SEC Basketball Predictions: Auburn/Tennessee, Alabama/Vandy, and more

In Features by Blake Lovell

While the college football world prepares for an all-SEC national championship, basketball fans are turning their attention to the start of conference play all around the country.

SEC teams have gone 5-0 at home to start league play, but that streak could be in jeopardy with Tuesday’s intriguing slate.

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): 143-30

Auburn (12-1, 0-0) at No. 23 Tennessee (9-3, 0-1) – 7 PM EST, ESPNU

Saturday’s overtime loss at Arkansas had to take a lot out of the Vols. It was a game where they led almost the entire way and seemed to be heading towards a victory until key players were fouled out down the stretch.

I’m interested to see how Rick Barnes’ squad responds here. Every game will be a grind in the SEC this year, and Tennessee can’t afford to come out sluggish against a red hot Auburn team.

Bruce Pearl has the Tigers riding a 10-game winning streak, although this will be the toughest test that Auburn has faced all season.

Here’s what it’ll likely decide the outcome in this one: perimeter defense and rebounding.

The Tigers have done an excellent job finding extra scoring opportunities by being aggressive on the offensive glass, and the Vols will need to keep their focus in that area.

Meanwhile, on the perimeter, Auburn will need to stay disciplined on defense to make sure that Tennessee doesn’t get open shots. The Vols rank 29th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (39.9 percent) and have hit 10 or more in back-to-back games.

I’m going to go with Tennessee to get the win, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the home team suffering a letdown after the tough loss in Fayetteville.

Prediction: Tennessee 76, Auburn 73

Alabama (9-4, 1-0) at Vanderbilt (5-8, 0-1) – 7 PM EST, SEC Network

In case it wasn’t already obvious, winning on the road will not be easy in the SEC this year. Of course, you don’t have to tell the Crimson Tide that when it comes to trying to win at Memorial Gym.

Alabama has won only one game at Vanderbilt since 1990, with that lone victory coming in 2013.

So, look beyond the records coming into this game, as history has proven this to always be a challenge for the Tide.

As for the Commodores, they fought back to lose by seven at Florida last week, and it seems that they’re starting to find their way from beyond the arc. Vanderbilt has made 12 or more 3-pointers in three straight games, and with little experience inside, it’ll need that trend to continue.

But what worries me is the Commodores’ ability to slow down a long and athletic Alabama squad. Not only will it be extremely difficult to keep Collin Sexton out of the lane, but it will be challenging to keep Donta Hall from controlling the paint on both ends of the floor.

Jeff Roberson has been solid as always for Vanderbilt, but the frontcourt trio of Djery Baptiste, Clevon Brown, and, Ejike Obinna are still a work in progress. If Hall plays at a high level – and Daniel Giddens stays out of foul trouble – the Tide should be able to impose their will inside.

Another concern for Vandy: it’s inability to turn teams over. The Commodores are 346th in the country in forcing only 10.5 turnovers per game, which should come as a sigh of relief for an Alabama team that has a tendency to commit some head-scratching turnovers.

I know it’s been nearly impossible for the Tide to score a road win over the Commodores over the past 30 years, but the Texas A&M win gave Sexton and company a huge boost of momentum.

Alabama pushes the pace offensively to score another impressive win.

Prediction: Alabama 79, Vanderbilt 72

No. 22 Arkansas (11-2, 1-0), at Mississippi State (12-1, 0-0) – 9 PM EST, SEC Network

Valuing the basketball is always important in road games, and the Hogs continue to excel in limiting mistakes.

Arkansas remains 10th in the nation in turning it over only 10.5 times per game, and with Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford leading the way, this is one of the most reliable teams in the conference when it comes to perimeter play.

As for Mississippi State? The Bulldogs are tied with Auburn for the most total wins of any team in the SEC, but it’s the lack of elite competition thus far has left many people wondering just how good this team is. Well, we’re about to find out.

What worries me about Mississippi State in this spot is that it has a tendency to make sloppy turnovers, while also shooting poorly from 3-point range. The Bulldogs rank 265th nationally with 14.8 turnovers per game and are 304th in 3-point percentage at 31.6 percent.

Those two stats aren’t particularly encouraging when you consider that Arkansas excels in both areas.

With all that said, I can’t shake the feeling that Mississippi State wins this game. The Bulldogs have been gearing up for this one for a while and are out to prove a point, while Arkansas is in a prime letdown spot after coming off the emotional comeback victory against Tennessee.

I’ll take Ben Howland’s team in an upset.

Prediction: Mississippi State 82, Arkansas 78

Florida (9-4, 1-0) at No. 11 Texas A&M (11-2, 0-1) – 9 PM EST, ESPN2

Not only is Texas A&M coming off a 22-point loss at Alabama, but the Aggies are also dealing with more roster issues than expected.

D.J. Hogg will remain out due to suspension, while both Admon Gilder and Duane Wilson are questionable to play in this game.

Can Texas A&M beat a guard-heavy Florida team without its top three backcourt threats? A month ago, I would’ve said absolutely not. But as we all know, this isn’t the same Florida squad that put on offensive clinics at the PK80.

The Gators have started to get out of their slump in winning three straight, but there’s still something missing. That something could be the inside play of John Egbunu, or it could be that killer instinct needed to keep opponents from hanging around too long.

Should Gilder and Wilson both be out, it makes this a really tough matchup to gauge.

Florida’s strength is its perimeter shooting, but the Gators have struggled to find consistency inside. Texas A&M’s strength is its massive frontline of Robert Williams, Tyler Davis, and Tonny Trocha-Morelos, but the Aggies would have very little outside scoring with the aforementioned three players sidelined.

Based on what we saw in the game in Tuscaloosa, it’s hard to know what to expect from Texas A&M due to the missing pieces.

Then again, the Gators aren’t exactly easy to trust, either.

However, I’m gonna go with the assumption that Gilder and Wilson won’t play and take a chance on Florida finding its way against a team that’s missing a ton of production.

If those two do wind up playing, the outcome is likely different.

Prediction: Florida 75, Texas A&M 71

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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.