It’s another loaded Saturday schedule in the world of SEC basketball, with several teams preparing for intriguing matchups.
Two of the league’s four ranked teams are in action, as Kentucky and Florida both face tests from streaking ACC teams.
There is a common theme with today’s selections, which I’ll let you figure out once you’ve went through all of them. Although, I will say that I have a sneaky suspicion that several upsets are on the horizon.
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): 106-20
Stephen F. Austin (9-1) at LSU (6-2) – 1 PM EST, SEC Network (Game Preview)
The Lumberjacks are great at forcing turnovers (best in the nation at 23.6 per game), but the Tigers have for the most part done a good job at taking care of the ball.
LSU is still shooting at a high rate (fifth nationally at 52.6 percent) and being at home should help continue that trend.
I do get a sense that the Tigers could come out a little flat given the big win over Houston and the somewhat early start, but they should have enough to hang on for the victory.
Prediction: LSU 80, Stephen F. Austin 74
Virginia Tech (9-1) at No. 8 Kentucky (8-1) – 2 PM EST, ESPN2
I understand the thought that Virginia Tech hasn’t played tough competition thus far (only road game resulted in an overtime win at Ole Miss) and this game is in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena.
However, the Hokies are scoring the ball so well from the perimeter (second nationally at 46.8 percent from 3-point range) that they pack enough offensive punch to keep up.
The Wildcats should have a significant advantage on the boards, which should lead to plenty of second chance opportunities.
Fun fact: This is the second time I’ve written this section, and the first time around, I went with a different winner.
So if you’re looking for confidence from me in this pick, you had better look elsewhere.
Prediction: Kentucky 87, Virginia Tech 83
Georgia (7-1) at UMass (5-5) – 3 PM EST, NBC Sports Network
We may see the Bulldogs come out a little sluggish here after 11 days between games, but that wouldn’t be ideal given what the Minutemen did in their last outing.
UMass took down Providence last week, which pushed its home record to 5-0 while it’s 0-5 in games away from the Mullins Center.
I don’t see this being the prettiest game of the day, but the Yante Maten effect should allow Georgia to sneak away with the win in what’ll likely be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair.
Prediction: Georgia 67, UMass 64
Illinois State (4-6) at Ole Miss (5-4) – 3:30 PM EST, SEC Network
The Rebels got back on track with a win over Sam Houston State, and perhaps that’ll help them build a little momentum before SEC play.
But despite Illinois State’s 4-6 record, this won’t be easy. Dan Muller’s team has played a tough schedule thus far, and the trio of Keyshawn Evans, Phil Fayne, and Milik Yarbrough is good enough to lead the Redbirds to a win.
Ole Miss is still fighting through some inconsistencies on both ends of the floor, but I think Andy Kennedy’s squad gets enough stops down the stretch to score the victory.
Prediction: Ole Miss 79, Illinois State 71
No. 22 Florida (6-3) vs. Clemson (8-1) – 4:30 PM EST (Sunrise, FL)
While Clemson’s schedule hasn’t been among the best in the nation, the Tigers are playing good basketball on both sides of the court.
But I feel like Florida’s victory over Cincinnati was a huge step in the right direction.
The Gators desperately needed that to wipe the sour taste of home losses to Florida State and Loyola Chicago out of their mouth, and that may be the fresh start they needed going forward.
Florida gets hot from three and grabs the win.
Prediction: Florida 79, Clemson 70
Auburn (8-1) vs. MTSU (7-1) – 6 PM EST, SEC Network (Birmingham, AL)
Here’s one of the best games of the entire weekend, as MTSU will look for its sixth straight win over SEC competition in the past three seasons.
And while Nick King and the Blue Raiders have played well, there’s just something about this Auburn team right now that makes me like its chances.
The Tigers have been showcasing their depth as of late, and with Mustapha Heron likely back in the lineup, it gives Bruce Pearl more options to work with in trying to slow down MTSU.
As is always the case, defense will decide this game, and Auburn has gotten better on that end of the floor.
Heron and company grab the edge on the boards (something Auburn has done in every game this season) and make a few big plays in the final minutes to score the narrow victory.
Prediction: Auburn 76, MTSU 74
UT Martin (3-7) at Mississippi State (8-1) – 8 PM EST, SEC Network+
The Bulldogs did not look good in the road loss to Cincinnati, which was probably to be expected given that they hadn’t a team of that caliber thus far this season.
The good news is that they won’t see a team of that caliber during the remainder of the non-conference schedule, as Southern Miss is the highest-rated KenPom team at No. 255.
The bad news is that these games may not be enough to prepare Mississippi State for a tough start to SEC play.
Prediction: Mississippi State 82, UT Martin 63
Arkansas (7-2) vs. Troy (5-5) – 8 PM EST (North Little Rock, AR)
Mike Anderson’s team had a nice break after scoring solid wins over Colorado State and Minnesota.
Now comes a matchup with Troy, who has the experience to at least make this interesting.
But the problem for the Trojans is that they’re still missing their best all-around player in Jordon Varnado (19.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg), which is going to put a lot more pressure on leading scorer Wesley Person (20.3 ppg).
The Hogs should roll.
Prediction: Arkansas 90, Troy 70
North Florida (5-7) at Missouri (8-2) – 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network
North Florida is giving up 86.1 points per game (340th nationally) and is allowing teams to shoot 54.7 percent from inside the arc.
Considering that Missouri has a significant size advantage and is shooting 56.6 percent from two (35th nationally), that makes this pick rather easy.
The Tigers should take care of business in a big way.
Prediction: Missouri 84, North Florida 61