1:00 pm ET, ESPNU
|Record||19-11 (9-9)||24-6 (14-4)|
|Head-to-Head||Florida won 74-52 on 1/12|
Billy Donovan is not happy about the way his team closed the year with three losses in its last six games. In particular, the season-ending loss to Kentucky irked him, as he openly questioned his team's effort level following the game.
LSU is probably hoping that the team from Gainesville will still be in its malaise mode, as a Florida team with a fire lit under it will not lose this game. The Gators play a lot better defense than Georgia does, so the Bayou Bengals can't expect to reach 68 points again (like they did yesterday) in this contest. As much as ever, Johnny O'Bryant III will be the key for the Tigers, as his counterpart Patric Young was a guy who Donovan particularly singled out after his UK loss. If Young disappears like he does from time to time, O'Bryant must take full advantage.
It's easy to understand why UF's players might have let their feet off the gas towards the end of the season. It's hard to stay motivated when you blow out so many teams for so long and read press clippings about how wonderful you are. It's March and it's tournament time, so it shouldn't be hard to get up for this one. If the team can't, it raises some serious questions about its ability to flip the switch back on next week.
The pick: Florida 77, LSU 64
3:30 pm ET, ESPNU
|Record||20-11 (11-7)||20-11 (12-6)|
|Head-to-Head||W 54-53 on 1/26||W 68-65 on 1/12|
While Tennessee should get some amount of credit for not seriously biting the big one against Mississippi State, the upside and downside from that game are not symmetric in relation to March Madness. UT is alive because it didn't step on a land mine; that doesn't mean it has safely arrived in the promised land.
Alabama is still in the bubble picture, but only just. Kentucky with Nerlens Noel is definitely its signature win, but after that, the impressiveness of the wins drops quickly. On the other side of the ledger, Bama has some bad losses. Mercer, Tulane, and Auburn aren't really the sorts of games that a Big Dance hopeful should lose. With the resume the Crimson Tide has now, it's only a few conference tournament upsets around the country away from being out of the bubble picture entirely.
This is the first of many games with big bubble implications. The loser is NIT-bound for sure, while the winner is probably still sweating things out without another win to follow it up. Bama is all rested up, while Tennessee is closer to home. These two played a couple of extremely close games in the regular season, and with all that's on the line here, I expect to see more of the same.
The pick: Tennessee 63, Alabama 60
7:30 pm ET, SEC Network/ESPNU
|Record||15-16 (8-10)||21-10 (12-6)|
|Head-to-Head||UK sweep: 60-58 on 1/10, 74-70 on 2/20|
The stakes are considerably lower here than when these two last met in the SEC Tournament, which of course was the final a year ago. Vandy's season is done if it doesn't win the whole thing, while UK is on the NCAA Tournament bubble. There have been some big changes in the last 12 months.
Kentucky has been inconsistent in its post-Noel era. It laid an enormous, stinky t... um, egg, by losing to Tennessee by 30 in the first game without him, but then again, it took out Missouri two games after that. But then again, it lost back-to-back to Arkansas and Georgia. But then again, it closed the year by beating Florida. The selection committee will be judging the team based on what it had without Noel, so it'd be best to keep the positive momentum going and not have it swing back to the negative side.
Vandy has gotten a lot better from the early days of the season when it lost to Marist, and it's better than during its rocky start to SEC play too. It's a dangerous team here, but Kentucky should be able to hold serve. If it doesn't, Selection Sunday will be a white-knuckle experience in Lexington.
The pick: Kentucky 68, Vanderbilt 62
10:00 pm ET, SEC Network/ESPNU
|Record||23-9 (11-7)||23-8 (12-6)|
|Head-to-Head||W 98-79 on 2/9||W 64-49 on 1/12|
Here and there, I've seen a few people wonder why Missouri has been considered an NCAA Tournament lock despite being only the 6-seed in the SEC Tournament. Those people must have missed the non-conference season, but anyway, you saw why last night. Texas A&M never had a shot, and a 12-point win was deceptively close. MU is a good team.
Ole Miss is also a good team. Except when it's not. The Rebels are what you might call a high variance team because their level of play is all over the map. One day they lose to South Carolina; a few days later they beat Auburn by 33. They're capable of both beating Missouri by 15 and losing to Missouri by 19. Which Ole Miss team shows up is the largest variable in this contest, and I must confess that I don't know which one will.
So for this pick, I'm going to go with the better team. The Tigers showed last night that they came to town focused and prepared, and it was evident as much or more in their defense than it was their offense. These Gunnin' Rebels from Oxford are the highest-scoring team in the league, so defense is not optional for Mizzou. The Tigers will be ready, and the conference will lose a bubble team tonight.
The pick: Missouri 78, Ole Miss 69