John Calipari saw plenty to like in UK’s win over South Carolina
One of the hottest college basketball teams in the country, the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats visit the Magnolia State Saturday to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (CBS, noon).
Kentucky has bounced back powerfully from a humiliating season-opening loss to Duke. The Wildcats have won nine games in a row, and have covered seven straight against betting market point spreads. In order, cover margins of 12.5, 6.5, 14, 2.5 (vs. Kansas), 26.5, 7.5, and 12 points show you how much Kentucky has lifted its performance above recent expectations. The Wildcats are averaging a double-digit cover through that sizzling seven.
Mississippi State recently dropped out of the AP rankings, and is coming off a heartbreaking 92-88 overtime loss to No. 21 LSU Wednesday night as three-point favorites. State had trouble stopping the Tigers inside the arc … allowing 60 percent shooting on two-point shots and 13 offensive rebounds, while putting LSU on the line to shoot 19 of 25 on free throws. That non-cover dropped MSU to 3-6 against the spread its last nine outings.
Kentucky will be a clear market favorite … and could post another easy cover if Mississippi State isn’t able to toughen up defensively inside.
A busy Saturday in the SEC also features Ole Miss at Georgia (SEC Network, noon).
Ole Miss has cooled off against market expectations after a fantastic 14-1 ATS start. The Rebels are now 1-4 ATS their last five games. Wednesday night’s 75-71 victory over Texas A&M finished well below the 10-point spread.
The good news from Wednesday is that Texas A&M had to shoot over its heads from long range (11 of 23) to hang with the Rebels. Ole Miss won two-point shooting 47% to 44%, turnovers 18-12, and made free throws 18-4 because it did a better job of attacking the basket. Those are good showings in important fundamentals categories for the postseason.
Ole Miss will likely be a short road favorite Saturday at Georgia, and needs to maintain focus to solidify its spot in Big Dance bracket projections.
Respected “bracketology” estimates currently show …
▪ Tennessee and Kentucky fighting for spots on the #1 or #2 rungs.
▪ LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss in the #5 to #8 range (though both MSU and Ole Miss will start drifting further down the ladder if recent ATS trends continue).
▪ Alabama and Florida on the bubble, but with resume’s that would currently get them into the Dance.
That’s EIGHT teams from the SEC with a chance to make headlines and create “shining moments” next month.
▪ The biggest college basketball marquee attraction nationally this weekend is #2 Duke at #3 Virginia (ESPN, 5 p.m., Saturday).
Duke (-3.5) won the first meeting at home 72-70. Virginia covered on a jumper at the buzzer. Stats were very even, which is a compliment to the Cavaliers visiting Cameron Indoor. Neither team could drain treys (Virginia 3 of 17, Duke 2 of 14). The Blue Devils ultimately survived thanks to an 18-11 edge in made free throws (on a 31-17 advantage in attempts). Virginia’s hoping the officials are less friendly to Duke in the rematch!
Duke (14-8 ATS) and Virginia (16-5 ATS) are a combined 30-13 vs. very high market expectations this season. That’s 29-13 if you take out the game they played against each other. Astounding given how hard it’s supposed to be to make money betting big favorites!
▪ Another high profile battle of powers features #19 Wisconsin at #7 Michigan (CBS, 11 a.m., Saturday). Here, the superior team is in a revenge spot. Wisconsin (+3.5) won the first meeting in Madison 64-54, with a stifling defense that held Michigan below 50% on two-point shots, below 30% on three-point shots, and forced 16 turnovers in a slow game. That started a 6-0 cover streak for the Badgers, which is still active after a Wednesday night win/cover at Minnesota.
▪ VSiN also wants to alert you to a Sunday sleeper in the American Athletic Conference. That’s #25 Cincinnati at #12 Houston (ESPN, 3 p.m., Sunday). This will be the first meeting this season between the top two AAC teams. Nobody wants to run into either of these sides in March. You may recall that Houston almost knocked off eventual runner-up Michigan in the round of 32. The Cougars have covered two-thirds of their games this season.