Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Preview and Pick

Middle Tennessee St. Blue Raiders (17-14), +8.5, o/u 137 vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (26-6), -8.5, o/u 137, Mitchell Center, Mobile, Alabama, 9 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday
by Oracle of Predictem.com

There is a very interesting scenario arising in the Sun Belt Conference.

Two teams have dominated the Sun Belt for most of the year, Western Kentucky and South Alabama. Some experts have said that the Sun Belt may get an at-large bid, especially if those two teams made it to the final game in the Sun Belt Tournament.

That’s not the case, though. Middle Tennessee State, just 17-14 on the year, has made a big splash in the tournament, knocking off South Alabama and trying to garner an automatic bid to the NCAA field of 65 next week.

Looking into the crystal ball, what if the Blue Raiders were able to win the Sun Belt? Western Kentucky would end the year with an impressive 26-7 record, while South Alabama finished this season with a 26-5 mark. Could it be possible the Sun Belt gets three teams in? On the other hand, would they even get one at-large bid out of this conference?

All these questions can be answered when MTSU and Western Kentucky go head-to-head for the third time this season, with the Hilltoppers winning both of those contests.

Although the outcomes ended up in losses, the Blue Raiders covered spreads of 15.5 and 6.5 in both games. Both contests also came in under the point total.

This time around, MTSU finds themselves underdogs again, with many sportsbooks picking Western Kentucky -8.5 with an over/under of 137.

Middle Tennessee State was plagued by the turnover bug (34 total), as well as poor three-point shooting (33%) in the first two match ups of the year. MTSU leading scorer Desmond Yates did what he could by averaging 16.5 points in the two contests.

It wasn’t Yates, though, who got Middle Tennessee State to the championship game necessarily. Guards Kevin Kanaskie and Demetrius Green scored 23 and 21 points, respectively, against South Alabama in their semifinal upset on Monday night. Nigel Johnson, another guard, hit 12-of-13 free throws on his way to 19 points. Meanwhile, Yates played in the shadows all game, scoring 12 points in 23 minutes.

Middle Tennessee State got to the free throw line 34 times, hitting 28 of them (82.4%), leading them to the Sun Belt Championship game.

Courntey Lee and his 20.6 points per game, as well as Tyrone Brazleton (13.3) lead Western Kentucky. Lee has somewhat struggle against MTSU this year, averaging just 12 points in the first two meetings. Brazelton, though, picked up the slack with 16.5 points, including team-highs 20 and 13 in each contest.

The Hilltoppers had no troubles making it to the Sun Belt Championship game, cruising by both North Texas (84-70) and Arkansas-Little Rock (70-55).

It should be a different story on Tuesday night, however. The Blue Raiders have done well against the spread all year long with a 15-10-2 mark. They’ve been hot, lately, going 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games all Sun Belt contests.

Some more good news that leans toward the Blue Raiders is the fact that the underdog is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 head-to-head meetings against the Hilltoppers.

Bettors should also know that Western Kentucky doesn’t mind playing teams at a neutral site, having a 5-0 mark ATS in their last five games. They’re also 4-0 against the spread in their last four games as a favorite.

Middle Tennessee State is hoping to ride their wave of momentum past the Hilltoppers and into the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, it isn’t a guarantee Western Kentucky will be an at-large bid if they lose this contest, so they’ll be on top of their game as well.

Oracle’s Pick: Middle Tennessee State keeps this game close throughout. Look for them to cover. Take MTSU +8.5!