SEC Tournament: Predicting Friday's quarterfinal games
NASHVILLE — And then there were 8. Thursday trimmed the SEC Tournament, but Friday is when the top 4 seeds hit the court, when the rubber meets the road. Here’s a quick peak at Friday’s quarterfinal matchups and a guess at exactly how those games will shake down in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.
Mississippi State vs. Alabama
For State, the good news is that they went from an NCAA Tournament ticket in pencil to one written probably in ink. They can laminate and frame that sucker if they top the Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs have lost to the Tide twice, but both games were competitive, with Bama winning 78-67 and 66-63. Had State shot better than a combined 26-for-48 from the foul line, the results might have been different.
But aside from the rust of a few extra days of rest, there’s not much reason to think Alabama struggles here. State probably used up its season quota of luck in creeping past an ailing Florida team. Chris Jans’ squad is tough as nails and Tolu Smith will bring his A game. But in the end …
Prediction: Tide by 14. Bulldogs hang in for a half, but Bama runs away late.
Tennessee vs. Missouri
This is one of the most interesting matchups of the SEC Tournament. The 2nd-highest scoring team in SEC play and the best in 3-point accuracy (Missouri) against the stingiest scoring defense in SEC play and the team that’s second best in 3-point defense (Tennessee). But the other matchup might be bigger. Mizzou is 13th in the SEC in 3-point defense in conference play, while UT has been adequate from long range, including 10 3-pointers on Thursday.
Ultimately, this will be a battle to impose style on the other team. Mizzou wants a game in the 80s — or even higher. UT wants a game probably in the 60s — or even lower. In their 1 regular season matchup, the Tigers got their game in the 80s and picked up a buzze- beating win. This time?
Prediction: Vols by 5. UT’s turnover issues without Ziegler will help Missouri keep this game close. But the Vols will win the battle of pace, and while it won’t be a 60-55 kind of game, it won’t be a 90-85 one either. Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James push UT into the semifinals
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M
The upside for Arkansas is that they’re absolutely too talented to be a No. 10 seed. The downside? Well, they had a game where basically everything went perfectly — they shot 56%, they outrebounded the opponent by 18 … and they held on via a missed buzzer-beater by Auburn. The odds of Texas A&M sitting back and letting Arkansas get easy shots at the rim or getting doubled up on the backboard by the Tigers are somewhere between slim and none.
Now, A&M does have a little “heavy is the head that wears the crown” issue here. This is relatively unknown territory for the Aggies, coming in as a high seed and a favorite. There’s almost always some team that comes out flat on Friday. It feels like it could be A&M, but …
Prediction: Arkansas by 6. At halftime. Then A&M wins by 6, after a 20+ turnover game for the Razorbacks.
Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky
Two of the SEC’s hottest teams will face off in the late quarterfinal game, and it’s frankly a pretty intriguing matchup. LSU’s size and athleticism gave the ‘Dores very few issues on Thursday. Vandy’s offensive execution is impressive, and they beat Kentucky a week ago despite shooting 13 free throws while Kentucky took 35. That said, Kentucky seems unlike to shoot 32% overall again.
Motivation is key here. Kentucky has relatively little to play for (aside from all those UK fans who use their vacation fund to go to the SEC Tournament). Meanwhile, the Commodores are playing for their NCAA lives — not that a win guarantees a Tournament spot, but it goes a good ways in that direction. A week ago, Vandy found a way, but …
Prediction: Kentucky by 2. The Wildcats are still a work in progress, but Oscar Tshiebwe still has a March itch to scratch and the guess here is that he wins this one in the final seconds.