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Blake's Picks: SEC game of the year in Fayetteville

 Blake Lovell   in Basketball

(Arkansas Athletics)

Underdogs went 3-0 yesterday in SEC basketball, which meant that my picks went 0-3. 

This league is impossible to figure out this season, and there are several teams in action on Wednesday that should certainly be included in that category. However, the two teams that are not hard to figure out are set for a potential classic in Fayetteville.

As a reminder, I do these for fun. I promise I don't hate your favorite team if I pick against them, no matter what @HunterLJohnson tells you.

Let's dive into the picks.

Season Prediction Record (straight up): 4-5

South Carolina (5-11, 3-9) at Mississippi State (12-11, 6-8) - 7 PM ET, SEC Network

The Gamecocks and Bulldogs without question belong in the "impossible to figure out" tier in the SEC. South Carolina is the more predictable of the two, though that isn't necessarily a good thing.

Frank Martin's team has lost five in a row and six of seven after a 2-3 start in conference play, giving up 81 or more points in four straight. The losing streak started with a 75-59 loss to Mississippi State in Columbia which, of course, came after the Gamecocks surprisingly won at Florida. The Bulldogs followed up their 21-point home loss to Vanderbilt with a victory at Ole Miss, so that makes this game difficult to predict. 

But the fact is, South Carolina just hasn't played good basketball in a while. Mississippi State has at least found ways to win games, so that pick makes more sense. Then again, you typically throw all sense out the window when trying to pick SEC games. 

I'll stick with the Bulldogs. Maybe. I think. Sure?

Blake's Prediction: Mississippi State 77, South Carolina 72

No. 25 Tennessee (15-6, 8-6) at Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10) - 9 PM ET, SEC Network

There is obvious frustration with Tennessee at this point. There's no doubt about that. But a loss to a Vanderbilt team that simply can't find a way to win close games would take that frustration to another level for Vol fans.

You probably already know the stat: The Commodores are 0-6 in games decided by seven points or less. Maybe it's experience, maybe it's a lack of consistent playmaking outside of Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu. Either way, Vanderbilt will likely find a way to win one of these games eventually. Again, Tennessee fans are hoping it's not this one.

What Rick Barnes' group has in its favor is defense. That has rarely been the problem for the Vols, as they still rank fifth nationally in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. Their focus in this game should be rather simple, and that's containing the Commodores' 3-point shooting. Vanderbilt has hit eight or more 3-pointers in 6 of its last 7 games, with three double-digit 3-point outings in that stretch.

I'm gonna pick Tennessee, but the fact that my confidence level isn't particularly high tells you all you need to know about the Vols' recent struggles.

Blake's Prediction: Tennessee 74, Vanderbilt 69

No. 6 Alabama (18-5, 13-1) at No. 20 Arkansas (17-5, 9-4) - 9 PM ET, ESPN

With LSU's loss at Georgia, Alabama enters this game a win away from earning the outright SEC regular season title. In the Crimson Tide's way is one of the hottest teams in the country, as the Razorbacks have won seven straight conference games. The last two have come against projected NCAA Tournament teams in Florida and Missouri.

So, yeah. This is gonna be fun. Arkansas ranks second in the SEC in scoring, while Alabama ranks third. Both also rank in the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency - the Tide is second, and the Razorbacks are 23rd. Should we expect an offensive battle or defensive battle? My guess is we'll see lots of points on the board, but the defensive numbers are one of the intriguing elements of this matchup.

There's something else worth pointing out: It's been a while since Alabama has played well on the road. Nate Oats' squad is 1-2 in its last three road games, losing at Oklahoma and Missouri before sneaking by against the aforementioned South Carolina team that has struggled to keep games close at times. 

If there's something Alabama could have in its favor, it's that Oats likely has his team's full attention after an inconsistent performance in a four-point win against the Commodores.

However, I like the Razorbacks in this spot at Bud Walton Arena. I know the Tide won the previous game by 31 in Tuscaloosa, but this isn't the same Arkansas team it faced in mid-January. The Hogs have more chemistry and confidence, and they're doing the little things you need to do to win games.

No matter who wins, this should be one of the most entertaining games of the season.

Blake's Prediction: Arkansas 80, Alabama 78

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