There's no argument who the best team in the SEC is as the Florida Gators enter the weekend 20-3 overall and two games up in the conference standings. Billy Donovan's bunch appears headed for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and with a strong close plus a stumble or two by teams above them, the Gators could even wind up with one of the four No. 1 invitations.
Who goes to the conference tournament as the 2-seed is open for debate, however, especially now that Kentucky lost talented freshman Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury. Alabama has the inside edge, assuming Kentucky does drop a rung or two as expected in the conference standings, but several more squads lurk in the shadows for the second slot in the SEC tourney set to begin March 14 in Nashville.
Two of the hopefuls collide Saturday night at Tad Smith Coliseum where the Mississippi Rebels (18-6 overall, 7-4 SEC) host the Georgia Bulldogs (12-12, 6-5). ESPN2 will have the broadcast from Oxford starting at 8 PM (ET), and Bookmaker sent overnight NCAAB odds out with an 11-point spread favoring the Rebels and 130 for the total.
Ole Miss In Rut Following Fast Start
The Rebels gave every indication early on that they would be the SEC's second-best team and maybe even give the Gators at least a strong run for their money. Andy Kennedy's crew jumped out to a 17-2 start with both losses in close games away from home to solid mid-majors (Middle Tennessee and Indiana State).
Ole Miss bolted to a 6-0 record in SEC play once the conference schedule arrived, a launch that included smacking then-No. 10 Missouri, a pair of wins over Tennessee and taking out Vanderbilt on the road in overtime.
In the little more than two weeks that have passed since sitting 6-0 in the SEC, the Rebels have dropped four of five games to fall out of the rankings and back in the conference pack. They were completely outplayed at Mizzou last Saturday in a return match, then fell at Texas A&M on Wednesday. Favored by one, Mississippi let a first-half lead slip away as the Aggies rallied for a 69-67 victory.
The losses to their newest conference rivals hurt, but the good news is the Rebels are back home where they sport a 12-1 record straight up, 6-2 against the spread.
A big problem the last couple of weeks has been on the defensive end of the floor where Ole Miss is allowing nearly 72 PPG in conference play. The Rebels have given up more than 81 per game in losing four of the last five, and let Missouri and Texas A&M have far too many open looks from beyond the arc where the Tigers and Aggies combined for 20-of-39 shooting.
Bulldogs Aim For Fourth-Straight Road Dubya
It will be big news if Mississippi's scoring defense doesn't improve vs. Georgia. The Bulldogs are in the bottom 20 nationally averaging just 59.0 PPG, a figure that dips to 57.2 in SEC play.
Georgia is coming off a defeat at home on Tuesday, a 52-45 setback to 'Bama who was favored by a bucket on the road. It was the third time in conference action the Bulldogs were held under 50, the other two coming in losses to Florida, and it's simply a case of Mark Cox not having a scoring threat outside sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope whose 17.7 PPG is close to a third of the team's normal output. He had nearly half of Georgia's 45 vs. Alabama.
The Bulldogs do play decent defense; if not, they would be getting blown out nightly and sitting somewhere around 5-19 overall on the season. Georgia also owns the all-time series lead vs. Mississippi, 66-40, and upset the Rebels on this floor a little more than two years ago, the second win as underdogs in their last three trips to Oxford.
Four of the last five in this series have gone OVER the scoreboard figure, but it's hard to dream up where more than 130 points are going to come from. My basketball picks will be on the UNDER.
College Basketball Picks: Georgia-Ole Miss Under 130 at Bookmaker
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