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In this first round matchup of the NCAA tournament, the Liberty Flames will travel to the SAP Center at San Jose to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Liberty enters this game with a 28-6 record while Mississippi State enters this game with a 23-10 record. Now, both teams will be looking to improve on their records this game.
Liberty’s Defense Continues To Shine
This season, the Liberty Flames were not expected to win their respective conference as the team had to win a true road game in the conference championship game. However, the team did manage to run the table in the conference tournament and clinched a berth in the NCAA tournament after beating Lipscomb on the road in the conference title game. Liberty’s success this season has been due to its elite defense as the team is currently allowing the 12th-fewest points per game. Mississippi State has a solid offense but one should expect Liberty’s quality defense to figure out a formula to slow it down.
The Liberty Flames are led by junior forward Scottie James who was a huge factor on last year’s team. Last season, James was extremely solid as he averaged 13.5 points per game along with 8.9 rebounds. However, he has managed to excel this season as he is currently leading the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game while shooting an absurd 67.6% shooting from the floor. James has also made a ton of big shots for this team late in games and he will definitely be a matchup problem for Mississippi State in this one.
Coach McKay believes that the team’s elite defense is due to its dedication and commitment to the system.
“I think the hardest thing about it is how much time you have to invest in it. And I think for us, what we’ve seen over the course of time, whether at UVA or at Liberty, the longer you’re in the system, the better you get at it,” McKay said.
Mississippi State Looks For First Tournament Win Since 2008
This season, the Bulldogs were expected to build upon last year behind some veteran leadership as the team looks to make it into the NCAA tournament. So far this season, Mississippi State has looked amazing as the team is currently 23-10. However, the team has struggled a bit down the stretch as it has lost three of its last five games. In the team’s last game, it lost to Tennessee in the conference tournament by seven points. In that game, Mississippi State’s defense was awful as the team allowed 83 points on over 51% shooting from the floor. With a neutral site game up next, Mississippi State’s defense will need to play a lot better.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are led by senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon who has looked great so far this season. Last season, Weatherspoon averaged 14.4 points per game along with 6.0 rebounds while shooting 48.4% from the floor. So far this season, Weatherspoon has played even better as he leads the team in points per game. He is currently averaging 18.2 points per game along with 4.7 rebounds.
Coach Howland complimented Liberty on its team defense and believes that ball movement will be the key offensively.
“It’s the great example of team defense playing as one. And so it presents — you know, you’ve gotta be willing to be patient and move the ball side to side to be able to get good shots against that defense. They don’t make — they don’t beat themselves. They’re not going to make mistakes,” Howland said.
- Bulldogs are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 neutral site games.
- Flames are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600.
- Flames are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games vs. a team with a winning straight up record.
- Flames are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 Friday games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Although Mississippi State is the much higher seed, I personally think that Liberty is the better all-around team and has one of the best defenses in the entire country. Mississippi State has struggled against quality competition over the last few months and I can see Liberty creating serious problems for the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball. I think that Mississippi State will be unable to score enough points to cover this spread so I will side with Liberty plus the points in this one.
Prediction: Liberty +6.5
Full-Game Total Pick
Both teams have the ability to score a lot of points but I think that their respective defenses are highly underrated. Liberty has the 12th-best scoring defense in the entire country and this team also plays at one of the slowest paces in all of college basketball. If Liberty is going to keep this game close, Mississippi State will not break 65 points. Since I think Liberty will cover this spread, I can only look to the under in this game.
Prediction: Under 136