Wildcats having a block party

You know how when you look a bit ahead on a Top-10 NCAA basketball team’s schedule you can circle a game where you think said ranked team might get tripped up? Well, that’s what I did a week ago when planning ahead, circling Tuesday night’s No. 1 Kentucky at Mississippi State SEC showdown as a definite potential loss for the steamrolling Cats. Now I’m not so sure due to a key injury (more on that below).

UK is going to win the SEC regular-season title and it would clinch at least a share of that with a win here – the Cats lead the second-place Florida Gators by three games with each still having four to go. UF and Kentucky finish the regular season in Gainesville, but there’s no way UK loses twice more before then. MSU, meanwhile, was considered a dark horse SEC title team before the season but has been rather inconsistent and is now on or at least near the NCAA Tournament bubble – a win here would almost assure the Bulldogs of an at-large berth. And MSU tends to give Kentucky fits.

Betting Story lines

The Cats (26-1, 12-0) are No. 1 in the polls for the fifth straight week and they really show no signs of losing. UK won its 18th straight game Saturday by dispatching Ole Miss, 77-62, for Kentucky’s 50th straight win at home, by far the most in the nation.

What should be frightening for future opponents is that UK rolled by the Rebs with a fairly quiet game from National Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis. He did add four blocks to his national-leading total. The Wildcats lead the nation in blocked shots with 9.3 per game and have 250 on the year, which is 15th all-time on the NCAA single-season list.

Mississippi State (19-8, 6-6) has fallen to near-bubble status thanks to a three-game losing streak. They lost those first two each by exactly two points in overtime but then fell, 65-55, at Auburn on Saturday. The Bulldogs played without starting big man Renardo Sidney and it showed. MSU hit just 19-of-54 shots from the field (35.2 percent) and was outrebounded, 36-31.

And that’s the big injury for this one: Sidney. The guy is a knucklehead as his numerous off- court issues have been documented, but when he wants to play Sidney can be a major force. He sat due to back spasms and is being called a game-time decision. Sidney averages 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. Wendell Lewis replaced him in the starting lineup against Auburn. He scored three points, grabbed five rebounds and had two blocks.

Sidney is a big body who might have some success bullying UK’s rail-thin Davis. MSU is actually 3-1 in the four games Sidney has missed this season (all three wins nonconference), but it’s hard to see Mississippi State having much luck against Kentucky without Sidney coming up big (pun intended).

“It’s very obvious we need his big body out there, especially with our lack of depth,” MSU Coach Rick Stansbury said of Sidney. “That’s the thing. We missed him over there Saturday with just giving us another guy you can throw in the block who can score. We need that depth defensively in there, body-wise. It’s very obvious — against a Kentucky team, as talented as they are — you need everybody you can possibly get. We don’t just need his body, we need his body to play well for us to have any chance at all.”

How crucial is this one for the Bulldogs? MSU has lost four games or more in a row in the SEC only twice under Stansbury. Neither team — in 2000 and 2006 — reached the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State is just 1-5 in SEC road games and still has to visit Alabama and South Carolina up next, so this skid could grow to six without an upset Tuesday.

However, MSU usually plays Kentucky close. UK has won the past three, but two of those came in overtime (and MSU won the previous three before that). The last seven games between the two have been decided by nine points or less, with the average margin of victory being 4.9 points.

MSU is 14-2 at home this year and 2-1 overall against ranked teams – the loss came at Florida. Stansbury is 0-2 all-time vs. No. 1 teams in his coaching career and 1-8 against ranked Kentucky teams. Kentucky is the highest-ranked team MSU has played since losing in overtime to the No. 2-ranked Wildcats in the finals of the 2010 SEC Tournament

Betting Odds and Trends

Kentucky opened as a 9.5-point favorite with the total at 138 on NCAA basketball odds. UK is 10-15-1 ATS overall and 4-3 on road. MSU is 11-15 ATS overall and 6-10 at home. ‘Over/under’ records: UK 9-16-1, MSU 14-12.

UK has covered just two of its past 13 after an ATS loss. The Cats are 4-0 ATS in past four road games. MSU is just 1-6 ATS in past seven overall. The under is 10-1 in UK’s past 11 road games. The over is 4-1 in MSU’s past five at home vs. teams with a winning record. The underdog is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings.


This is the defining game of the season, hands down, for MSU and Humphrey Coliseum will be nuts. I think at worst with Sidney the Bulldogs keep it close — MSU’s tends to do that regardless as its margin of defeat or victory in its 12 SEC games has been 5.8 points. The magic number for the upset will be to score 68 points. UK is 71-1 under Coach John Calipari when holding the opponent to 67 points or fewer.

I expect Sidney to play and am taking MSU if he does. Like the under as well.

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