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Previewing the conference basketball slate

Here's a look at Vanderbilt's conference opponents for hoops.

Chris Lee also contributed to this article.

Scotty Pippen Jr. leads Vanderbilt into conference play.
Scotty Pippen Jr. leads Vanderbilt into conference play. (Jim Brown, USA Today)

Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin rankings are as of Dec. 29. Projected lines are an average of what Pomeroy and Sagarin project as of that date, adjusting for home and road environments.

Stats in parenthesis are totals from last year.


FLORIDA (Dec. 30 in Nashville, Jan. 27 in Gainesville)

KenPom: 22, Sagarin: 26

Projected lines: Florida by 9 (Nashville), Florida by 15 (Gainesville)

Vanderbilt will open its SEC slate with a home matchup against Florida, a squad that went 19-12 overall and 11-7 in conference play a season ago.

The Gators averaged 71.9 points per game last year but in December lost forward Keyontae Johnson, who led the team with 14.0 points per game and was the preseason SEC player of the year. Guards Noah Locke (10.6 PPG) and Scottie Lewis (8.5 PPG) are both back for Florida.

Sophomore Tre Mann has picked up his game and leads the Gators in scoring this season, averaging 15.8 points. He's a legitimate All-SEC candidate. Lewis averages 12.8 this season and leads the team in blocks (1.8) and steals (1.8).

Florida was picked to finish fourth in the SEC preseason media poll.


KENTUCKY (Jan. 5 in Lexington, Feb. 17 in Nashville)

KenPom: 51, Sagarin: 54

Projected lines: Kentucky by 11 (Lexington), Kentucky by 7 (Nashville)

Kentucky was picked to finish second in the SEC preseason media poll after going 25-6 overall and 15-3 in the SEC a season ago.

The Wildcats have gotten off to a rough 1-6 start, however, rank dead-last of the nation's 357 teams in Ken Pomeroy's "luck" stat. Kentucky has lost to Kansas and Louisville each by three points, and to Notre Dame, by one. UK's one win was an 81-45 defeat of Morehead State in the season opener.

The Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt twice last year — 71-62 in Lexington and 78-64 in Nashville. UK didn't return any starters, but brought back Keion Brooks and brought in a bulk of talent, highlighted by Brandon Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew and Davion Mintz.

The 'Cats are struggling to find offense, averaging just 64.8 points per game. Boston leads the team with a 14.0-point average.


MISSISSIPPI STATE (Jan. 9 in Nashville, Feb. 13 in Starkville)

KenPom: 81, Sagarin: 75

Projected lines: MSU by 2 (Nashville), MSU by 8 (Starkville)

Mississippi State was picked to finish 12th in the SEC preseason media poll after going 20-11 overall and 11-7 in the SEC last season.

The Bulldogs — who won 80-70 over Vanderbilt in last year's meeting — lost Reggie Perry (17.4 PPG in 2019-20), Tyson Carter (13.9), Nick Weatherspoon (11.6) and Robert Woodard (11.4) and their most experienced returner is D.J. Stewart, who averaged 8.5 points a season ago.

Stewart leads MSU with an 18.3-point average, but a pair of sophomores have stepped up their games considerably this year. Iverson Molinar, a role player down the stretch for the Bulldogs last year, ranks second on the team with 30.8 minutes and 17.6 points per game. Tolu Smith ranks third on the team in both marks, with 29.9 and 13.9, respectively.


TENNESSEE (Jan. 16 in Knoxville, Feb. 24 in Nashville)

KenPom: 9, Sagarin: 6

Projected lines: Tennessee by 18 (Knoxville), Tennessee by 12 (Nashville)

The SEC preseason favorite, Tennessee will play Vanderbilt twice in 2020-21.

The Volunteers went 17-14 overall and 9-9 in league play a season ago and beat Vanderbilt 66-45 and 65-61 in the two sides' pair of meetings.

Tennessee is led by John Fulkerson, who averaged 13.7 points per game last year. Yves Pons — who averaged 10.8 points in 2019-20 — is also back for the Vols.

However, Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. leads the Vols in scoring this year with 13.2 points per game. Sophomore Josiah Jordan-James, a five-star recruit out of high school, averages 10.0 points and leads the Vols in rebounding (6.5).


TEXAS A&M (Jan. 20 in Nashville, Feb. 3 in College Station)

KenPom: 75, Sagarin: 87

Projected lines: TAMU by 2 (Nashville), TAMU by 7 (College Station)

Texas A&M was picked to finish 11th in the SEC preseason media poll after going 16-14 overall and 10-8 in league play last season.

The Aggies defeated Vanderbilt 69-50 in last year's meeting, and the Commodores will twice face them in 2020-21.

Savion Flagg — who averaged 10.4 points per game a year ago — was expected to be A&M's leader this campaign. However, sophomore Emmanuel Miller leads the Aggies in scoring and rebounding (17.3, 9.2), while senior Quinton Jackson averages 12.4 points.

LSU blasted A&M, 77-54, in the SEC opener for both teams on Tuesday.


MISSOURI (Jan. 12 in Columbia)

KenPom: 41, Sagarin: 47

Projected line: Missouri by 13

The Commodores will travel to Columbia in mid-January for a matchup with Missouri, which was picked to finish 10th in the SEC preseason media poll.

The Tigers are coming off a 15-16 season, which included a 7-11 mark in SEC play. Mizzou brings back much experience, led by Dru Smith (12.7 PPG in 2019-20), Xavier Pinson (11.1) and Mark Smith (10.0).

The Tigers defeated Vandy 61-52 last season.

