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SEC Conference Final Preview

The SEC Tournament has unfolded according to script. The top seeds in both divisions have advanced to Sunday’s final: the Kentucky Wildcats from the East, and the Mississippi State Bulldogs from the West. But is this really a fair contest? The Wildcats (31-2 SU, 17-14 ATS) are the No. 2 team in the national polls and almost certain to take a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs (23-10 SU, 15-12-1 ATS) are on the bubble and might have to settle for the NIT, although they’ll be difficult to ignore if they beat Kentucky.

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The gap between these two teams isn’t as big as it looks. Although UK is once again an elite college basketball program with John Calipari at the helm, there is still some room for improvement. The Wildcats are only shooting 34.3 percent from behind the arc and 68.6 percent from the free-throw line. They also cough up the ball 20.5 percent of the time; the average turnover rate in Division I is 20.4 percent. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are the reigning SEC champions and have gone to the Big Dance six of the last eight seasons under coach Rick Stansbury. They were ranked No. 18 in the preseason polls, and although they haven’t played to that level thanks to injuries, the Bulldogs came very close to beating Kentucky last month, dropping an 81-75 overtime decision as 2.5-point home dogs. This has been a grueling SEC tourney for both teams, but Mississippi State is definitely running on fumes after beating the Florida Gators (+1.5) Friday night and the Vanderbilt Commodores (-1.5) Saturday afternoon.

The Bulldogs were visibly tired in the second half of Saturday’s contest and nearly let Vanderbilt erase a 15-point deficit before pulling away. Stansbury has a limited bench this year and a team that relies heavily on the 3-pointer; Mississippi State was just 6-of-22 from downtown against the ‘Dores. The UNDER had no trouble cashing in against the total of 143 points. Kentucky does its best defensive work inside, so the Bulldogs have a puncher’s chance of pulling off the upset on Sunday (1:00 p.m. ET, ABC). But it’ll be difficult to do on rubbery legs.