As college basketball conference play begins to kick into hyperdrive, an excellent SEC showdown will go down tonight, with the Alabama Crimson Tide heading to Mississippi State to take on the Bulldogs. We’ll preview the game before getting into my best bet for the action.
Mississippi State began the season with an 11-0 record but saw that undefeated start come to an end last week against Drake. Tonight will be the Bulldogs' first conference game, and aside from their game against Marquette, it will also be their first real challenge; in fact, the Bulldogs' non-conference strength of schedule ranks 322nd in the county on KenPom.
Defense has been the primary strength of this Bulldogs team, as they rank fifth in the country in defensive efficiency on KenPom and have held opponents to an average of just 52.6 points per game. Shakeel Moore, who is questionable tonight with an injury, leads the team in steals with 2.7 per game.
Big man Tolu Smith leads the way on the offensive end for the Bulldogs, averaging 15.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The team has an overall offensive efficiency rating of 104.1, which is ranked 134th in the country on KenPom.
The Bulldogs play a much different offensive style than their opponent tonight as they run at one of the slower tempos in the country, while Alabama runs at the fourth-highest tempo in the country. This tempo has led the Crimson Tide to put up an offensive efficiency rating of 113. Freshman Brandon Miller has become the primary scorer for Alabama, averaging 19.2 points per game and shooting 45.3% from three.
Unlike the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide have had balanced success on both sides of the floor, putting up a defensive efficiency rating that is 19th in the country. Those numbers are also against the tenth-best strength of schedule in the country, according to KenPom.
Alabama can currently be found as -.5 point favorites, and they are my best bet for this SEC showdown. The Crimson Tide have already faced a wide range of challenges in their non-conference schedule and still have a 10-2 record, so if they can force the Bulldogs to play at their pace, they should be able to control the game from start to finish.
The Bulldogs have been solid at limiting scoring, except in one area, and that’s three-point scoring, which just so happens to be the primary strength and focus of the Crimson Tide. Mississippi State is ranked 109th in the country in opponent three-pointers made per game, while Alabama is ranked 13th in three-pointers made per game. The Bulldogs have yet to see an offense quite like Alabama’s, and with Mississippi State’s lack of shooting ability, I don’t think they can keep pace offensively.
Mississippi State has an effective field goal percentage of just 48.3%, which is ranked 245th in the country and has put up against an average defensive efficiency that ranks 317th, according to KenPom. The Bulldogs will be fine as the season goes on, but Alabama will be too much of a challenge for them stylistically and just a formidable opponent in general for their first true test.
Alabama Crimson Tide (-.5)