SEC Basketball Predictions: Vandy/Kentucky, Tennessee/Texas A&M, and more

In Features by Blake Lovell

It’s another full day of SEC action, as teams continue to try build their NCAA Tournament resumes in one of the most competitive conferences in the country.

Two of the league’s three ranked teams will hit the road on Saturday, while the other will attempt to send a preseason favorite to 0-5 in the SEC.

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

Let’s get to the picks.

Season Predictions Record (straight up): 158-36

Florida (12-4, 4-0) at Ole Miss (9-7, 2-2) – 1 PM EST, CBS (Game Preview)

The Gators are looking for a 5-0 start in conference play for the second straight year, but it won’t be easy.

Ole Miss has been up and down for most of the season and most recently led by 10 at halftime at Auburn before suffering a 15-point defeat.

Guard play is both teams’ bread and butter, which should make for interesting matchups across the board. What’s impressive about both backcourts is that they do an excellent job of taking care of the ball, with Florida ranking sixth in the nation in total turnovers and Ole Miss ranking 23rd.

Deandre Burnett is expected to play, although he may not be 100 percent since he’s been battling the flu.

I almost went with the upset here because I tend to think that the Rebels will be fired up for this one, but I find it hard to pick against the streaking Gators.

Prediction: Florida 79, Ole Miss 74

South Carolina (10-6, 1-3) at Georgia (11-4, 2-2) – 1 PM EST, SEC Network

South Carolina got a nice boost this week with the addition of former Louisville commit Brian Bowen, but the problem is that he isn’t playing in this game.

And this feels like a game where the Gamecocks could use him.

Georgia has been one of the most efficient defensive teams in the country this season (25th in KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency), despite struggling to slow down Jontay Porter and company in a 68-56 loss at Missouri on Wednesday.

Still, unless Chris Silva can stay on the floor without fouling, I think the Bulldogs will overwhelm a struggling Gamecocks’ offense.

Prediction: Georgia 69, South Carolina 61

No. 22 Auburn (15-1, 3-0) at Mississippi State (13-3, 1-2) – 3:30 PM EST, SEC Network

While some disagree, I’m of the opinion that Auburn is the best team in the SEC right now.

The Tigers didn’t jump out to a great start against Ole Miss, but they made excellent halftime adjustments to hold the Rebels to just 25 points in the second half and run away with the 85-70 win.

And it’s those adjustments that are making Auburn a legitimate SEC title contender. Bruce Pearl’s team is no longer relying solely on the 3-point shot, and they’re also more focused than ever when it comes to defense and rebounding.

And then there Mississippi State. Here’s a team that has looked great at home against inferior competition, but playing on the road has been a different story in that the Bulldogs have yet to score over 58 points in their three road contests.

But guess what? This game is in Starkville, and that makes this a much tougher task for the visitors.

This feels like the definition of a trap game for Auburn with the rivalry game coming up in Tuscaloosa next week.

But based on how we’ve seen the Tigers respond to adversity this season, there’s reason to believe that they’ll be ready for the challenge.

This game is a complete toss-up, but as the wise philosopher Ric Flair once said: “To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.”

I’ll take the team that has been the man thus far this season.

Prediction: Auburn 81, Mississippi State 79

No. 21 Kentucky (13-3, 3-1) at Vanderbilt (6-10, 1-3) – 4 PM EST, ESPN

The Commodores had no answer for Tennessee’s physicality earlier in the week, but as Robbie Weinstein mentioned in his weekly column, Bryce Drew’s team will see a different style against the Wildcats.

Kentucky’s length and athleticism is the biggest concern for Vanderbilt in this game, especially when you consider how inconsistent the latter’s offense has been throughout the year.

It’s rarely easy for opponents to win in Nashville, and that could once again be the case here. The Wildcats are going to run into some challenges on the road this season, as shown by their loss at Tennessee and close win at LSU.

Vandy’s key to success is simple: make a lot of 3-pointers and make Kentucky shoot a lot of 3-pointers. Keeping the Wildcats off the offensive glass will also be important.

Kentucky is allowing teams to shoot only 29.8 percent from 3-point range this season (16th nationally), and I think the Wildcats’ length will cause enough problems to pick up a solid road win.

Prediction: Kentucky 73, Vanderbilt 68

Texas A&M (11-5, 0-4) at No. 24 Tennessee (11-4, 2-2) – 6 PM EST, SEC Network (Game Preview)

Texas A&M point guard Duane Wilson will play in this game, which puts the Aggies as close to full strength as they’ve been in a while.

That’s good news considering that they are still winless in the SEC and desperately need to a find a way to come out victorious in this one.

However, it won’t be all that simple. The Vols have rebounded from their 0-2 start in league play with back-to-back rivalry wins, but it’s been about more than just winning.

Grant Williams went off for a career-high 37 points in the victory at Vanderbilt, and he is already making his case as an SEC Player of the Year candidate with his improved play. He will need to play with that same type of aggressiveness in this matchup given Texas A&M’s size advantage inside.

Even with a loss, I think the Aggies will rebound quickly with four of their next five at home.

But with Wilson back in the lineup, I’ll take Texas A&M to be on the right side of a one-point game this time around after losing two straight nailbiters.

Prediction: Texas A&M 73, Tennessee 72

Missouri (12-4, 2-1) at Arkansas (11-5, 1-3) – 6 PM EST, ESPN2

After Arkansas’s performance against LSU earlier in the week, I officially have no idea what to expect from the Hogs.

They went from looking like one of the SEC’s best teams to getting blown out by 21 points on a court that they’d looked invincible on all season.

Meanwhile, Missouri rebounded from the Florida loss with the good win over Georgia, and the Tigers continue to be effective from beyond the arc. They still rank 32nd nationally in 3-point percentage (39.5 percent), and that’s an asset in a game like this.

I’m going to lean towards Arkansas coming out with a point to prove after the head-scratcher against LSU, but if the Hogs look out of it again early on, Mizzou could win by double digits.

Prediction: Arkansas 77, Missouri 73

Alabama (10-6, 2-2) at LSU (11-4, 2-1) – 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network (Game Preview)

Speaking of teams that make you scratch your head, Alabama will embark on another road trip after taking care of business against South Carolina earlier in the week.

The Crimson Tide really needed that win, but it doesn’t guarantee that the momentum will carry over into this game. See: Alabama vs. Vanderbilt and Georgia after blowing out Texas A&M at home.

It also doesn’t help that the Tigers are way ahead of schedule. Will Wade has this team playing with an incredible amount of confidence, which tends to happen when you’ve won three straight road games in tough environments.

The Collin Sexton vs. Tremont Waters matchup is appointment viewing, as both players are among the nation’s best playmakers.

I simply haven’t seen enough consistency from Alabama away from Coleman Coliseum, and with LSU riding high, the Tigers feel like the better pick.

Prediction: LSU 74, Alabama 72

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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.