The No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide try to clinch their first SEC regular-season title since 2002 when they visit the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday. Alabama heads into action with a 2 1/2-game lead over Arkansas atop the conference standings.
The Crimson Tide (18-6) are coming off only their second loss in SEC play, to the Razorbacks on Wednesday. Wwith the setback, Alabama’s 13-2 mark has it comfortably in front.
Mississippi State (13-11) is trying to get to .500 in league play after winning its last two. The Bulldogs sit ninth in the conference with a 7-8 mark, one game behind sixth-place Ole Miss.
If you’re betting online on this contest, Alabama is a six-point favorite, with the over/under set at 143½.
Looking To Clinch
The Crimson Tide aren’t used to this feeling, coming off a loss, but they have yet to lose two in a row in 2020-21. It would certainly make some college basketball news if they did as they are trying to make the best impression possible for the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Alabama likes to bomb away from long-range offensively, leading the nation in 3-point field goals with 261 makes, ranking second in 3-point attempts (727), and third in 3-pointers per game (10.9). But when the Tide go cold, it hurts the offense, as shown against Arkansas, when they went 4-of-12 from 3-point range in the second half and were outscored by 14.
Leading the way for the Crimson Tide from beyond the arc is senior guard John Petty Jr., who has connected on 58. Petty is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game while also averaging 1.1 steals and 5.0 rebounds.
Jaden Shackelford is the top scorer for coach Nate Oats. The sophomore guard is averaging 14.1 points, including 41 3-pointers, and also adds 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and nearly a steal a game.
Sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly and senior guard Herbert Jones are also scoring in double figures for Alabama, averaging 11.8 and 11.4 points, respectively. Jones leads the team with 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
As is typical with a Ben Howland-coached team, the Bulldogs are at their best when their defense is clicking. Mississippi State is coming off a victory over South Carolina in which it held the Gamecocks to 29% shooting. That’s the lowest an SEC opponent has shot against MSU since February 2016.
In fact, in the Bulldogs’ last four wins, they’ve held their opponents to 54.8 points and a collective .329 shooting percentage. Opponents are averaging 65.6 points per game, with the Bulldogs holding them to 32.7% shooting from 3-point range.
Not that there isn’t offense for the Bulldogs. The backcourt combination of sophomores Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart Jr. is one of the highest-scoring duos in the country. Stewart leads the way with 16.6 points per game while dishing out 2.8 assists and recording 1.5 steals per game.
Molinar is right behind him, averaging 16.5 points, 2.7 assists, and 1.1 steals. Another sophomore, 6-10 forward Tolu Smith, is averaging 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, providing some interior strength on both ends of the floor.
This game will be a close, thanks to the Bulldogs’ defense as they try to make a case for NCAA March Madness. Howland’s squad will try to do better than the 41.2% shooting from 3-point range it allowed Alabama to have in the previous meeting, an 81-73 Crimson Tide win.
In that game, it was the Bulldogs who struggled from long range, hitting just 28.6%, as Stewart and Molinar shot a combined 14-40 from the field. Look for better results on both ends for MSU in this one.
Mississippi State might not win this one outright, but we like it to at least cover the spread. When making your college basketball picks, take the underdog Bulldogs to keep it close.