It’s been a challenge for Alabama to regain its form since the Brandon Miller gun saga. Does that open up a window for a gritty Mississippi State team to pull an upset? Alabama enters as a 7.5-point favorite with the over/under at 136.5 points.
Let’s make predictions for Friday’s matchup and take a look at why Mississippi State is poised to give the Crimson Tide a real battle at the SEC Tournament.
Mississippi State vs. Alabama Prediction
Alabama has a major offensive advantage over Mississippi State – or, at least, that was the case before the last few weeks. The Tide clearly still have some issues to work out in the wake of the Miller controversy, and the offense looked completely thrown off against Texas A&M. Mississippi State is uniquely positioned to have the same effect.
The Bulldogs allow the 8th-fewest points in the nation, slow the game down, and hold opponents to inefficient shooting marks. They nearly upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa when the Tide were at their peak. Now? They could absolutely give Alabama a real battle again, if not more than that.
An unimpressive offense is a concern against an Alabama team that still has no shortage of options, but it would surprise me to see Mississippi State’s defense play an uncharacteristic game and get throttled on Friday.
Mississippi State vs. Alabama Prediction: Mississippi State +7.5
Mississippi State vs. Alabama Odds
Alabama enters as a 7.5-point favorite over the Bulldogs, sitting at -307 on the moneyline. The over/under is 136.5 points.
The Tide have looked out of sorts of late, but Mississippi State didn’t look too great on Thursday when it barely survived a blown lead against Florida. Alabama would’ve been an even heavier favorite in this game a month ago. Can Nate Oats’ team get back to what it does best?
Mississippi State vs. Alabama Key Matchups
Here are some key matchups that could decide Mississippi State vs. Alabama.
Alabama’s High Pace vs. Mississippi State’s Slow Pace
The story of this Alabama team all season has been how fast it moves. The Tide lead the nation in possessions per game, which is why they’re near the top of the leaderboard in points despite solid but not dominant efficiency marks. It’s also why Alabama lets up nearly 70 points per game despite excellent defensive marks elsewhere.
Oats’ teams always play faster than everyone, and it can tire teams out – especially when the talent is as strong as it is here. Sometimes, it works the other way. Texas A&M has a slow pace and had Alabama off its game in the regular season finale, stifling the Tide’s offense and winning the game by playing their style of basketball.
Mississippi State has an even slower pace (326th in possessions per game), and defense is the name of the game for Chris Jans’ team – this elite defense is the driving force behind my Mississippi State vs. Alabama prediction. The Bulldogs nearly knocked off Alabama in the regular season by slowing the game down, and it’s not far-fetched to say we could see a similar story play out Friday.
Tolu Smith vs. Alabama Interior Defense
Mississippi State is an excellent defensive team, but an unsteady offense is why the Bulldogs aren’t NCAA Tournament locks. Tolu Smith is the exception. The 6’10” big man averages 15.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, making his presence felt near the basket on both ends of the floor. He’s going to need to show up on the offensive end for Mississippi State to keep up with Alabama.
The Tide are holding opponents to just 41.9% on two-point attempts, the lowest mark in the nation, and that’s largely due to the size of Miller, Noah Clowney, and Charles Bediako. The concern is they could overpower Smith, who’s somewhat of a one-man show for the Bulldogs’ offense.
Smith put up 15 and 7 against Alabama in the regular season, which is a good sign, but Mississippi State is in a tough position because of its lack of offensive options compared to the Tide. Smith has to be at his best.