Missouri is the eighth-most experienced team in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy, and it's paid off. Pinson (14.3 ppg this year) has led the Tigers to a 5-0 start, including wins over Oregon and Illinois.


ARKANSAS (Jan. 23 in Nashville)

KenPom: 36, Sagarin: 18

Projected line: Arkansas by 8

Arkansas was picked to finish 6th in the SEC preseason media poll after going 20-12 overall and 7-11 against conference competition in 2019-20.

The Razorbacks beat the Commodores twice last season — 75-55 in the regular season and 86-73 in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.

Arkansas lost its big three of Mason Jones (22.0 PPG last year), Isaiah Joe (16.9) and Jimmy Whitt Jr. (14.0) and will be led by Desi Sills (10.6) in 2020-21.

But coach Eric Musselman appears to have appropriately re-loaded. Freshman guard Moses Moody (16.9 ppg) leads the team in scoring, while Jacksonville transfer J.D. Notae (14.3 ppg) has also performed well in his first year in Fayetteville.

The 8-0 Razorbacks haven't beaten a team inside Ken Pomeroy's top 100 this year.


SOUTH CAROLINA (Jan. 30 in Nashville)

KenPom: 64, Sagarin: 64

Projected line: South Carolina by 4

Right in the middle of the pack in the SEC preseason media poll at No. 8, South Carolina, will play Vandy in Nashville this season.

The Gamecocks are coming off a 18-13 season in 2019-20, which included a 10-8 mark in SEC play. South Carolina defeated the Commodores 90-64 in the first meeting last year in Columbia, but Vandy bounced back with an 83-74 victory in Nashville.

AJ Lawson (13.4 PPG last season) and Jermaine Couisnard (12.1) are back to lead the Gamecocks in 2020-21. Cousinard leads the team with a 13.3-point average this season.

Carolina is 1-2, with losses to Liberty and Houston.


GEORGIA (Feb. 6 in Athens)

KenPom: 85, Sagarin: 67

Projected line: Georgia by 9

Georgia was picked to finish 13th — just above Vanderbilt — in the SEC preseason media poll after going 16-16 overall and 5-13 in the SEC a season ago.

The Bulldogs defeated Vanderbilt 80-78 in last season's meeting in Nashville.

Georgia lost standout Anthony Edwards to the NBA, but returns Sahvir Wheeler, who averaged 9.0 points per game last year. Wheeler is one of five Bulldogs averaging double figures, with Toumani Camara (14.8 ppg) leading the way.

Georgia's started 7-0, however, Cincinnati (76) is its only top-100 win according to KenPom.


AUBURN (Feb. 9 in Nashville)

KenPom: 65, Sagarin: 58

Projected line: Auburn by 4

Picked to finish seventh in the SEC preseason media poll, Auburn — which went 25-6 overall and 12-6 in league play in 2019-20 — will play Vandy in Nashville later this season.

The Tigers, who defeated the Commodores 83-79 in Alabama a year ago, lost their entire starting five of Samir Doughty (16.7 PPG last season), Isaac Okoro (12.9), J'Von McCormick (11.6), Austin Wiley (10.6) and Daniel Purifoy (8.5) and will have a new look in 2020-21.

Auburn ranks 331st in the country in experience, according to Ken Pomeroy. Freshman Justin Powell (13.9 ppg) and sophomore Allen Flanigan (13.8) – who hit double-figures just once last year – lead the Tigers in scoring.


ALABAMA (Feb. 20 in Tuscaloosa)

KenPom: 55, Sagarin: 48

Projected line: Alabama by 12

Alabama is coming off a 16-15 season — which included an 8-10 mark in the SEC — in 2019-20 and was picked to finish fifth in the SEC preseason media poll entering the 2020-21 campaign.

The Crimson Tide defeated Vandy 77-62 in Nashville last season, but the Commodores bounced back with an 87-79 victory in Tuscaloosa.

John Petty (12.1 ppg this season), Jahvon Quinerly (13.1), Jaden Shackelford (13.4) and Herb Jones (12.1) lead a balanced scoring attack. The Crimson Tide scored an 18-point home win over Ole Miss in their SEC opener on Tuesday.


OLE MISS (Feb. 27 in Nashville)

KenPom: 33, Sagarin: 50

Projected lines: Ole Miss by 7

Ole Miss went 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the SEC last season, and the Rebels were picked to finish ninth in the SEC preseason media poll coming into the 2020-21 campaign.

The Rebels defeated Vanderbilt 86-60 last year in Oxford, and the two sides will meet in late February in Nashville this season.

Ole Miss will be led by senior guard Devontae Shuler — who averaged 11.7 points per game last year — along with junior forward KJ Buffen, who scored 10.1 points.

Arizona State transfer Romelo White has helped in a big way, averaging 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds this season in Oxford.


LSU (Mar. 2 in Baton Rouge)

KenPom: 37, Sagarin: 25

Projected lines: LSU by 14

LSU was picked to finish third in the SEC preseason media poll after putting together a 21-10 season in 2019-20, which included a 12-6 mark in the SEC.

The Tigers dropped a 99-90 decision to Vanderbilt in Nashville last year, and this season the two sides will meet in Baton Rouge in Vandy's final regular season game.

LSU looks to be the most experienced — and talented — team in the SEC, having brought back Trendon Watford (13.6 PPG last season), Javonte Smart (12.5), Darius Days (11.1) and brought in UCLA transfer Shareef O'Neal.

However, it's freshman Cameron Thomas, a former five-star recruit, whose 24.1-point average leads LSU this season. The Tigers rank sixth in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency after blasting Texas A&M in their SEC opener.