Louisville head coach Chris Mack shouts instructions to his team during an NCAA college basketball intrasquad scrimmage in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

The Louisville Cardinals (3-1) play their first game outside of the KFC Yum! Center when they face another undefeated squad in the Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-0) on Thanksgiving as part of the first-ever Baha Mar Hoops event from The Bahamas. Tip off is set for 9:30 pm ET. The winner of Thursday’s game will face the winner of the Maryland-Richmond tilt on Saturday.

Team Moneyline Spread Total
Louisville TBD +1.5 (-115) Over 132.5 (-110)
Mississippi State TBD -1.5 (-105) Under 132.5 (-110)

Odds as of November 24th, 2021, at DraftKings.

Head coach Chris Mack’s club got a go-ahead 3-pointer by Noah Locke with 1:17 remaining  against the Titans Saturday and forced a couple of late turnovers to squeak out the six-point win. Locke is the team’s leading scorer at 16.0 points per game, with no one else on the roster averaging double-figures. As for Ben Howland’s Bulldogs, Iverson Molinar had a game-high in 15 points against the Eagles. The junior guard is part of a quartet of players averaging double-digits, leading the way with 15.8 points. He’s also dished out a team-high 5.3 assists per game.

Now, Mississippi State is a slight favorite Thursday and are favored by KenPom to win 67-66.

Big Dance or Bust?

Following a COVID and injury-riddled season that left the Cardinals out of the Big Dance for the third time in the last five NCAA Tournaments, Mack reportedly went verbal scorched earth on his players and threatened to pull scholarships. As part of an effort to put last year’s 13-7 debacle behind them, Mack brought in seven fresh faces to the mix, including three transfers, two freshman and two JUCO players. This group of Redbirds have wins over inferior opponents and an 80-72 overtime loss to Furman.

Thursday’s game begins a three-game stretch for Louisville that will say a lot about where this team is headed. After Mississippi State, UL plays at Michigan State and at North Carolina State.

With Florida transfer Locke being the primary ball-handler, he can double as secondary creators.  His backup, Marshall transfer Jarrod West,  flour in the Thundering Herd’s NASCAR-paced offense lasts season. Joining the backcourt quarterbacks will be Miami (FL) transfer and stretch forward Matt Cross, former four-star prospect Jae’Lyn Withers and Samuell Williamson. The latter two had solid finishes to what had been rough seasons.

The  Cards’ frontcourt issues could be exposed Thursday. Louisville has an offensive rebounding percentage ranked 205th by KenPom and the roster has an average height of 6-foot-5, which ranks them 158th. The team’s defensive adjusted efficiency is ranked 38th, though and might very well keep this one close.

Who Let the (Bull)dogs Out?

It’s hard to say what type of product Mississippi State will display on Thanksgiving as it channels the Baha Men in Nassau. Howland brought in a lot of talent this offseason, adding size and some prominent *names* in the college hoops world. As a result, the Bulldogs have become a trendy sleeper pick in the SEC.

Those defensive stats are staples of their head coach, and putting the clamps down starts up front. UNC transfer Garrison Brooks gives Howland a legitimate presence in the paint and is averaging 11.5 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game so far. Former Alabama transfer Javian Davis-Fleming is also still in Starkville and provides depth, while incoming freshman Keshawn Murphy is a physical specimen. Mississippi State ranked 10th and 4th in offensive rebounding rate the last two years and ranks 25th so far in the 2021-22 slate.

The Bulldogs’ defensive prowess continues with DJ Jeffries and Shakeel Moore. The transfers reinforce what the Bulldogs want to do on the wing and in the backcourt, respectively. Jeffries’ versatility gives Howland a ton of flexibility and Moore’s ferocity as an on-ball defender allows him to “cut the head off the snake” against teams heavily reliant on point guard creation.

If MSU can continue its hot-shooting from distance (the Bulldogs are currently the third-ranked team in the land in 3-point percentage), Louisville could be in trouble.

The Pick

While Locke is the only Cardinal scoring in double-figures, there are six players averaging between seven-and-ten points per contest. Here-in lies a possible advantage Thursday: depth. Mack’s best teams have always leaned on a strong bench, which was essentially non-existent last season. If players like Williamson, Withers and Dre Davis can step up in paradise, Louisville is certainly capable of picking up a victory.

Adding a big name like Brooks has intrigued many who follow the game, but Jeffries and Moore may actually prove to be more valuable. If Mississippi State can build an identity around a fearsome defense — which the Bulldogs have done so far — they could rise up the SEC standings and eventually become an at-large team.

With their early 3-point success seemingly unsustainable, I like the under in this spot.

Pick: Under 132.5 (-110)

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