It’s been a wild year for everyone, and college sports are not immune. With some leagues canceling their seasons, to others playing condensed ones, things look a little bit different. Usually, by this time of the year, we’ve seen a pretty good sample size of what teams are contenders and what teams are pretenders. Let’s take a dive into the SEC West where we’ll be predicting final records for each team.
Predicting Final Records in the SEC West
As a Hog fan myself, I am going to do my best here to keep this as unbiased as possible. The Razorbacks seem to have their program rocking and rolling under second-year head coach Eric Musselman and are set to begin conference play on Wednesday against Auburn.
With the tenacious defense that a Musselman-led squad is known for, on top of the plethora of scoring available outlets, I see the Hogs as a real threat to the bluebloods in the SEC this season. We’ll know more after the tip on Wednesday against Auburn, but for now it seems that the Hogs are chomping at the bit to build on what was a solid season in 2019 and carry that over to 2020.
Without a tough non-conference schedule this season, it is tough to tell if the Razorbacks success is due to lower-level competition or if they are the real deal. Other teams in the SEC have had similar schedules and struggled (see Kentucky) to win the easy games. Teams like Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and LSU should account for comfortable wins, but the real tests come against teams like Tennessee, Mizzou and Georgia, who are all rolling undefeated as well.
I predict the Hogs will finish somewhere in the top 4 of the SEC and get into the NCAA tournament comfortably. From there, anything can happen. Just ask the 2018 UMBC squad. Final record: 21-6
This prediction starts somewhat easily, and that is why I believe the Auburn Tigers will not be playing in the postseason. That isn’t breaking news, however. On November 22, Bruce Pearl and the Tigers of Auburn announced they would be self-imposing a postseason ban on their basketball program. I have my own thoughts on teams who are losing their top 4 scorers self-imposing punishment, but I’m just starting out here at Overtime Heroics so I will leave those thoughts to myself.
The last few seasons for the Auburn Tigers have been cloud nine for the Bruce Pearl-led squad. In his first season in blue and orange, the Tigers went 26-5 with a tournament bid. In his second season, they went 30-10 and made a run to the Final Four. Last season, before the pandemic canceled the SEC and NCAA tournaments, Auburn finished the season at 25-6 and were the #3 seed in the conference.
This season, Bruce Pearl has had his work cut out for him. After losing his top four scorers to graduation, he’s got a group of young guys that he needs to lead the charge. Sitting at 6-2 with losses to #1 Gonzaga and unranked UCF, Pearl is going to have to turn to the young guys and have them motivated to make a run down the stretch. Currently, the top three scorers for the Tigers are all underclassmen. Justin Powell, Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams are averaging 13.9, 13.8, and 10.9 PPG, respectively.
Another piece of the puzzle is freshman Sharife Cooper, who is still awaiting word from the NCAA on his eligibility. As the number 19 player in the country according to 247sports, Cooper would provide another scoring threat and some stability to their offense. He could be the key to some wins down the stretch, should he be deemed eligible.
With the postseason ban, along with some attrition on the roster, I see Auburn still playing well and winning some games, but it will be a far cry from the last few seasons. Final Record: 18-9
Alabama Crimson Tide
For a school more known for the program that is fielded on Saturdays in the fall, the Crimson Tide are hoping to prove that they can be competitive in more than one sport. Over the last few years, the Tide have fielded some decent teams and had guys like Colin Sexton and JaMychal Green playing in the NBA after their collegiate careers ended.
Things look rough to start this season. The Tide are currently sitting in dead last in the SEC, with a record of 5-3. Their wins are against Jacksonville State, Providence, UNLV, Furman and East Tennessee State. The ugly side of their record is their losses though. A blowout against Stanford, coupled with losses to Clemson and Western Kentucky have put Nate Oats’ team directly behind the 8-ball headed into conference play against Ole Miss.
What this team needs is the ability to close games out. Looking closely at the Western Kentucky loss, the Tide had a slight lead within the last two minutes. But it was poor defensive play at the end that gave the Hilltoppers the edge.
