Blake's Picks: Tennessee/Kentucky, Alabama/Vanderbilt, more

 Blake Lovell   in Basketball

The SEC basketball predictions are back? They're back.

Is this thing on? 

Yes, regular readers know that I ran my own SEC basketball website, Southeast Hoops, for several years. It's probably where most of you found my SEC hoops work for the first time, and hopefully, it was love at first sight.

Of all the interviews, features, and podcasts that I did on the site, the most popular was yours truly picking every single SEC game for the fun of it. Some of you loved calling me out when I picked against your favorite team, and some of you loved when I picked against your favorite team because it typically meant you were winning (everyone remembers the infamous incorrect Vanderbilt picks streak).

So, given the high-quality entertainment that you provided in response to my picks, I figured we'd run it back at my new venture here on The 14. Let's see if I can remember how to do this.

Before we do that, a quick shout out to Jacob Varner, who has kept the SEC basketball predictions tradition going on his own site. You should read his work, too.

Let's dive into Saturday's schedule and make some picks.

Kentucky (7-13, 6-7) at No. 19 Tennessee (15-5, 8-5) - 1 PM ET, CBS

The Wildcats are about to make their run, aren't they? They've won back-to-back games for only the second time this season, which makes sense considering they've won just seven games. I've gotta assume this has been John Calipari's master plan all along. Fool us all for a while, then go streaking down the stretch and notch an automatic bid by winning the SEC Tournament.

Of course, that's probably not the plan. However, Kentucky has undoubtedly looked better in recent weeks, particularly on offense. Calipari's squad has scored 80 or more points in three straight games, which is a first on the season.

Scoring 80 points against Tennessee will be a chore. The Vols rank third in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and they'll challenge the Wildcats in a lot of areas. Tennessee won the previous meeting by 11 in Lexington - a game where Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer combined for 50 of the team's 82 points.

This game could be a grind on offense, but the Vols are the better pick in Knoxville.

Blake's Prediction: Tennessee 70, Kentucky 61

Vanderbilt (6-11, 2-9) at No. 8 Alabama (17-5, 12-1) - 1 PM ET, SEC Network

Alabama can clinch a share of the SEC regular season title with a win (just like we all expected), so there's added motivation despite it being a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 14 in the league.

Statistically, Vanderbilt has a problem: The Crimson Tide rank first in effective field goal percentage defense in conference-only games (42.1 percent), while the Commodores rank last in that same category (56.4 percent). So, even with Vanderbilt losing six of its nine SEC games by single digits, I don't know that this is the best matchup. 

Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu should get their points, and by the way, they've emerged into All-SEC players. Still, the Commodores will need several others to produce double-digit outings to keep up with the SEC's most complete team.

Fun fact: Both fanbases used to hate me picking their team to win because it usually meant a loss. Sorry, Alabama.

Blake's Prediction: Alabama 89, Vanderbilt 72

No. 20 Missouri (13-6, 6-6) at South Carolina (5-10, 3-8) - 2 PM ET, ESPN2

Just when I thought Missouri was headed towards a protected seed, it goes in the opposite direction. The Tigers have lost three straight after their win against Alabama on Feb. 6, giving up 80 or more points in all three of those.

If Missouri fans want to look on the bright side, the Gamecocks have hit the 80-point mark just three times in 15 games. South Carolina has been a hard team to figure out, as it has randomly won at Florida, lost by 16 at home to Mississippi State, nearly beat Alabama, and given up 93 points to a struggling Tennessee offense.

Good luck figuring out what you're gonna get from either team in this spot. Missouri should win, but four straight defeats and back-to-back losses to non-NCAA Tournament teams wouldn't be a good look in the committee's eyes.

Blake's Prediction: Missouri 73, South Carolina 71

Georgia (13-8, 6-8) at Florida (10-6, 6-5) - 3:30 PM ET, SEC Network

I'm not exactly sure what to make of either of these teams. At this point, Florida seems like an NCAA Tournament lock, and it's strange to know that Georgia has the same amount of conference wins. Sure, the Bulldogs have played three more games, but it's still interesting.

Points were put on the board in the previous meeting between these two. Each team made 11 or more 3-pointers, and shot a nice percentage in doing so - Florida was 11 of 17 for 64.7 percent, and Georgia was 13 of 24 for 54.2 percent. Statistically speaking, that was an outlier for the Bulldogs since they've shot just 32.0 percent on the season (257th nationally) from beyond the arc.

This is the type of game that the Gators need to win. Three of their six losses are to non tournament teams, which includes the head-scratching loss to South Carolina in Gainesville a few weeks ago. According to Bracket Matrix, the Gators are the top No. 8 seed at the moment, but a loss to Frank Martin's squad could send them tumbling into the No. 9 range.

Florida doesn't have an easy schedule the rest of the way (at Auburn, at Kentucky, vs. Missouri), so this one is more important than people think. 

Blake's Prediction: Florida 81, Georgia 73 

Auburn (11-11, 5-8) at LSU (13-6, 8-4) - 4 PM ET, ESPN

Points, points, points. If you want points, this is the game for you. Take the over, and I don't even know what the over is. Just kidding, it's 163.5, and that is hammer the over territory.

Auburn, as one of the youngest teams in the country (346th in KenPom in experience), just hasn't been able to find consistency. Sharife Cooper is one of the most impactful players in the SEC, but the defensive woes have held the Tigers back a bit. Offensively though, they can score with the best of them.

Enter LSU, who finally put together a quality defensive performance in a 78-65 victory against Tennessee. The Tigers have consistently been one of the nation's most efficient offensive teams since Will Wade's arrival (sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency this season), but the defense has left a lot to be desired. LSU ranks 139th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, besting only one SEC team (Vanderbilt) in that category.

So, my prediction for this game is points. Lots and lots of points. Oh, and an LSU victory. 

Blake's Prediction: LSU 145, Auburn 142 (just kidding - LSU 92, Auburn 84)

Mississippi State (11-11, 5-8) at Ole Miss (12-8, 7-6) - 6 PM ET, SEC Network

The Rebels are officially on the bubble, with bracketologists across the land debating their credentials. Winning four straight games has helped their resume, especially considering two of those victories came against Tennessee and Missouri.

Meanwhile, things have gone a little differently for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are 1-3 since blowing out Iowa State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which included a 21-point home defeat to previously winless Vanderbilt in league play.

Ole Miss won the first meeting between these two by 18 in Starkville, with Mississippi State struggling to find anything on offense. I would expect more of the same in this game. 

Kermit Davis has his team ranked 15th nationally in turnovers forced (16.9 per game), and that's no ideal for the Bulldogs, who rank 271st nationally with 14.8 turnovers per game.

Blake's Prediction: Ole Miss 69, Mississippi State 59

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