East Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #5 Mississippi State vs. #12 Liberty

Date | AuthorAdmir Aljic

Last Updated: 2019-03-22

The Atlantic Sun Conference champions Liberty Flames will take on the SEC representative Mississippi State Bulldogs in the East Region First Round matchup at SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, California. The No. 5 seed Bulldogs qualified as one of the at-large teams and are listed as 6.5-point favorites here with the total at 133.5 points and the No. 12 seed Liberty Flames at +240 money line odds. These two schools meet each other for the first time ever.

The Liberty Flames shared the ASUN regional-season title with Lipscomb, recording 14 wins and two losses in the conference play, while they went 28-6 overall. The Flames defeated Jacksonville 72-58 in the quarterfinals of the ASUN championship tournament, North Florida 71-63 in the semifinals, and Lipscomb 74-68 in the finals to win the title and earn their place in the Big Dance. The Flames finished the regular season as a No. 58 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

Liberty is playing at the 3rd-slowest pace in the country, averaging just 63.1 possessions per 40 minutes. The Flames are scoring 108.4 points per 100 possessions (76th in the country) on 56.1 effective field goal percentage (10th) and 36.6% shooting from the field (62nd), allowing 99.8 points in a return (107th) on 48.7 effective field goal percentage (78th). Liberty’s strength of schedule was 270th in the country which could be a problem when the Flames meet the SEC team. The coach Ritchie McKay is mostly using eight players in the rotation, and the juniors Scottie James and Caleb Homesley are key players in his team. The forward Scottie James is averaging 13.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while the guard Caleb Homesley is adding 12.0 points, 5.5 boards, and 2.8 assists per contest.

The Flames will play in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in their history and are still looking for their first victory. In their previous appearance in 2013, the Flames lost to North Carolina A&T 73-72 in the First Four.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs finished the regular season at the 6th spot of the SEC standings with a 23-10 overall record and 10-8 in the conference play. They hammered Texas A&M 80-54 in the second round of the SEC championship tournament, but the Bulldogs were helpless against Tennessee in the quarterfinals, losing 83-76. It was their second defeat to the Volunteers this season, and the Bulldogs lost twice to Kentucky, too, but they still made it to the March Madness as a No. 19 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

The Bulldogs’ offensive rating is the 13th-best in the country, as they are tallying 116.6 points per 100 possessions on 54.6 effective field goal percentage (29thin the country) and 37.8% shooting from beyond the arc (33rd). On the other side, the Bulldogs are allowing 96.3 points in a return (52nd) on 50.1 effective field goal percentage (146th). Their strength of schedule was 29th in the country, and the Bulldogs have an experienced roster led by a couple of seniors. The SG Quinndary Weatherspoon is scoring 18.2 points per game on 50.9% shooting from the field and 39.8% from downtown, while the PG Lamar Peters is posting 11.7 points and 5.2 assists per contest.

Mississippi State will enter the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009 when they lost to the No. 4 seed Washington 71-58 in the first round. In ten involvements so far, the Bulldogs have recorded 11 wins and ten losses, reaching the Final Four in 1996. The Bulldogs have a 2-2 record in the first-round matchups taking the floor as a No. 5 seed.

Pick: Mississippi State Bulldogs -6.5

The Bulldogs have a well-balanced team that is executing offensively at a high level. Also, they are doing a great job on the glass all season long, and only their defense could be a problem against the Flames who are also playing well at the offensive end. Liberty will have to try to slow down the tempo if the Flames want to win this game, but I think they will struggle defensively, and on the glass, so I’m backing the Bulldogs to cover. Mississippi State is 7-3 ATS in its last ten outings, while the Bulldogs are 7-2 ATS in their last nine showings as favorites. Liberty is 3-6-1 ATS in its previous ten games overall.

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