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Mississippi State vs. No. 8 Tennessee
When and Where: Friday, March 15, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn., 9:30 p.m. EST.
Trying to prove itself worthy of a No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, No. 8 Tennessee begins its bid for a first SEC tournament title in 40 years Friday night when it faces Mississippi State in Nashville.
Bulldogs out for revenge after easy second-round win
Mississippi State (23-9) made quick work of Texas A&M in the second round, beating the Aggies for the second time in five days after pole-axing them 80-54 on Thursday night as Ben Howland moved another step closer to becoming the 15th coach to take four different teams to the NCAA Tournament.
— Mississippi State Basketball (@HailStateMBK) March 15, 2019
Lamar Peters scored all 15 of his points from beyond the arc as seven Bulldogs players had at least seven points. Tyson Carter added 14 while Quinndary Weatherspoon chipped in 12 and a season-high eight assists, powering a Mississippi State team that hit 11 of 25 from deep and shot 53.4 percent overall.
The Bulldogs, who have won seven of their last nine games, have been effective when engaged on the defensive end. Mississippi State has held opponents to 62 or fewer points in four of those wins and owns a 15-0 record when holding teams under 70 compared to 7-9 when opponents eclipse that mark.
Mississippi State has won just two of its last 11 games against Tennessee and in addition to last year’s quarterfinal loss absorbed a second-round defeat in 2013. The Bulldogs have suffered six of those nine losses by double-digit margins.
Vols try to end 40-year SEC tournament title drought
The Volunteers and No. 4 Kentucky are considered the two most likely candidates to claim the last of the four top seeds to the NCAA Tournament if ACC powers Virginia, North Carolina, and Duke claim the other three as projected. Tennessee (27-4) has split its two games with the Wildcats and appear destined for a semifinal showdown Saturday if both can advance Friday night.
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 14, 2019
In a conference and conference tournament historically dominated by Kentucky, the Volunteers are eager to end the lengthy conference tournament title drought after claiming a share of the SEC regular-season title last year.
“I want it so badly,” said leading scorer Grant Williams, who was born in 1998, to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It is something that I have always wanted — 1979, I have had that date in my head. That is the last time we won it.
“It’s something that would mean a lot to me.”
Tennessee was denied a share of the SEC title by Auburn, losing 84-80 on the road Saturday to give LSU the outright title and No. 1 seed. Williams had 25 points and nine rebounds, but the Volunteers had trouble dealing with a speedy Tigers team that stung them on the perimeter for 13 3-pointers – the second-most it allowed in a game this season.
All three of Tennessee’s losses in league play came on the road, and the ones to LSU and Auburn were by a combined six points. The other common denominator in those defeats is each team topped 80 points, and the Vols are 4-4 when opponents reach 80 or higher.
The Vols had no such worries in the lone meeting between the teams, pulling away for a 71-54 victory at home March 5. Williams had 14 points and 10 rebounds while Tennessee limited Mississippi State to 33.3 percent shooting while forcing 17 turnovers.
Tennessee has a chance to eliminate the Bulldogs in the SEC tournament quarterfinals for the second straight year, edging the Bulldogs 62-59 in St. Louis as Williams had 10 points and 11 rebounds while Admiral Schofield contributed 13 and eight as both teams shot under 40 percent.
- No trends of note.
- The under is 5-0 in its last five games following a straight up loss.
- The under is 4-0 in its last four games vs. above-.500 teams.
- The under is 5-2 in its last seven games following an ATS loss.
Mississippi State is:
- 5-17 ATS in its last 22 games following a straight up win by 20 or more points.
- The under is 6-1 in its last seven neutral site games.
- The under is 8-2 in its last 10 games vs. SEC opponents.
- The under is 24-9 in its last 33 games following a straight up win by 20 or more points.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
With the spread established at 5.5 points, there is enough confidence in keeping the pick with Tennessee. After finishing one step short of ending the title drought last year, the Volunteers appear primed to finish the job this year with Williams and Schofield leading the way.
Tennessee will not look past the Bulldogs to that potential semifinal showdown with Kentucky, but this game will also not be easy. The teams are fairly balanced, but the star power of the Vols will provide the margin needed for the higher seed to cover.
Prediction: Pick: Tennessee -5.5
Full-Game Total Pick
With a pair of seasoned tournament-savvy coaches in Howland and Volunteers counterpart Rick Barnes, the expectation is this will turn into something that is not exactly a rock fight but a contest in which the defenses carry most of the game. The teams have combined for 130 and less in the last four meetings, including a 121-point effort in last year’s quarterfinals.
Though this line quickly plummeted after opening at 149, there is still plenty of value to be had at the current 145.5.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 145.5 points
Full-Game Prop Bet
Taking the Vols and the under implies only one team will reach 70 in this game, and by the process of elimination, taking the Bulldogs to score below that number is a fairly strong pick.
Prediction: Pick: Mississippi State UNDER 70 points
Half-Time Side Pick
Tennessee led by six points at the break in its win over Mississippi State, but the bigger picture is the Vols led in all but three of their conference games after 20 minutes. In 14 of those games, the margin was five or more points.
Prediction: Pick: Tennessee -3
Half-Time Total Bet
The teams played to a 56-point first half in Knoxville earlier this month, and the expectation is this game will be around that number again. The Bulldogs have played to 65 or fewer in six of their last seven games, with the outlier their easy win over lowly Texas A&M.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 67 points
Half-Time Prop Prediction
Taking away Mississippi State’s last two games — both against Texas A&M — it has scored 33 or fewer in the first half of its other four previous games. Tennessee held the Bulldogs to 25 in the first meeting, and the Volunteers have held four of their last six opponents to 31 and under in the opening 20 minutes.
Prediction: Pick: Mississippi State UNDER 32.5 points