The Bulldogs and Flames come into this tournament on opposite notes. Mississippi State has lost three of its last five while Liberty has won 10 of its last 11, including three wins in the Atlantic Sun Tournament.
Date/Time: Friday, March 22, 7:27 PM ET
kenpom.com projection: Mississippi State def. Liberty 71-65
Betting Line: Mississippi State -6.5 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)
No. 5 seed Mississippi State
Coach: Ben Howland
Record: 23-10 (10-8)
Conference tournament finish: Lost in quarterfinals
Player to Watch: Quinndary Weatherspoon
The Bulldogs had a nine-game winning streak to take a 12-1 record into conference play, but played roughly .500 basketball the rest of the way. There is plenty of talent on the roster as Weatherspoon is averaging 18.2 points per game, but the Bulldogs only have two additional players hitting double figures.
The Bulldogs do bring the 14th best offensive efficiency into the tournament, according to kenpom.com. The question will be whether the team can put everything together.
If the supporting cast can boost its production, Mississippi State has the talent and depth to tangle with anybody in the field. The Bulldogs have experience with two seniors and six juniors, giving them an edge against some younger teams.
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No. 12 seed Liberty
Coach: Ritchie McKay
Record: 28-6 (14-2)
Conference tournament finish: Won Atlantic Sun
Player to Watch: Scottie James
The Flames come into the dance on a hot streak. They’ve won 10 of their last 11, including the conference tournament. James has led the way this season, averaging 13.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Liberty has three players with serious shooting chops; Lovell Cabbil Jr., Elijah Cuffee and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz. All three shoot better than 42 percent from 3-point range. With James patrolling the paint, the Flames can develop a solid inside-outside attack.
Liberty comes into the contest averaging 24 attempts from deep per game. If the Flames exceed that number and convert at their regular clip, the Bulldogs could be in trouble.
Liberty beat tournament-bound Georgia State in the non-conference slate and also has a road win against a talented UCLA squad. The Flames also have two wins over Lipscomb, who ranked 49th in the NET rankings.