Kentucky Wildcats vs. MSU Bulldogs Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Kentucky Wildcats (24-1 SU, 12-11 ATS) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-7 SU, 11-8-1 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Tuesday, February 16, 2010, Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Kentucky -2.5/Mississippi State +2.5
Over/Under: 143

Kentucky is 24-1 overall and 9-1 in the SEC, and really hasn’t had many tough conference tests. But four of their last six games will be on the road and five of their last six games will be against teams in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. The first of those four tough road games in the final month of the season will be at Mississippi State on Tuesday night.

Kentucky’s lone loss all season long was a 68-62 loss at South Carolina on January 26. The Wildcats have only had one other SEC game within seven points, a 72-67 win at Auburn. The Wildcats’ next toughest conference games were a 76-68 home win over Georgia and an 85-75 home win over Ole Miss. The ‘Cats had plenty of tough tests during their non-conference campaign, but they’ve cruised through the SEC for the most part.

Kentucky’s last game was a 73-62 win at home over Tennessee on Saturday. John Wall only dished out three assists, but he took on the scoring load with 24 points. Fellow freshman backcourt-mate Eric Bledsoe scored 16 points. The Kentucky big men didn’t dominate like they normally do but Patrick Patterson still had 10 points and seven rebounds, and DeMarcus Cousins had five points and 12 rebounds. The ‘Cats shot 44 percent from the field and 7-for-19 from 3-point range. As they have done in most of their games this season, they held Tennessee to under 40 percent shooting (38 percent) as well as 6-for-23 on 3-pointers.

Mississippi State has had a rocky season to say the least. The Bulldogs opened the season with a home loss to Rider after they came in with high expectations. After a loss to Richmond, the Bulldogs recouped later in their non-conference slate to earn some decent wins before entering SEC play. They are 6-4 in conference play but their only quality conference wins are a pair of wins over rival Ole Miss. To have any chance at making the NCAA tournament, they need a win over Kentucky.

In their last game, the Bulldogs won 85-75 in overtime at home over Auburn on Saturday. After the game was tied after regulation, Mississippi State outscored Auburn 11-1 in the extra period. Dee Bost had an absolutely sensational game for the Bulldogs with 32 points, on 11-for-19 shooting from the field and 7-for-12 from beyond the arc, nine rebounds, four assists and only one turnover. Jarvis Varnado had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. And Barry Stewart, Romero Osby and Phil Turner each scored in double figures as well. The Bulldogs shot 41 percent from the field and 11-for-34 on 3-pointers. They only forced eight turnovers but they also only committed eight turnovers in the entire game. They held Auburn to 37 percent shooting from the field and 9-for-33 on 3-pointers.

It’s not a good thing for the Bulldogs to be attempting 34 3-point attempts in a game, especially if they aren’t making close to 40 percent of them. Varnado only had eight field goal attempts in the win over Auburn. The Bulldogs need to get him the ball more down low. If they can establish an inside game, it will open things up on the perimeter. Both teams are strong defensively, holding conference opponents to under 40 percent field goal shooting, but the Bulldogs are shooting under 40 percent themselves. A huge reason for that is not getting the ball inside enough for easy baskets and instead settling for too many 3-point attempts. After shooting well from 3-point range in non-conference play, the Bulldogs are only shooting 30 percent in conference play, and Kentucky is holding opponents to 30 percent 3-point shooting as well. The Bulldogs are attempting more than 25 3-point attempts per game in conference play. As stated above, that’s not good at all, especially when they’re making only 30 percent of them. They are either going to have to shoot out of their minds or severely limit their outside shots if they are going to beat Kentucky. Rebounding will also be a huge factor. Mississippi State is getting out-rebounded by about two boards per game in conference play, while Kentucky is out-rebounding its SEC opponents by more than six boards per game. Varnado has to stay out of foul trouble and dominate down low, and the Bulldogs guards have to help out on the glass against the likes of Cousins and Patterson.

Kentucky is 15-5-1 ATS in its last 21 games as a road favorite, 5-2 ATS in its last seven road games, and 0-5 ATS in its last five games following an ATS win. The Bulldogs are 4-0 ATS in their last four games as a home underdog, 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine home games, 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games as an underdog, and 3-1-1 ATS in their last five games overall. The road team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings between these teams and the underdog is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings.

Ryno’s Pick: I like the under here.