Utah vs. Mississippi State Odds
Wednesday’s tilt between Utah and Mississippi State, the final of the Fort Myers Tip-Off, is the epitome of what makes early-season college basketball so appealing.
The matchup features two power-conference teams with March Madness aspirations who are both fresh off of wins over other power-conference foes in the event’s semifinals.
For Utah, it’s a chance to really elevate its position nationally before starting Pac-12 play.
For Mississippi State, it’s the toughest test yet for a team with the makings of an at-large berth in its future.
Last season, in Craig Smith’s first year as head coach of the Utes, he led an inexperienced team through a rough Pac-12 schedule. The Utes dropped 10 straight, failing to win a game in the month of January.
There were some late-season games that could serve as optimism for this year, with the key cogs from that team back and joined by some talent via the transfer portal.
The most notable name is Branden Carlson, a now fourth-year player who posted 14 points and six rebounds per game last season.
Carlson is a 7-footer with 3-point range and has a major experience factor. Not only is this his fourth year playing college hoops, but his freshman year came after a two-year religious mission.
Adding two transfers — Mike Saunders Jr., a guard from Cincinnati, and Ben Carlson (no relation to Branden) from Wisconsin — should help round out a roster that has a better chance to compete this season.
To date, the Utes have looked solid, winning four of their first five, all against opponent inferiors.
Utah’s defense has been much improved, allowing the sixth-lowest effective field goal percentage in DI so far.
The offense, however, has managed to run cold at times, never more so than in the Utes’ loss to Sam Houston.
Wednesday marks the Utes’ real welcome to the season. Mississippi State is their first opponent ranked in KenPom’s top 100. Utah will need to get used to that — just eight of its final 27 games will come against teams currently outside of KenPom’s top 100.
Some programs won’t fire a coach when he has a bunch of his talented players set to return the following season. That has become less and less the case with returning players frequenting the transfer portal more often.
Mississippi State likely thought it’d see an exodus with a new coaching staff coming in. Former New Mexico State coach Chris Jans committed to the most underrated piece of the modern recruiting puzzle: keeping your own players with your program.
The top three scorers on Mississippi State’s roster last year who were eligible to return this season all did so, led by Tolu Smith.
As a junior last season, Smith pitched in 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. To start his senior season, he’s been a beast, averaging a double-double.
The Bulldogs have been most successful on the defensive end. Jans has always been a good coach in that regard, and now has SEC-level athletes to execute his scheme.
Mississippi State hasn’t allowed more than 55 points in a game yet this season and ranks eighth in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
Jans has the Bulldogs jumping into passing lanes, and it’s shown in the stats. Last season, Mississippi State’s season-high in steals was 13. The Bulldogs have matched or bested that number three times already this year and lead the nation in steal rate.
Utah vs. Mississippi State Betting Pick
With both of these teams making their way primarily on the defensive end early in the season, it’s tempting to jump on the under.
In a sleepy game the night before Thanksgiving, that’s certainly on my radar, though I think the opening number of 126 is about right.
I think even if the Bulldogs struggle to get their offense kicking, Utah really has no chance to score against this Mississippi State squad. The Bulldogs are a level above the Utes athletically, and Tolu Smith should have the answers when guarding Branden Carlson.
I think Mississippi State is too much for Utah, especially early on. I’m eyeing the first-half spread.