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CBB: Kentucky, Mississippi State Battle in Starksville

CBB: Kentucky, Mississippi State Battle in Starksville



CBB: Kentucky, Mississippi State Battle in Starksville

Two top five ranked teams encountered trouble on Monday night, with Villanova getting upset by Connecticut and Kansas surviving a scare at Texas A&M. On ESPN’s Super Tuesday, another top team will be tested when #2 Kentucky visits Mississippi State. As an


2010-02-17

Two top five ranked teams encountered trouble on Monday night, with Villanova getting upset by Connecticut and Kansas surviving a scare at Texas A&M. On ESPN’s Super Tuesday, another top team will be tested when #2 Kentucky visits Mississippi State. As an indicator of just how tough Sportsbook.com oddsmakers think this game will be for the Wildcats, they have been established as just 3-point favorites, leaving little margin for error.

Kentucky’s second ranked basketball team is the tallest in the country and at any time could play a NBA-sized frontline. Four of their keys players are freshmen and from a purely talent standpoint only Syracuse might have more arguably, with Kansas right behind them. Though the Wildcats have been tripped up just once all season, they have not been to Starksville, where it is not unusual for Mississippi State (18-7, 11-8-1 ATS) to play beyond their ability when a top level team arrives in town.

Mississippi State’s offense may go up and down like the stock market, but its defense delivers like UPS. Center Jarvis Varnado is a swatting machine near the bucket and has a real hunger for grabbing rebounds. The Bulldogs have been at the top of the SEC in fewest points allowed (62.6 points per game) nearly the entire season and would be a Top 25 team if coach Rick Stansbury could get reliable point guard play. Whether its regular starter Dee Bost or backups, too many forced plays and poor shot selection have contributed to Mississippi State losing six games by five points or less.

The Bulldogs defeated Auburn in overtime 85-75 in their last contest and are 8-1 ATS after a win by 10 points or more this season. They are tied with Arkansas at 6-4 for the SEC West lead and their offense is built around making long bombs. Mississippi State made 11 three’s balls against the Tigers for the win and they are proficient at home shooting the long ball with 39.7 percent marksmanship, converting on 10 of 26 attempts. With a defense that allows 36.8 percent shooting percentage and ability to score in bunches, it’s no wonder Mississippi State is 14-2 ATS against offensive clubs scoring 77 or points a game.

The Wildcats (24-1, 12-11 ATS) might not do everything right to please coach John Calipari, but they are awfully close. This team is dominated by freshmen who can play and they have grown as the season as progressed. That is not only a compliment to the players, but to Coach Cal who has impressed on them the importance of playing defense, holding opponents 37.6 percent shooting, by effectively cutting off the lane area. Though the Bulldogs are good rebounding team with a +4 in margin differential, Kentucky is one of the best in the country at +10. The Wildcats are 26-8 ATS after three straight games outrebounding opponent by six or more.

Kentucky will have to stand-up to the three point barrage they will face. “They are going to shoot them whether you are there or not, you just have to make them hard,” Calipari said. “You have to understand what you’re playing against. You can’t fall asleep.” The Wildcats are 3-8 ATS off a spread win, including dropping the last five.

Kentucky is three-point favorite at Sportsbook.com, with total of 143. The game features a potential unique matchup of big men, Varnado against DeMarcus Cousins. Varnado leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally with 11.3 rebounds per game, and he’s second in NCAA history with 519 career blocked shots. Cousins’ has exceptional offensive skills in the paint, is an aggressive defender and can really run the court. “They’re two different kinds of players,” coach Calipari said. “One is going to block shots and be active and be quicker to the ball. The other is just a hard matchup for teams.” Kentucky is 14-5 UNDER after consecutive wins against conference rivals over the last three seasons.

This is the second game on Super Tuesday on ESPN and Mississippi State has won 12 in a row at Humphrey Coliseum since losing home opener (4-3-1 ATS) and they are 10-1 ATS versus teams making 48 percent of their shots since 2007-08 season. Big Blue has won four of last six in Starksville and is 17-8 ATS off a home win. Because the Bulldogs are not great at guard, John Wall could be the difference.
Keep in mind, the team with the higher three-point shooting percentage is 4-1 ATS in this series. The StatFox Power Line shows Kentucky by 4, perhaps indicating some rare value on a highly ranked club.



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