It’s another important Saturday all around the SEC, with several road teams trying to earn quality wins over ranked opponents
Now that we’ve reached the halfway point of league play, the NCAA Tournament picture is starting to become clearer for some teams while others are trying to stay on the right side of the bubble.
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): 189-52
South Carolina at Texas A&M – 2 PM EST, ESPN2
Just when you start to believe that the Gamecocks could make a push for the NCAA Tournament, things go in the opposite direction. South Carolina beat Kentucky at home and Florida on the road, but hasn’t been able to keep the momentum going in losing back-to-back home games to Texas Tech and Mississippi State.
As for the Aggies, they finally returned to the winning column by blowing out Arkansas, but Texas A&M’s work is far from finished. While the ESPN BPI gives Billy Kennedy’s squad an 88.4 percent chance of dancing in March, that number may be a little ambitious since the Aggies still have five road games left.
The biggest problem I see for South Carolina in this matchup is Texas A&M’s ability to overwhelm Chris Silva. The Aggies have three 6-10 players that can all challenge Silva inside, and that could take away an essential element of the Gamecocks’ offense.
With Texas A&M’s desperate need to keep winning, it should find a way to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Texas A&M 70, South Carolina 62
No. 21 Kentucky at Missouri – 2 PM EST, CBS
This is a really interesting spot for both teams. Kentucky seemed to turn a corner against West Virginia, but came back with a lackluster performance for the majority of the game against Vanderbilt.
Meanwhile, after struggling mightily in recent weeks, Missouri may have scored its own season-altering win in Tuscaloosa earlier this week.
The Tigers got back to shooting better from beyond the arc in the victory over Alabama, and that could be what decides this game. Vanderbilt got quite a few open looks from the perimeter against Kentucky, and if Mizzou can find similar opportunities at home, it will go a long way towards picking up another résumé win.
The Wildcats’ ability to win at West Virginia made me more confident in their road outlook for the rest of the season, but I get a sense that Missouri will come out on fire here in a CBS game that could give the Tigers’ tournament hopes a huge boost.
Prediction: Missouri 73, Kentucky 71
Arkansas at LSU – 3:30 PM EST, SEC Network
While Kentucky’s victory in Morgantown erased some concerns about the Wildcats away from home, I’m still not sure that Arkansas will be able to alleviate its own road struggles.
Of course, the Razorbacks are facing an LSU team here that’s been dealing with its own issues as of late. The Tigers could never get going in a blowout loss at Tennessee, as only seven scholarship players were available for Will Wade and company after suspensions were handed down earlier in the week.
But there have been problems on the court for LSU as well, with the Tigers only winning once since the surprising 21-point victory at Bud Walton Arena. So, this is certainly a game where we should see revenge on the mind of the Hogs.
However, even with that being the case, it’s still hard to trust Mike Anderson’s squad on the road. LSU will have to get back on track defensively, and Tremont Waters will need to have a big game to counter how well Daryl Macon has played.
I’ll go with the Tigers in this spot.
Prediction: LSU 78, Arkansas 75
Alabama at No. 23 Florida – 4 PM EST, ESPN
Here are two teams that have been on quite the roller coaster ride this season. There have been times where both have looked like sure-fire second weekend tournament teams, and there have been times where both have looked like teams that may struggle to make it to the dance.
The good news for the Gators is that their tournament outlook seems more certain at this point, as the Crimson Tide’s final nine games are brutal. For Alabama to feel good about its chances, it’ll likely need to go at least 4-5 in this stretch, and even that offers no guarantees.
The Tide are going to have put in a strong defensive effort here against a Florida team that will put up a lot of 3-pointers. If Alabama can guard well on the perimeter and get a physical game from players like Donta Hall and Daniel Giddens, it’ll have a good shot at winning.
But in a game that features two up and down teams, I tend to always lean towards the home team to pick up the win.
Prediction: Florida 74, Alabama 69
Georgia at Mississippi State – 6 PM EST, ESPNU
The battle of the Bulldogs is an intriguing matchup for several reasons.
For starters, Mississippi State finally found some confidence on the road in winning at South Carolina, which marked the first road win of the season for Ben Howland’s squad. And then there’s what Georgia did earlier in the week against Florida, as Yante Maten and company picked up a much-needed quality win.
So, both teams are riding a lot of momentum entering this game. Mississippi State has been very good at home this year, with its only loss coming in an eight-point defeat to Auburn. As for Georgia, it hasn’t been great on the road, with the Bulldogs sitting at 1-4 away from home in SEC play.
Those two trends suggest that Mississippi State is the easy pick here. But as you know, SEC basketball can produce some weird results, and I feel like Georgia can use its size and experience to make things difficult on the home Bulldogs.
I’ll lean on Yante Maten having a big game to give Georgia another important win.
Prediction: Georgia 65, Mississippi State 63
Ole Miss at No. 18 Tennessee – 6 PM EST, SEC Network
Ole Miss is 0-6 on the road this season, with its most recent defeat coming at Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. It doesn’t necessarily feel like the Rebels have played overly bad, but they just can’t seem to get enough stops when playing away from home.
And then there’s the Vols, who may be the second most trustworthy team in the league behind Auburn. Tennessee has already proven its toughness and composure this season in winning seven games away from home, and after a blowout win over LSU, the Vols have now won seven of their last eight games overall.
I’m not sure why, but I have a strange feeling that the Rebels are going to make this very interesting from start to finish.
However, l trust Tennessee more at this point, and it’s hard to pick against the Vols for that reason.
Prediction: Tennessee 79, Ole Miss 75
Vanderbilt at No. 11 Auburn – 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network
The Commodores don’t feel like an 8-14 team, which was shown by their near win at Kentucky earlier in the week. Vanderbilt has lost seven of its games by seven points or less, and as we saw in Lexington, there are simply times where things bounce the wrong way for Bryce Drew’s squad.
That trend will need to change heading into this particular matchup. Auburn is showing no signs of slowing down, and the balance and depth of this team is just outstanding. When the Tigers get rolling, there may be only a handful of teams in the country that could stop them.
Obviously, for Vanderbilt to keep this game close, it’ll need to shoot well from outside while also having its best rebounding effort of the season. This Auburn team has been relentless on the glass, and the Commodores just can’t afford to give up second chance opportunities in this type of game.
After losing the way that it did against Kentucky, it’s hard to see Vanderbilt bouncing back with the same type of performance in this one.
Prediction: Auburn 80, Vanderbilt 70
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