No. 19 Tennessee Volunteers (21-7, 11-5) @ Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-8, 9-7)
The race to the finish line is as tight as ever in the SEC. With two games remaining on the conference schedule, the Tennessee Volunteers have an opportunity to win the regular season championship. They are a game in back of the Auburn Tigers. The Volunteers are also two games in front of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and three other SEC foes that are tied for third place. That’s one of the reasons why Tuesday’s matchup is such a big deal.
According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Bulldogs are on the First Four Out line. Meaning, as great as the SEC is perceived to be, one of their best teams isn’t a lock to get into the Field of 68. Currently, the SEC is projected to get eight bids in the NCAA Tournament. Yet, the Bulldogs are possibly on the outside looking in for one reason. Their one point loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores on the road is weighing them down. Moreover, the Bulldogs have a 62 RPI despite beating the Texas A&M Aggies during this three-game winning streak. A fourth straight win over the Volunteers won’t make the Bulldogs a lock, but it will give them another strong win this season. The Bulldogs are (3-6) in Quadrant I games.
Meanwhile, the Volunteers are (6-7) in Quadrant I games. Yet, the have the No. 12 RPI. They have won two straight games over the Florida Gators and Ole Miss Rebels. Overall, the Volunteers are (9-5) in road games. More importantly, the Volunteers are (4-4) in SEC road games. This is their last chance to get a resume building road win this season. Even with all of their setbacks, the Volunteers are projected to be a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs have seven players averaging between 6.8 points and 14.7 points per game. Quinndary Weatherspoon (14.7 points) and Nick Weatherspoon (11.1 points) lead the way. The Weatherspoon brothers also combine for 9 rebounds and 6 assists in the starting backcourt. They aren’t great shooters, but each player has the ability to get to the hoop. Overall, the Bulldogs make 6.6 3-pointers per game in conference play. As a result, they are only scoring 73 points against SEC competition. However, the Bulldogs can play dominant defense at certain points. They are limiting opponents to 70 points per game. There’s not much margin for error, but this is a better spot than many thought the Bulldogs would be in heading towards March.
Meanwhile, the Volunteers have two of the best forwards in the SEC. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield have continued to shine during the 2017 season. Williams leads the Volunteers with 15.6 points per game and 5.9 rebounds. Schofield is scoring 12.8 points, while grabbing a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game.
When the Volunteers are on their game they are sharing the ball extremely well. They lead the SEC with 15.1 assists per game. The Bulldogs are No. 4 in the SEC with 13 assists per game.
If Tennessee wants to show that they are a legitimate Final Four contender, they should win games like this. It’s the perfect chance to maybe win the SEC and even rise to a No. 2 seed on Selection Sunday. However, the Volunteers have one six-game winning streak this season. Chances are they will lose at least one time before Selection Sunday. And this is their most difficult game.
Score Prediction- Mississippi State 75 – Tennessee 71