At this time last year, we were unwittingly watching the last college basketball of the season. March 11, 2020, was the last day of the SEC Tournament and many other conference tournaments across the country.

On that day, Georgia beat Ole Miss and Arkansas took down Vanderbilt in Nashville. Then … nothing.

That was it.

So, when SEC Network broadcaster Tom Hart applauded at tipoff of Wednesday’s game between Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, it was something we all felt:

No, things aren’t back to normal. But, it’s March, and we have basketball. That’s enough for now.

Let’s dive into this first installment of my SEC Tournament notebook, shall we?

Vanderbilt over Texas A&M

The first game of the SEC Tournament didn’t feature the greatest matchup, as 12-seed Vanderbilt took on 13-seed Texas A&M. When Scotty Pippen Jr. was in the game, the Commodores were the better team and it wasn’t even close.

The Aggies made a couple of runs to make things close, even tying the score at 45 midway through the second half. But when Pippen came back in, it was all Vandy.

Now, before you go running to the box score to point out that Pippen went 3-for-17 from the floor and 1-for-8 from 3-point range, let me counter that argument by saying this:

Pippen affects the game in different ways. First, he got to the free-throw line 15 times against the Aggies. Want to guess how many of those he made? Yeah, all 15.

He led the Commodores in scoring, despite his awful shooting night, accounting for 22 points. He also led the team with 6 assists and 3 steals (and even chipped in with 4 rebounds for good measure). He’s a great passer in the paint, as evidenced by these 2 dimes to Max Evans:

Can the Commodores keep the magic rolling against 5-seed Florida today? We’ll discuss that in just a second, but I wouldn’t want to face this team if I were a coach. Pippen is a future NBA standout. Even without Dylan Disu (who is out with a knee injury), the Commodores have the firepower to pull off another upset or 2.

Now, let’s take a look at today’s schedule and preview the first full day of the tournament.

Thursday primer

We’ve got 4 intriguing matchups on the schedule today, starting at noon Eastern time. All games will be broadcast on the SEC Network. Those 4 games are:

  • No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Mississippi State (noon ET)
  • No. 5 Florida vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt (25 minutes after Kentucky-Mississippi State)
  • No. 7 Mizzou vs. No. 10 Georgia (7 p.m. ET)
  • No. 6 Ole Miss vs. No. 11 South Carolina (25 minutes after Mizzou-Georgia)

I’ll get to my picks in a bit, but first, let’s look at a key to each of those 4 games.

Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

Key: BJ Boston’s start

Boston is a 5-star freshman for the Wildcats, and he’s been steadily improving as the season has gone on. He’s started to realize that the things he could get away with in high school don’t fly at the SEC level.

In a rout of South Carolina to end the regular season, Boston scored 21 points to lead the Wildcats and drained 6 3-pointers. If he can hit a couple of 3s early against the Bulldogs on Thursday, the Wildcats will have the edge in this game.

Florida vs. Vanderbilt

Key: Colin Castleton’s post presence

In Vanderbilt’s win over Texas A&M on Wednesday, the Commodores got only 10 points from players listed as “forwards” on their roster. I thought Dylan Disu’s absence would catch up with Vandy against A&M. I was wrong. I’m going to double-down on that take, though, and say this game against Florida is where Disu’s absence takes its toll.

Castleton is a second-team All-SEC honoree. He’s been dominant at times in the post. Without much opposition on Thursday, Castleton shows why he’s so highly regarded.

Mizzou vs. Georgia

Key: Xavier Pinson’s confidence

Dru Smith has been the leader of this team down the stretch. Jeremiah Tilmon has been rounding back into form after missing a couple of games with a death in the family. But, in the first matchup of these 2 teams, Mizzou blew a big second-half lead to lose by 10 points. In that game, Xavier Pinson only had 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He was also an abysmal 1-for-7 from beyond the arc.

If he can make a couple of shots early and get into a rhythm against Georgia’s lackluster defense, there’s no reason the Tigers can’t avenge that mid-February loss in Athens.

Ole Miss vs. South Carolina

Key: Devontae Shuler’s shooting

The Rebels are going to play some great defense. We know that much. has the Rebels at No. 18 in the country in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency. But, they’re also No. 115 in offensive efficiency, and that has a lot to do with Shuler’s hot-and-cold shooting streaks.

We know South Carolina’s AJ Lawson is going to put up some points. Can Shuler at least match Lawson’s output? If he does, the Rebels should win easily.

The picks

Here’s who I’m riding with to win today’s games:

Kentucky 63, Mississippi State 57

This has the potential to be a pretty ugly game, but that’s where both of these teams thrive. At the end of the day, though, Kentucky has more depth. BJ Boston and Isaiah Jackson are finally realizing their potential. And, Davion Mintz has taken over as the leader of this Kentucky squad. That’ll prove to be too much for the Bulldogs to handle.

Florida 71, Vanderbilt 69

Tre Mann vs. Scotty Pippen Jr. That’s a matchup I want to see. They’re 2 of the SEC’s best point guards, and watching them go head-to-head is going to be a real treat. I think they’ll both have big games, and Vanderbilt will surprise some people by hanging tough. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think Vandy has the personnel to contain Colin Castleton in the paint. Castleton has a big day and the Gators survive and advance to play Tennessee in the quarterfinals.

Mizzou 82, Georgia 80

This will be a lot like Mizzou’s escape at Florida a couple of weeks ago. The Tigers hold a 10-point lead with 4 minutes left, let Georgia get within 2 points and then hit a couple of clutch free throws to prevent the upset. I think the Tigers want a Friday rematch against Arkansas, so they’ll be eager not to let this game slip away like so many others have since early February.

Ole Miss 68, South Carolina 62

The Gamecocks have shown flashes of brilliance this year, but they haven’t been able to sustain anything. I think they come out of the gates strong before Ole Miss’s stifling defense takes over in the second half. Ole Miss big man Romello White could have a big day in the paint, and the Rebels should take care of business to keep their razor-thin NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

But, you know, maybe don’t take my picks too seriously. I picked A&M yesterday, after all:

All I can promise you is I won’t go 0-for-1 today! (0-for-4 is a possibility, though.)