The SEC's bubble teams have been narrowed to three, and each have season-making, or breaking, games in store on Saturday.
With this standing as the second-to-last weekend for the conference's regular season, the results from this the next two days could very well decide the postseason fate of several of the conference's teams.
To begin, an interesting statistic for those of you dorks like myself. Of the SEC teams that have played opposing teams twice (those in their own division), the average home-court advantage is 14.1 points. This is a good deal more than the widely-accepted figure of about seven or eight points, and shows just how difficult it is to win on the road in the SEC.
I calculated this by taking the average difference in scores between each of the two teams. For example, if Team A lost at Team B by 5 points, and Team B lost at Team A by 10 points, each team fared 15 points better at home. Thus, each team's home-court advantage for that matchup was 15 points.
After the season, I'll be recapping all the BCS leagues and comparing their home-court advantages.
For now, keep the 14.1 point figure in your head, though the following is the average home-court advantage for each league team, highest to lowest.
1. Tennessee - 24.33 points
2. LSU - 21.00 points
3. Arkansas - 20.50 points
4. Kentucky - 19.00 points
5. South Carolina - 18.75 points
6. Georgia - 15.67 points
t7. Florida - 11.00 points
t7. Vanderbilt - 11.00 points
9. Alabama - 10.67 points
10. Mississippi State - 9.5 points
11. Auburn - 6.00 points
12. Ole Miss - 1.5 points
Obviously, these are skewed with such limited data sets. The 46-point LSU/Arkansas turnaround severely warped the advantages for both teams, and freak games do happen. These are clearly not meant to be taken literally, but more as a general idea. The league number of 14.1 points, though, does warrant some attention.
With that said, here's a complete breakdown of the weekend's games, complete with analyses and predictions from myself and living stat guru legend Ken Pomeroy of www.kenpom.com.
#2 Kentucky @ #19 Tennessee, 11:00 a.m. CT
Is it a big deal? This game is not likely to, but could, have SEC regular-season title implications. If the Wildcats drop two of their next three - which would be nothing short of jaw-dropping considering they've only lost one game thus far - and 16th-ranked Vanderbilt wins out, the Wildcats would be forced to share the title. If a complete end-of-the-season faceplant occurs and UK drops its last three, Vandy would own it outright.
Why should I watch it? With that all-but-useless conversation out of the way, the bigger story with this game is the entertainment factor. Tennessee has struggled, despite its ranking, but is capable of the win. Afterall, Pearl is a madman in the underdog role. Just ask the Jayhawks from Kansas about that one.
What do the stats say? In the two teams' previous game in Lexington, Kentucky won 73-62. Per the SEC average, this would give Tennessee a three-point advantage. Take the average of the two teams' averages, and the Vols would win by a more comfortable 10 or 11 point margin. Kenpom disagrees with both and predicts a 70-69 Kentucky win.
What's it going to be like? Both teams play tight defense, and aren't used to close games. In general, a slower defense-oriented pace favors the home team, where the shots seem to fall more easily. Look for heavy guard-play from Tennessee, and UK to dominate the paint. The Vols will be avoiding the post the way Tyler Smith should've avoided that gun.
So, what's your prediction? Tennessee wins, 72-64.
#16 Vanderbilt @ Arkansas, 12:30 p.m. CT
Is it a big deal? If Vanderbilt is hoping to cling on to whatever chance of an SEC title it has, it must win this game. The 'Dores are also fighting for a two seed, though a three seed is more likely. Arkansas might have more to play for, as Pelphrey's squad is surprisingly just a game back in the SEC West. With a trip to 19th-ranked Tennessee and a home matchup against Ole Miss on the horizon, a win here would be a big help.
Why should I watch it? There's a good chance of an upset. Arkansas has been playing quite well since the return of Fortson, and Vanderbilt is coming off of a close, emotional overtime game against Georgia. If you're in the region, there won't be many more passionate gameday environments than there will be in Bud Walton.
What do the stats say? Ken Pomeroy predicts an 82-77 Vanderbilt victory.
What's it going to be like? This should be a fast-paced and guard-oriented game. Lots of threes, lots of points. Arkansas doesn't play defense, well, at all so the 'Backs will need to keep up the intensity on offense to keep it from being a blowout.
So, what's your prediction? Vanderbilt wins, 84-77.
