Mississippi State

Mississippi State-Auburn game will have a big say in SEC, NCAA tourney seeding

Mississippi State coach Ben Howland has his team playing some of its best basketball at the right time.
Mississippi State coach Ben Howland has his team playing some of its best basketball at the right time. AP

Mississippi State has been playing some of its basketball of the season during a recent five-game winning streak (4-1 vs. market prices). Saturday brings its toughest “recent” test, a road game at dangerous Auburn (ESPNU, 3 p.m.)

This matchup is very important for SEC tournament seeding. Both the Bulldogs and Tigers are in a clogged midsection fighting for the No. 4 seed behind “trio of 13-2 towers” Kentucky, Tennessee, and LSU. It’s also important for seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Joe Lunardi’s midweek “Bracketology” at ESPN showed Mississippi State as a No. 6 seed (a good spot for making a Cinderella run away from a regional No. 1 seed), with Auburn a No. 8 seed (which unfortunately means winning the opener puts you against a #1 in the second round).

State’s current run features some easy covers. Outside of the failure at Georgia (winning 68-67 as a 6-point favorite), the Bulldogs beat expectations by 13.5 points over Alabama, nine points at Arkansas, five points over South Carolina, and 7.5 points over Missouri.

Skeptics will note that the lack of powers on the list of recent victims. But, Mississippi State did beat Auburn in their first meeting, 92-84 in Starkville in a pick-em game.

Interestingly, betting markets have been pricing Auburn like it’s one of the big three at the top of the SEC despite its 8-7 record in league play. Home court advantage is usually worth about three points in college basketball. We can deduce Auburn was seen as three points better than Mississippi State on a neutral court in that first meeting from the pick-em line. Monitor game-day betting on the rematch to see if the composite of oddsmakers and professional bettors that shape the number have made any adjustments.

Based on most recent action, VSiN’s estimate of “market” Power Ratings for the SEC looks like this…

Kentucky 87, Tennessee 86, Auburn 83, LSU 82 (80 without Tremont Waters), Mississippi State 82, Florida 79, Ole Miss 78, Alabama 78, South Carolina 76, Arkansas 75, Texas A&M 73, Georgia 73, Missouri 73, Vanderbilt 72.

Feel free to tweak those based on weekend point spreads for an up-to-the-minute representation.

In terms of skill sets, Mississippi State and Auburn are going to enter the postseason as VERY similar teams. Well-respected statistical website kenpom.com shows both in the top 15 in “adjusted offensive efficiency,” which is points-per-possession adjusted for schedule strength. These are GREAT offenses. But, neither had cracked the national top 40 in “adjusted defensive efficiency” late in the week. That means either will likely have an inferior defense to any national powers they’d face in the Big Dance.

Bettors who believe that “defense wins championships” will be looking to pick their spots with either team later this month, rather than backing them to cut down the net.

Other notes:

Avid fans across America will be watching No. 4 Kentucky at No. 7 Tennessee Saturday (CBS, 1 p.m.) in a much-anticipated rematch of national powers. The Wildcats crushed the Volunteers 86-69 in the first meeting as 4-point favorites, building a lead as big as 62-38 in the second half.

Kentucky is 10-3 against the spread its last 13 games, but had to sweat a close finish vs. Arkansas in Lexington this past Tuesday. Fading Tennessee has failed to cover five games in a row, and was lucky to get a straight up win over Ole Miss in Oxford Wednesday. Many of you are still rightly outraged about that!

Ole Miss has an important game Saturday at Arkansas (SEC Network, noon). The Rebels are in that large hunk of teams trying to earn the #4 seed in the SEC tourney (a league record of 9-6 along with Mississippi State, Florida, and South Carolina…just ahead of Auburn and Alabama at 8-7). The latest ticket casher vs. Tennessee brought Ole Miss to 4-2 ATS its las six, 20-8 ATS for the season. That stunning nail biter from Arkansas at Kentucky ended an 0-6 ATS run for the Razorbacks.

Lunardi of ESPN currently projects EIGHT teams from the SEC reaching the NCAA’s. Alabama is in the most precarious position on this season’s soft bubble. The Crimson Tide have a huge game Saturday at home against LSU (ESPN, 11 a.m.). Alabama is 1-4 ATS its last five games, LSU 11-4 ATS its last 15 games.

Jeff Fogle writes the daily VSiN newsletter. Sign up at VSiN.com/newsletter