In & around SEC basketball - Week 9 previews

February 28, 2020 chris
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By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent

Auburn Week 8 Review
Auburn might not be as strong as last year when the Tigers made a run to the Final Four, but this team is as resilient as any in the country. Auburn trailed Tennessee by 17 points in the second half on Saturday but battled back and won 73-66 to remain unbeaten at home. The Tigers followed up that win with a home victory over Ole Miss to improve to 24-4 on the year and 11-4 in conference play. Isaac Okoro returned for last Tuesday’s game against the Rebels, and he is a vital piece of the puzzle if Auburn is going to experience success in March. The Tigers travel to Rupp Arena on Saturday (Feb. 29) to take on Kentucky in a matchup between the top two teams in the SEC.
Alabama Week 8 Review
The Crimson Tide split a pair of recent road games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and their NCAA Tournament chances are still lingering entering the final three regular season games. The win over the Rebels was a must, but UA missed out on a great opportunity against the Bulldogs last Tuesday. Alabama is 15-13 overall and 7-8 in the SEC, but the Tide faces a must-win game this Saturday at home against South Carolina.
SEC basketball rankings
1. Kentucky (23-5, 13-2)
2. Auburn (24-4, 11-4)
3. Florida (18-10, 10-5)
4. LSU (19-9, 10-5)
5. Mississippi State (18-10, 9-6)
6. South Carolina (17-11, 9-6)
7. Arkansas (18-10, 6-9)
8. Tennessee (15-13, 7-8)
9. Texas A&M (14-13, 8-7)
10. Alabama (15-13, 7-8)
11. Missouri (14-14, 6-9)
12. Georgia (14-14, 4-11)
13. Ole Miss(13-15, 4-11)
14. Vanderbilt (9-19, 1-14)
Week 9 Previews and Predictions
Saturday, Feb. 29
Game of the Week: Auburn at Kentucky. When these teams met in earlier this month, Auburn was playing as well as anyone in the country. Now, it’s Kentucky, which has won seven straight games, that is playing as well as anyone. In fact, the Wildcats’ last loss was at Auburn Arena on Feb. 1. The last time Auburn won at Rupp Arena was in 1988, so this has been a one-sided matchup until Bruce Pearl took over at Auburn in 2014. Before Pearl’s arrival at The Plains, it had been 16 years since the Tigers had beaten the Wildcats. Since 2016, Pearl is 4-3 vs. John Calipari and Kentucky, including a 77-71 overtime victory last year in the Elite Eight. Au-burn probably won’t win Saturday in Rupp Arena, but the Tigers have proven that they belong at the top of the league along with Kentucky. Prediction: Kentucky 78, Auburn 70.
Texas A&M at LSU. Despite sitting in a tie for third place in the conference standings, LSU is not playing its best basketball right now. The Tigers lost five of their last seven games, and while they are safely in the NCAA Tournament, they definitely have dropped a few spots on the seeding line. A few wins down the stretch could fix that problem, and that starts with Saturday’s home game against a scrappy Aggie squad. Prediction: LSU 83, Texas A&M 74.
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss. It’s been a rebuilding year for both the Commodores and Rebels, and both teams likely will be in the play-in game on the Wednesday night prior to the to start the SEC Tournament. Regardless, both Jerry Stackhouse and Kermit Davis will look to end the season on a strong note heading into the offseason, and both coaches have winnable games down the stretch. Prediction: Ole Miss 79, Vanderbilt 74.
Florida at Tennessee. After a sluggish start to the year and even in conference play, Florida finally is starting to emerge as the kind of team that many analysts predicted in the preseason. The Gators nearly upset Kentucky on the road and handled LSU by 15 points at home. Florida is not quite a lock for the NCAA Tournament just yet, but a win or two in the last three games will secure a bid. Prediction: Tennessee 73, Florida 70.
Mississippi State at Missouri. Ben Howland’s squad is one of several bubble teams from the SEC, and the Bulldogs have plenty of work to do before Selection Sunday. Winning at Missouri is imperative, especially with a road game at South Carolina on deck. MSU really needs a 3-0 finish to the regular season, but the Bulldogs have been very inconsistent on the road this year. Prediction: Mississippi State 76, Missouri 74.
Arkansas at Georgia. Arkansas clearly is a different team with Isaiah Joe in the lineup. The Razorbacks lost five straight games after he went down with an injury, and they’ve won two in a row since he returned. It’s unclear if the NCAA Tournament committee will consider that information when determining whether or not the Hogs should make the Big Dance, but Arkansas can help its cause by winning on Saturday in Athens. Prediction: Arkansas 80, Georgia 76.
South Carolina at Alabama. The NCAA Tournament bubble likely will shrink by one team after the Gamecocks visit the Crimson Tide this Saturday. South Carolina is on the outside looking in at this point, but a win in Tuscaloosa would help the Gamecocks’ cause entering the last week of the season. If Alabama loses at home, the Tide likely will have to win the SEC Tournament – or at least make the finals – to make the NCAA Tournament. The stakes are high, and it will essentially be a postseason game on Saturday evening at Coleman Coliseum. Prediction: Alabama 85, South Carolina 78.
Tuesday, March 3
South Carolina 78, Mississippi State 74; Alabama 89, Vanderbilt 75; Kentucky 74, Tennessee 65
Wednesday, March 4
Florida 70, Georgia 67; Auburn 73, Texas A&M 67; Arkansas 84, LSU 83; Ole Miss 71, Missouri 69