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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Around SEC basketball: Week of Jan. 22

Photo by Ishika Samant
Sophomore F Solomon Washington (13) during Texas A&M’s game against Kentucky on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024 at Reed Arena. (Ishika Samant/The Battalion)

No. 6 Kentucky at South Carolina

Tuesday, Jan. 23 — Colonial Life Arena — Columbia, South Carolina

6 p.m. on SEC Network

The Gamecocks are one of the surprises of the conference thus far after surpassing last season’s 11 wins with their 15-3 record. South Carolina has taken down Mississippi State and Arkansas in SEC play, and Kentucky represents arguably the best team it will face this year. The Gamecocks enter this matchup with confidence, and Tuesday presents an opportunity to show if they’re the real deal.

Standing in South Carolina’s way is Kentucky’s trio of true freshmen guards averaging 38.4 points per game. Rob Dillingham, D.J. Wagner and Reed Sheppard have lived up to their billing, teaming up with fifth-year guard Antonio Reeves to lead the nation’s top scoring offense at 91.6 points per game.

The Gamecocks have a terrific chance to make a statement against the Wildcats, but few coaches are better at leading their team into a hostile environment than Kentucky’s John Calipari. South Carolina’s No. 31 scoring defense is impressive, but it won’t be enough to stop this Big Blue machine.

Prediction: Kentucky 84, South Carolina 76

LSU at Georgia

Wednesday, Jan. 24 — Stegeman Coliseum — Athens, Georgia

5:30 p.m. on SEC Network

Add these two to the list of surprise teams in the SEC. LSU and Georgia have both surpassed expectations in Year 2 of their coaches’ tenures, with the Tigers’ Matt McMahon shaking off last season’s 2-16 SEC record to reach three conference wins already. Meanwhile, Mike White has the Bulldogs at 13-5 after last year’s 16-16 showing.

Both programs have developed similar stats, with Georgia’s 76.7 points per game just ahead of LSU’s 76.6. The Tigers defend at a slightly better rate of 70.3 points per game compared to the Bulldogs’ 71.9 points. As for the differences between the two, look for Georgia to rely heavily on its guard play, while LSU works its forwards into the mix.

Given the similarities between both teams, the Bulldogs’ home-court advantage ought to be a key factor in the outcome of this matchup. Georgia is 10-1 at Stegeman Coliseum, while LSU is 1-2 away from home.

Prediction: Georgia 75, LSU 70

No. 8 Auburn at Alabama

Wednesday, Jan. 24 — Coleman Coliseum — Tuscaloosa, Alabama

6:30 p.m. on ESPN

The excitement of the Iron Bowl doesn’t stop with football. The Tigers have risen to the top of the SEC standings behind the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 11 games, while the Crimson Tide are right behind them at 4-1 in conference play. Alabama swept Auburn in the rivalry last season, not that any extra motivation was needed for the Tigers.

Auburn is playing as dominantly as any team in the country, having won each of its SEC games by an average of 19.2 points. In its last time out, it handed Ole Miss just its third loss of the season in a 82-59 win. On the other hand, Alabama found itself on the wrong side of a blowout as it fell to Tennessee, 91-71.

The Tigers have been playing Final Four-caliber basketball for the past month, and they’ll carry that momentum into a raucous environment in Coleman Coliseum. The Crimson Tide are better than their 12-6 record may imply, but their efforts won’t be enough to slow down these cats.

Prediction: Auburn 80, Alabama 75

Mississippi State at Florida

Wednesday, Jan. 24 — Exactech Arena at Stephen C. O’Connell Center — Gainesville, Florida

7:30 p.m. on SEC Network

Similar to Tuesday’s Kentucky at South Carolina matchup, Mississippi State at Florida is a battle between the Bulldogs’ stifling defense and the Gators’ high-octane offense. Florida’s 84.8 points per game ranks 15th in the nation, while Mississippi State’s calling card has been a defense holding opponents to 65.7 points.

The Bulldogs’ offense runs through graduate forward Tolu Smith III, with 19.7 points per game, and impressive freshman guard Josh Hubbard’s 14.2 points. Conversely, the Gators share the wealth when it comes to scoring, as five players average 10 points or more per game.

Mississippi State’s 0-3 mark on the road doesn’t bode well as it heads to the Sunshine State, particularly given Florida’s 7-1 record at home. The one blemish on that record came by just two points to Kentucky. The Gators’ ability to share the ball with the crowd behind gives them a slight edge here.

Prediction: Florida 72, Mississippi State 70

Arkansas at Ole Miss

Wednesday, Jan. 24 — Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss — Oxford, Mississippi

8 p.m. on ESPNU

Chris Beard began to make his case for SEC Coach of the Year as he led Ole Miss to a 13-0 nonconference record and Top 25 berth, but the Rebels have since hit a snag in SEC play. They’ve dropped three of their last five, including 23-plus point losses at Tennessee and Auburn. Ole Miss is 11-0 at home, where it’ll welcome a desperate Arkansas squad to town.

The Razorbacks are struggling to stay afloat, having lost four of their five SEC matchups. The lone win? A one-point victory over Texas A&M that saw junior guard Tramon Mark hit the winning basket with a second left. Coach Eric Musselman is one of the best in the business at leading his teams on NCAA Tournament runs, but Arkansas must pick up the pace if it wants to qualify for the Big Dance.

The Razorbacks and the Rebels both need a win to stay competitive within the SEC standings and remain in contention for the NCAA Tournament. The two programs appear evenly matched, with Ole Miss’ home-court advantage and superior defense making the difference.

Prediction: Ole Miss 77, Arkansas 70

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About the Contributor
Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a junior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
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