The race is on for the SEC title: Auburn opened the door with a one-point home loss to Texas A&M Wednesday night. The Tigers remain one game up on Tennessee with seven to play, two up if you’re looking to win this thing outright. The head-to-head police department is here to remind you it’s difficult to call the Vols SEC Champions with an entirely straight face if they finish tied with Auburn. But I’m sure we’ll take what we can get.
KenPom and RPI Forecast project the Vols to finish 13-5 in the SEC, a 5-2 homestretch. KenPom has Auburn at 14-4 (likewise 5-2), but RPI Forecast now projects them at 13-5. ESPN’s BPI predicts 13.8 conference wins for Auburn, 13.6 for Tennessee.
Here are the final seven games for each team, with win probabilities from KenPom:
|at Alabama||64%||at Georgia||68%|
|at Georgia||69%||at South Carolina||72%|
|at Ole Miss||74%||at Florida||55%|
|at Mississippi State||66%||at Arkansas||60%|
(Oddly enough, the Vols and Tigers have the exact same remaining home/away dates.)
A clearer SEC hierarchy is starting to take hold in KenPom. Tennessee remains seventh, with Auburn 10th after the loss to A&M. The Aggies are now the third-best team in the league in KenPom, living up to their non-conference body of work at #23. Kentucky, Missouri, and Florida are all between 28-36.
But over in the Bracket Matrix, there’s a slightly different pecking order. Auburn and Tennessee both find themselves in the chase for a one or, more likely, a two seed. Kentucky hovers as a five. From there, the SEC has five teams currently seeded between eight and ten.
Alabama is in the thick of that race. They are eighth in the league in KenPom (53rd overall), seventh in RPI (42nd), and a nine seed in the matrix. But their remaining schedule is a nightmare: Tennessee, LSU, at Kentucky, at Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, at Texas A&M. That’s six of the other seven SEC teams in the matrix left to play, and they’re coming off a loss at Mississippi State.
What Alabama does well:
- Collin Sexton gets 18.6 points in 29.7 minutes, a projected lottery pick. I still think Tennessee’s biggest trouble spot is defending elite guard play; here’s another opportunity before the NCAA Tournament to see what we’ve learned. Bama doesn’t necessarily go as he goes: the Tide beat Auburn without him, while he put 23 on Missouri two weeks ago but the Tigers won.
- Shot-blocking. The Tide are sixth nationally in block percentage, sending back 16.4% of opponent shots. 6’9″ Donta Hall is the leader here, 23rd nationally in individual block percentage and sending back 2.3 shots per game.
- Defense, and generally all facets of it. The Tide give up just 31% from the arc on the year, 23rd nationally, and just 29.1% in SEC play. Opponents shoot just 41.1% against them overall. They’re 15th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings. Alabama is 7-0 when holding opponents to 64 points or less, including wins over Rhode Island, Texas A&M, and Florida.
Where Alabama struggles is fairly straightforward: threes and free throws. They beat Auburn and Oklahoma with above-average performances from the arc, shooting 18-of-42 (42.9%) combined. But on the year the Tide shoot 32.3% from three, 301st nationally. And they are 273rd from the line at just 68.4%.
Alabama’s overall offense isn’t consistent enough to win ugly, despite their great defense. The Tide are 1-7 when shooting less than 43.5%; by contrast, the Vols have nine wins while shooting below 43.5%. So even if Tennessee finds itself in Bama’s kind of game, the Vols are much better at winning ugly than they are.
6:00 PM Saturday on the SEC Network. Can the Vols sweep the week and survive what could be their most difficult test in these final seven games?