The first full Saturday slate in conference play is officially upon us, with plenty of intriguing matchups around the league.
Two Top 25 teams hit the road, while two others will look to get back on track after starting 0-2 in SEC play.
This is an extremely difficult set of games to predict, and it’s probably the toughest of any I’ve seen this season. The depth of this league has been on display all season long, and that makes it harder to know who is going to win since anyone can beat anyone.
So, if I go 0-7 with these picks, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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): 148-32
Alabama (9-5, 1-1) at Georgia (10-3, 1-1) – Noon EST, SEC Network (Game Preview)
The Crimson Tide need to play with energy early on and take good shots. They came out flat against Vanderbilt, which resulted in having to play from behind for the majority of the game.
As for the shot selection, inexperienced teams sometimes rely too much on the jump shot, and that’s been no different for this Alabama squad (ranked 347 out of 351 teams in KenPom’s experience rating). Georgia only allows teams to shoot 38.8 percent from the floor (21st nationally), so finding good shots will be crucial.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have to take care of the ball and play physical. This team’s guard play has gotten better, but Alabama’s speed and athleticism will challenge Georgia’s backcourt. Juwan Parker’s double-double night against Ole Miss may be a springboard for him going forward.
And then there’s the physicality aspect. Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide have to stay aggressive on the glass, as Donta Hall will certainly present some challenges. Daniel Giddens could as well, but he simply hasn’t been able to stay out of foul trouble.
Alabama is 5-5 in its last 10 games, with no back-to-back wins or losses during that stretch. So, if that trend holds to form, this should be a win for the Crimson Tide.
It’s a risky pick based on what we’ve seen from both teams as of late, but I’ll take Avery Johnson’s team to steal another game in Athens.
Prediction: Alabama 69, Georgia 68
Florida (10-4, 2-0) at Missouri (11-3, 1-0) – 1 PM EST, CBS (Game Preview)
Obviously, the Gators need to shoot the ball well to win this game.
They seemed to return to their early season form in hitting 17 3-pointers against Texas A&M on Tuesday, so that’s promising entering another tough road matchup here.
Missouri ranks 61st nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense (31.7 percent), but it’s been the Tigers own outside shooting that’s turned a few heads recently. Cuonzo Martin’s team hit 14 3-pointers in Wednesday’s win at South Carolina, with Mizzou now shooting 39.4 percent from beyond the arc on the year (38th nationally).
The Gators need another big performance from Keith Stone in this one given Missouri’s size advantage inside. The sophomore scored 18 points and knocked down four 3-pointers in the win in College Station, and he’ll have to provide a presence on the glass as well.
I feel like Florida has started to find its way, and while this should be one of the best games of the day in the SEC, I like the Gators to pick up another hard-fought road win.
Prediction: Florida 75, Missouri 72
LSU (9-4, 0-1) at No. 11 Texas A&M (11-3, 0-2) – 2:15 PM EST, SEC Network
Getting D.J. Hogg back definitely helps a Texas A&M team that’ll likely still be without guards Duane Wilson and Admon Gilder.
But will that be enough to top an LSU squad that’s led by Tremont Waters?
The freshman continues to be one of the most exciting players to watch, and his impact on this game with Gilder and Wilson sidelined could be huge for the Tigers. Navigating through Texas A&M’s tall frontcourt won’t be easy, but even if Waters struggles to find opportunities to finish at the rim, he should be able to find open shooters on the perimeter.
However, here’s why it’s tough to pick against the Aggies in this spot: the schedule. Having already started 0-2, this is an absolute must-win for Billy Kennedy’s team given the next two games on the schedule.
After this one, Texas A&M will hit the road for back-to-back games at Kentucky and Tennessee, leaving very little margin for error when it comes to trying to avoid an 0-5 start in league play.
The Aggies should be well aware of this and find a way to get the victory thanks to big games from Robert Williams and Tyler Davis.
Prediction: Texas A&M 78, LSU 72
Mississippi State (13-1, 1-0) at Ole Miss (8-6, 1-1) – 4:30 PM EST, SEC Network
The win over Arkansas on Tuesday helped Mississippi State earn more legitimacy on the national level after breezing through a favorable non-conference schedule.
But the question is, how do the Bulldogs respond?
We’ve seen many young teams score a huge win, and then go on the road in their next game and lay an egg (see: Alabama beating Texas A&M and then playing poorly at Vandy). And to magnify the possibility of that same thing happening to Mississippi State, this is a rivalry game.