Starting conference play, Nate Oats said that the Tide would be without John Petty due to an undisclosed reason, and that is huge. Petty provides senior leadership on a young team, and that is something they need more of if they want to make a run at the tournament. Final Record: 12-15
The LSU Tigers are sitting just about right in the middle of the SEC pack as the holiday season comes in. The Tigers are 5-1 on the year with a few canceled games due to COVID. Their only loss comes against mid-major Saint Louis, who regularly competes in the NCAA tournament and wins their conference.
Their five wins have come against teams that LSU should beat, so it will be interesting to see what happens when conference play rolls around for Will Wade’s squad.
Some of the Tiger’s key players have been out at different points this season so far, and the biggest loss for them comes from Javonte Smart. The junior from Florida is a veteran at the point guard spot, and they need that leadership to keep the team in a consistent rhythm. Without Smart, Wade has to turn to freshmen to keep the offense going.
LSU has had to deal with their own struggles with COVID this season, as they have had four games affected with three of those being cancellations. The real question here is what chemistry does the team have going into conference play? Beating the warmup teams is one thing, but going into conference play having played only six games is rather questionable. The team looks to have a lot of good pieces, but I don’t see them making any noise outside of the occasional close game. Final Record: 12-13
Ole Miss Rebels
I put the Ole Miss Rebels into the same spot that I put LSU in earlier in this article, but I think the Rebs have a lot more to look forward to this season. They have also had issues with COVID, and they didn’t even play their first game until December 10. Two games against Arkansas State and Memphis would have bolstered their schedule, but with those canceled, it leaves a lot to the imagination of what this Mississippi school can do this season.
With wins over Jackson State, UNC-Wilmington, Central Arkansas, Middle Tennessee and UT-Martin, Ole Miss also sits at 5-1 entering conference play Tuesday against Alabama. The thing that sticks out more to me than LSU, though, is the margin by which those games were won. While they dropped a game to Dayton, every one of their wins has been by double digits. They only struggled with Central Arkansas, who has played each team tough this season.
I’m interested to see what happens when guys like Devontae Shuler and Romello White go up against competition that is much tougher than what they’ve seen so far. Another question is how well they are able to contain the virus. Consistency is an important thing, and if we start seeing more and more postponements and cancellations this season, I don’t know how much of a groove this Rebel team will be able to get in. I see them as a bubble team in the NCAA tournament, and an upper to middle of the pack SEC team this season. Final Record: 13-12
Mississippi State Bulldogs
At 5-3 this season, the Bulldogs in Starkvegas have left much to be desired. They have been able to play all of their games, but some of those might have been better off being postponed or canceled.
The offense just hasn’t been there in their losses. State opened up the season against Clemson, and only managed to put up 42 in the game. They have put up 80’s in games later on in the year, but one of those teams was Mississippi Valley State. For reference, Arkansas hung 142 points on that team. They just need someone to step up and become the go-to guy on the offensive side of the ball.
State has some decent wins against teams like North Texas, Central Arkansas, and Jackson State, but they also have some glaring losses. Clemson and Liberty completely dismantled the Bulldogs, and a close loss against Dayton is one they might want back when their resume is being examined for the NCAA tournament. With a tough SEC schedule and a late game against Big 12 Iowa State, I don’t see much going well for the Bulldogs down the stretch. Final Record: 13-14
Texas A&M Aggies
Buzz Williams is going into his third season in Bryan-College Station, and so far, has his Aggie team performing well. At 5-1, they have won the games that they needed to win, and outside of a loss against TCU, have handled business without the drama that other teams (looking at you, Kentucky) have dealt with.
Double-digit wins over Southeastern Louisiana, Wofford, Tarleton State, UT-Rio Grande Valley and New Orleans has them looking like a team that should be in the big dance comfortably. The real question that we have for the Aggies is: Can they keep the momentum that they had against these non-conference foes going against the juggernaut of the SEC? Keeping things elevated against the lower echelon of SEC teams and clawing at the heels of the upper-tier teams like Tennessee and Missouri have got to keep the Aggies hungry.
Coach Williams has always had his guys prepped and ready to go, and this season seems no different to me. I think they make the tournament easily and probably get a few rounds into the SEC tournament before the season ends. Final Record: 15-10
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