Conference play got off to a thrilling start on Saturday in the SEC, with one overtime thriller and one upset highlighting the action.
Sunday features two intriguing matchups, as everyone tries to get off on the right foot in league play.
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): 141-30
South Carolina (9-3) at Ole Miss (7-5) – 6 PM EST, ESPN2
This game will certainly feature a clash of styles, as South Carolina relies on its defense while Ole Miss relies on its offense.
The question is, which team will play well enough on the other side of the court to pick up the victory?
Beyond Chris Silva (12.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg), the Gamecocks don’t have a proven scoring threat that can take over a game at a moment’s notice. Yes, Frank Booker, Maik Kotsar, Justin Minaya, and Hassani Gravett are all capable of posting double-digit scoring nights, but I don’t know if there’s enough offensive depth to keep pace with some of the teams in the SEC.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss has continued to struggle to get stops in close games. The Rebels have lost three overtime games at home this season, and sport a nine-point neutral court loss to Utah.
To stay afloat in a competitive conference, they’ll need to find more consistency on defense and hope that their guards can do enough damage on the offensive end of the floor.
As I said yesterday, picking games in the SEC will be so difficult this season because of how little room for error there is each night. And more often than not, the home team will have an advantage.
Neither of these teams are where they want to be right now, and I feel like Ole Miss finds enough offense against a stout South Carolina defense to earn the win.
Prediction: Ole Miss 70, South Carolina 65
Georgia (9-2) at Kentucky (10-2) – 6 PM EST, ESPN
I mentioned this same factor on Saturday regarding Alabama’s big win over Texas A&M, but ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes is spot on when he talks about Kentucky’s ability to handle success.
How will young Kentucky team handle success? Georgia is older, experienced and gave UK fits last year. Tough turnaround after rivalry game
— Jimmy Dykes (@CoachJimmyDykes) December 31, 2017
You don’t always know what you’re going to from a young team after scoring an emotional win just days earlier, so this is an interesting spot for John Calipari’s young Wildcats.
However, in looking at the opponent, Georgia has been difficult to figure out even in sporting a 9-2 record to this point.
Yante Maten has been his usual self in posting double-doubles at will, but there are still some unknowns around him. Turtle Jackson has emerged a legitimate scoring threat behind him, and now it’s a matter of seeing who else can find that same level of playmaking ability on offense.
Mark Fox has 10 guys that have averaged double figures in minutes, and I think this Georgia team is deeper than we thought it would be.
The Bulldogs are also fantastic on the offensive glass, which is where we’ll find out how disciplined Kentucky can be on the defensive side of the court. The Wildcats obviously have the length and athleticism to battle Maten and Derek Ogbeide in that area, but it won’t be easy.
The best chance for Georgia to win is to find extra scoring opportunities on the offensive glass, and most importantly, take care of the ball.
We all know what happens when the crowd gets into it at Rupp Arena, and although Fox had his team ready for that challenge last season, this is a different dynamic without an experienced and sure ball-handler in J.J. Frazier.
Part of me thinks we could see the Wildcats come out a little flat here, but the other part of me thinks that the Louisville win may be a springboard for this Kentucky squad going forward.
I tend to believe it’s the latter, as while Calipari’s team struggled some in non-conference play, they’re still one of the most talented teams in the country.
Kentucky keeps the momentum going with a solid win.
Prediction: Kentucky 78, Georgia 70
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