Ole Miss is still searching for answers, but is more than capable of pulling off the mild upset. The Rebels have way more experience and have won seven of the last eight games in this series.
A stat worth watching: Ole Miss has hit 10 or more 3-pointers in three of its last five home games, and that trend may need to continue considering that it may be tough to find a ton of paint points against the Bulldogs.
This is a toss-up, but I’m leaning towards Terence Davis having a big game in helping the Rebels notch the rivalry win.
Prediction: Ole Miss 83, Mississippi State 78
No. 22 Arkansas (11-3, 1-1) at Auburn (13-1, 1-0) – 6 PM EST, ESPNU
If you love points, this will be the game for you.
Both teams are in the top 15 nationally in points per game, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see both hit the 90-point mark in what’ll likely be a track meet.
Arkansas comes into this game having let one slip away at Mississippi State, which leads us to wonder whether we can trust the Razorbacks on the road. They’ve played only two true road games this season, with the other resulting in a 26-point blowout loss at Houston in early December.
Of course, that thought isn’t reassuring when you think about what awaits Mike Anderson’s team in this game.
Auburn is one of the most confident teams in the country right now, and it has used the “us against the world” mentality to prove many of its doubters wrong to this point. The Tigers are getting production from everyone that steps on the court, and Desean Murray has continued to be a huge piece of the puzzle.
Auburn has outrebounded all but one of its opponents this season, with the Tigers grabbing 22 offensive rebounds in the win over Tennessee.
Mississippi State racked up 17 offensive rebounds against Arkansas, so my guess is that theme comes into play again with Auburn finding enough extra scoring opportunities to get the win.
Prediction: Auburn 90, Arkansas 86
Vanderbilt (6-8, 1-1) at South Carolina (9-5, – 6:45 PM EST, SEC Network
This has never been an easy place to play for the Commodores, and neither team has been able to find consistency thus far this season.
South Carolina gave up 14 or more 3-pointers for only the fourth time in the Frank Martin era (184 games) in the home loss to Missouri, and that’s worth noting considering what Vanderbilt has done from beyond the arc.
After a slow start to the season, Bryce Drew’s team has hit 10 or more 3-pointers in four straight games, which has resulted in a 3-1 record in that stretch.
Another big boost for Vandy has been the play of freshman Saben Lee. The Arizona native just missed tying a career-high with a 23-point outing against Alabama, and he continues to be a major asset for the Commodores on both sides of the court.
As for the Gamecocks, I still have a ton of questions about how they find consistent offense beyond Chris Silva. Those concerns were evident in the Missouri game, as Silva played only 17 minutes (but scored 18 points) due to foul trouble.
This is the type of game where Silva can be a game-changer for South Carolina, as Vanderbilt doesn’t have the frontcourt depth or experience to combat Silva when he’s playing well.
Alabama’s pressure defense late in the game gave the Commodores some serious issues, and you have to wonder how that plays out against a South Carolina team that will be as physical as anyone in the SEC.
While that aspect worries me, I’m going to take Vanderbilt here.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 71, South Carolina 69
No. 17 Kentucky (12-2, 2-0) at No. 23 Tennessee (9-4, 0-2) – 9 PM EST, SEC Network
The Vols are off to a surprising 0-2 start in conference play after looking excellent in pre-conference action, but they can make up for it with a big win here.
Kentucky managed to sneak out of Baton Rouge with a win over LSU, and the Wildcats have started to put things together after looking a little shaky in some non-conference games.
As is always the case against Kentucky, Tennessee has to have a dedicated effort in rebounding. As mentioned, Auburn grabbed 22 offensive rebounds in Knoxville, and Rick Barnes’ team can’t afford that type of performance against a team that’s much taller.
This is a hard game to predict. The Wildcats are likely going to struggle on the road more than usual this season, but scoring that win at LSU was huge for this team’s confidence. And now they’ll play a team that’s confidence might be as low as it has been all season after suffering two tough defeats in a row.
Then again, this is a must-win for Tennessee. Three of the Vols’ next four games are on the road, and while that’s already not ideal, it would be even less ideal if you’re sitting at 0-3 in the conference.
We’ve seen Tennessee rise to the challenge at home in recent games against Kentucky, and knowing what’s at stake, I’ll go with the Vols to rebound and get a much-needed victory.
Prediction: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 72
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