Mississippi college basketball head coach Andy Kennedy remains one of the most under-appreciated coaches in college basketball despite leading the Rebels to a 199-116 (.632) record over the last ten seasons. Under Kennedy’s leadership, the Rebels have one SEC Tournament championship, two SEC West championships, seven 20-win campaigns and seven postseason berths, which includes two NCAA Tournament appearances and a pair of trips to the NIT Final Four.
Kennedy is the all-time winningest coach in school history, but the locals never seem to be satisfied despite the fact the Rebels have averaged 21 wins during his tenure. On Tuesday, Kennedy will be seeking his 200th career victory as Mississippi’s head coach, and the players are focused on delivering that milestone for their respected coach. Mississippi leads the SEC in scoring over the last nine years under Kennedy, and the Rebels once again boast a potent attack led by senior guard Stan Moody.
Moody leads the SEC and ranks tenth nationally in scoring this season at 23.6 points per game. Moody also led the SEC and ranked seventh in the nation in free throw shooting last year (149-for-165; 90.7%), and currently sits third in the league this season with an 88.2% free throw percentage.
As a team, Mississippi leads the SEC and ranks 38th nationally with a .745 free throw percentage. The Rebels’ frontcourt is anchored by junior Sebastian Saiz, who leads the team in rebounding with 9.8 per game and is second in scoring with 12.4 points per game. Saiz led the Rebels in rebounding, blocked shots and field-goal percentage last season and is once again leading in all three categories in 2015.
Louisiana Tech has been one of the most successful mid-major programs under former head coach Mike White, but the Bulldogs enter the 2015-2016 campaign under new leadership following White’s departure to Florida. Eric Konkol takes over in Ruston, and the former assistant under Jim Larranaga got a late start due to the coaching carousal involving White and Billy Donovan.
Konkol had to replace three starters, including one of the best backcourts in Conference USA. Moreover, Louisiana Tech will be without third-leading scorer Qiydar Davis,who suffered an MCL injury and will be out four-to-six weeks. Davis was averaging 10.6 points in 23:26 minutes in the first seven games of the 2015-2016 campaign, while also pulling down 6.7 rebounds per game (second best on team).
Louisiana Tech will also without center Joniah White, who has been sidelined with a heart condition after averaging 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 points in 22:15 minutes in the first four games of the season. The loss of both Davis and White is significant for an already young and inexperienced squad. It also adversely affects the depth needed to play coach Konkol’s aggressive style that uses all 94 feet to defend. The Bulldogs have also been without returning junior Merrill Holden, a 6-8 forward who played sparingly last season but was a projected starter over the summer. Holden is out indefinitely with a hand injury, further depleting Konkol’s depth off the bench.
Since arriving in Oxford in 2006, Kennedy has compiled a 124-31 (.800) record in games played at Tad Smith Coliseum. Mississippi is a profitable 7-2 ATS in its last nine games versus Conference USA opponents and 12-5-1 ATS in its last eighteen games after failing to cover the spread, whereas the Bulldogs are 1-5 ATS in their last six games off an ATS win. Despite winning four straight entering tonight’s game, the Rebels remain undervalued by the betting market, easily covering the point spread in three of their last four games. Meanwhile, in its last road game on December 1, the Bulldogs suffered a 94-68 loss to Memphis as 4.5-point underdogs.
Louisiana Tech’s defense has been suspect away from home, yielding 78.3 points per game on 41.8% shooting from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs are also allowing 72.0 points over their last five games. Mississippi State is allowing 65.8 points per game on 40.3% shooting from the field to teams that would combine to average 69.6 points per game. More importantly, the Rebels are limiting foes to a mere 63.2 points over their last five games, which is significantly better than how Louisiana Tech’s defense has played over that span.
While Louisiana Tech possesses a very goof attack that is 8.6 points per game better than average (83.3 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 74.7 points per game), the Rebels are 37-16 ATS versus teams averaging 77+ points per game under coach Kennedy.
Kennedy is also 16-7 ATS versus up-tempo squads that are averaging 62+ shots per game and 33-16 ATS versus .801 or greater opposition during his tenure in Oxford. It’s also worth repeating that Louisiana Tech will be missing its third leading scorer and second-best rebounder tonight (Qiydar Davis; 10.6 points per game; 6.7 rebounds per game), along with center Joniah White (4.8 rebounds per game; 22:15 minutes per game).
Those absences forced coach Konkol to rely upon redshirt freshman Branden Sheppard to play 25:00 minutes against Louisiana-Lafayette last week. Prior to that game, Sheppard had played a total of 17 minutes in the Bulldogs’ previous five games. In that game, four Louisiana Tech players played 30-plus minutes, including 38 minutes for junior forward Erik McCee and 36 minutes for senior guard Alex Hamilton. Lay the points in this college basketball clash and invest with confidence.
Oskeim Sports’ Free College Basketball Preview & Best Bet: Mississippi (-6.5)