Ole Miss @ Alabama, 1:00 p.m. CT
Is it a big deal? Ole Miss needs this win if it hopes to keep its head above water in the SEC West. Though it will need some help from Arkansas and Mississippi State, the Rebels aren't out of the race just yet. More importantly, Kennedy's squad has to keep start winning, and quickly, to work its way into the Big Dance. If Ole Miss brings home a loss from Tuscaloosa, the NIT will be awaiting it in Oxford.
Why should I watch it? If you're an SEC fan, you may want Ole Miss to pull off the late-season push for the NCAA's to squeeze in the league's sixth team. Otherwise, there isn't a big reason.
What do the stats say? In Oxford, Ole Miss took the "W" by a 74-67 margin. With the league average, Alabama would win by a similar 7-point edge. If only the team's averages are taken into account, this would be a very close game with neither team having a significant advantage. Kenpom trends toward the team average and predicts 70-69 Alabama win.
What's it going to be like? Both teams have guards who are talented defensively and are both are thin in the paint. This has the makeup of a turnover-heavy, low-scoring game. In fact, it shouldn't be a very entertaining one to witness.
So, what's your prediction? Ole Miss wins, 70-65.
Florida @ Georgia, 3:00 p.m. CT
Is it a big deal? It will be a big deal for Florida, which is looking to stay on the right side of the bubble. It would be the Gators' first NCAA appearance since winning the national title, and the squad is well on its way if it doesn't stumble. This could be the stumble. Georgia is fresh off of taking 16th-ranked Vanderbilt to overtime in Nashville and has pulled off several upsets this year.
Why should I watch it? It should definitely be a good game. The Bulldogs are capable in any game they compete in, but Florida has won three-straight with a most-recent win over 19th-ranked Tennessee. Donovan's team is 6-3 in road games as well, so it could be anything from a close game to a Gator blowout. The Boynton/Thompkins matchup should be very entertaining.
What do the stats say? Considering Florida's 16-point victory in Gainesville in late January, the SEC average says Florida would pull off a tight two-point win. The teams' averages would add about two or three points to that. Kenpom agrees with the league average, and predicts a 69-68 Florida win.
What's it going to be like? It should be a very, very low-scoring game. Florida has struggled to score this season, as have the Bulldogs. Both teams defend moderately well and have talented big-men. Look for the battle of the paint to prove decisive.
So, what's your prediction? Florida wins, 64-60.
Mississippi State @ South Carolina, 5:00 p.m. CT
Is it a big deal? Mississippi State is one of the nation's closest teams to the NCAA bubble edge. Though a loss in Columbia wouldn't be a deal-breaker, it'd be close without a win in the league tournament. South Carolina is still desperately clinging to the hope of an NIT bid, and a win over the Bulldogs would be a big step in that direction. MSU also needs the win to solidy its lead over the rest of the West.
Why should I watch it? This game will feature two of the league's top three post defenses, and the block party alone should be a major entertainment factor. State's Jarvis Varnado became the nation's all-time blocks leader this week and USC's Sam Muldrow ranks second in the league at 3.15 swats per game. Varnado averages 5.07, second-best in the nation. Also intruiging is the point-guard matchup, as both Downey and Bost are capable of more than 30 points.
What do the stats say? Kenpom predicts a 69-68 Mississippi State victory.
What's it going to be like? In all of the league's games this season, this game should rank high among them in three-pointers attempted. Both teams have guard-oriented teams, though MSU attempts more treys. USC's offense runs through Downey, though his slashing to the basket will need to be creative to avoid Varnado's hands.
So, what's your prediction? Mississippi State wins, 73-71.
LSU @ Auburn, 6:00 p.m. CT
Is it a big deal? Honestly, not at all. This is the dud of the day, as neither team has any shot whatsoever at the postseason barring an increasingly possible miracle SEC Tournament run.
Why should I watch it? If you're an LSU or Auburn fan, this game is watchable. Otherwise, it's tough to find a reason beyond witnessing the awe-inspiring play of LSU senior Tasmin Mitchell.
What do the stats say? In Baton Rouge, Auburn pulled off an 84-80 victory. This should equate to an Auburn blowout, regardless of the average that one looks at. Kenpom predicts a 73-63 Auburn win.
What's it going to be like? This is a good question, actually. Auburn scores well and is non-existent on defense. LSU struggles on offense but plays solid defense. With the home advantage to Auburn, this could be a massive blowout.
So, what's your prediction? Auburn wins, 85-68.
Disagree? Agree? Let me know by commenting! Follow me @HoopsKnowItAll.
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