on today’s SEC slate, with all five teams playing at home.

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

Let’s get to the picks.

Season Predictions Record (straight up): 88-17

Wyoming at South Carolina – 7 PM EST, SEC Network+

The Gamecocks are off to a 6-2 start, but have struggled at times on the offensive end of the floor.

South Carolina is feeling the effects of losing all the talented contributors from a year ago, as Frank Martin’s team is 272nd nationally in committing 15.1 turnovers per game and 279th nationally in shooting 66.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Meanwhile, Wyoming has wins over three solid teams in Oregon State, South Dakota State, and Louisiana Lafayette, with all of those wins coming away from home (one away and two neutral).

This figures to be a defensive battle the entire way with both teams still searching for efficiency on offense.

But since the Gamecocks are at home, they find a way to grind out the win.

Prediction: South Carolina 68, Wyoming 62 

Gardner-Webb at Auburn – 8 PM EST, SEC Network+

Bruce Pearl’s squad has been playing better than most expected it after Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were sidelined last month.

And while offense is still the Tigers’ bread and butter, they are starting to find ways to get key stops on defense in important stretches of the game.

This doesn’t appear to be a good matchup for the visitors, as Gardner-Webb has struggled mightily on defense at times, even if the offensive numbers haven’t been all that bad (63rd nationally at 38.6 percent from 3-point range and 120th nationally at 46.4 percent shooting).

I can’t see the Runnin’ Bulldogs getting enough stops to keep this close.

Prediction: Auburn 89, Gardner-Webb 71 

Loyola Chicago at No. 5 Florida – 8 PM EST, SEC Network

Monday’s game against Florida State showcased the flaws in Florida’s arsenal.

The Gators simply did not play well on the defensive end of the floor, and the Seminoles’ size resulted in a lot of careless mistakes and bad shots on offense.

And as ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said on Twitter, the Gators looked like a team that had been told how good they were for a week after playing so well at the PK80.

Well, there’s a good chance that Mike White has his team’s attention after the loss, and that may not be good news for the Ramblers.

Porter Moser has led his team to a 8-1 start, but Loyola Chicago’s only true road game of the season thus far resulted in a 34-point blowout loss at Boise State last week.

The Ramblers do have four players averaging between 12.3 and 13.8 points per game, and there’s enough depth on the roster to make this interesting, especially considering that they are ranked eighth in the nation in shooting 52.2 percent from the floor.

I feel like we could either see the Gators come out sluggish after a short turnaround with defensive issues still present, or a team that is way more focused and angry after being humbled by their rival.

Knowing the type of coach that White is, I’ll go with the latter.

Prediction: Florida 85, Loyola Chicago 71

Rhode Island at Alabama – 8 PM EST, SEC Network+ (Game Preview)

This is another big test for the Crimson Tide, and there are several more to come on the non-conference schedule.

Alabama is a team that’s searching for consistency, which is a combination of having young players in significant roles and not having Braxton Key on the court.

It sounds like Key will be ready to return to action within the next few weeks, so that’s a step in the right direction.

However, not having him in a game against a tenacious Rhode Island squad could cause problems.

The Rams have already scored wins over Seton Hall and Providence this season, and they’ve been stellar at forcing turnovers (27th nationally in forcing 17.8 per game). The Tide have done a decent job at taking care of the ball this season, but that’s still a stat worth watching.

What’ll decide this game? Rebounding and Collin Sexton.

Rhode Island hasn’t been a particularly great rebounding team this season (257th nationally in rebounding margin at -1.6), and Sexton is coming off of what’ll likely be his worst game in an Alabama uniform.

My guess is that Sexton will be out to prove something here, and he’ll be the driving force for a nice bounce back win for the Tide.

Prediction: Alabama 72, Rhode Island 70

MTSU at Vanderbilt – 8 PM EST, SEC Network+

The Commodores once again find themselves at the center of one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, and it’s shown with the 3-5 start.

It doesn’t get any easier with the Blue Raiders making the short drive to Nashville, and Kermit Davis has his team playing fine basketball right now.

Alabama transfer Nick King has been one of the best scorers in the nation in averaging 24.3 points per game (fifth in the country) and just went for 32 points and 11 rebounds in the team’s second straight win over Florida Gulf Coast.

But it hasn’t just been King doing the work. Both Giddy Potts and Nick King are playing well as expected, and Davis has a versatile group that can present matchup issues across the board.

With a trip to Arizona State up next, this is a must-win game for Vanderbilt. And with the Commodores shooting a shockingly low percentage from the field right now (313th in the nation at 40.6 percent), that’s not a good place to be in.

Vanderbilt still looks like a team that is trying to find its way on offense without Luke Kornet stretching the floor, and it’s a problem that Bryce Drew mentioned this summer. With more traditional post players on the floor, the approach on offense isn’t as easy as putting five guys around the perimeter and always having space to drive the lane.

Until those offensive issues work themselves out, the shooting percentages may continue to be an issue.

The Blue Raiders are playing better at this point, although they haven’t faced the gauntlet that Vandy has thus far.

But since I know Vanderbilt fans enjoy me picking against them (since it usually results in a victory), I’m gonna do that in this spot.

Prediction: MTSU 74, Vanderbilt 70

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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.