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SEC Tourney Quarterfinals

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The SEC Tournament quarterfinals will tip off at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Friday in Nashville at the Bridgestone Center. Kentucky will have its legion of fans firmly behind it in what will truly amount to a home game in terms of crowd noise in favor of the beloved Wildcats, who face Alabama. Then Tennessee and Ole Miss will go at it in a game the Rebels absolutely have to have in order to be considered by the Selection Committee. Let’s take a look at these early games.

**Kentucky vs. Alabama**

--Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened Kentucky (29-2 straight up, 16-13 against the spread) as a 12-point favorite with a total of 134. However, as of late Thursday night, most books had UK favored by 9 1/2 with a total of 134 1/2.

--Alabama (17-14 SU, 13-13-2 ATS) advanced to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals by virtue of Thursday’s 68-63 comeback win over South Carolina as a two-point ‘chalk.’ The Crimson Tide trailed by 18 in the second half, only to rally to victory in stark contrast to the many leads they let get away during the regular season. Mikhail Torrance dropped in a team-high 17 points for the winners, while Justin Knox added 16 points and seven rebounds.

--Kentucky is the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2005. The Wildcats are also going to be a top seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. They have the Player of the Year candidate in Wall, who leads UK in scoring (16.9 points per game) assists (6.1 APG) and steals (1.8 per game). Most importantly, Wall has demonstrated a propensity for making a plethora of winning plays at crunch time.

--Anthony Grant’s team owns a 5-7-2 spread record in 14 games as an underdog.

--When these teams met at Rupp Arena on Feb. 9, UK won a 66-55 decision but the Tide took the cash as a 15-point underdog. John Wall scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Tony Mitchell had 13 points and seven boards for ‘Bama.

--The ‘under’ is 17-9-1 overall for the Tide, while UK has watched totals turn out as a wash (14-14 overall) for bettors.

--The SEC Network will have the telecast at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

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**Ole Miss vs. Tennessee**

--LVSC opened Tennessee (24-7 SU, 12-15-1 ATS) as a 2 1/2-point favorite, but the number was down to one at most books by late Thursday night. The total was 137.

--Although Tennessee is a lock for the NCAA Tournament and Ole Miss (21-9 SU, 16-9-1 ATS) is on the bubble, it was the Rebels who had the first-round bye and watched the Vols in action on Thursday. UT looked lethargic from the get-go and the overall play set the sport back several years. Nevertheless, Bruce Pearl’s team advanced by beating LSU 59-49, but the Tigers covered the number as 11 ½-point underdogs. Needless to day, the ‘under’ was an easy winner.

--Wayne Chism was one of UT’s few bright spots against LSU, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The win was the fourth straight for the Vols, but we should not their 3-6 ATS mark in their last nine outings.

--Ole Miss (SU, ATS) got nothing but good news for its at-large hopes Thursday. For starters, Memphis and UAB lost to most likely doom their NCAA hopes. Also, Cal stayed alive in the Pac-10 Tournament, while Kansas St. – which represents the Rebels best non-conference victory – destroyed Oklahoma St. in the Big 12 Tourney. These developments put Andy Kennedy’s team in better position for Selection Sunday, assuming of course, that it can knock off the Vols.

--Ole Miss has won four in a row both SU and ATS, including Saturday’s crucial comeback win at Arkansas by a 68-66 score. Chris Warren was the catalyst with 31 points, as the Rebels hooked up their backers as 1 ½-point favorites.

--When these schools collided in Knoxville back on Jan. 16. Tennessee prevailed in overtime by a 71-69 count. However, Ole Miss covered the spread as a seven-point underdog. Chism dominated in the lane, producing 26 points and 12 rebounds. Warren had a team-high 19 points in the losing effort, but he was just 5-for-18 from the field.

**Gators and Dawgs advance**

In all likelihood, Florida’s win over Auburn last night will put it in the NCAA Tournament field, especially when considering Thursday’s losses by bubble teams like Memphis, UAB and Arizona State. (Washington also was trailing by nine at halftime against Oregon St.)

The Gators took the cash against the Tigers in a 78-69 win as 5 ½-point favorites. They advance to face Mississippi St. tonight at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. There was no overnight line for this contest.

Alex Tyus was the catalyst for UF, which snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 21-11 overall. Tyus finished with 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting, while Chandler Parsons chipped in with 21 points.

Gamblers should take note of the Gators’ perfect record against SEC West schools this year. They knocked off Mississippi St. 69-62 as a three-point home favorite on Feb. 6. Vernon Macklin came out of nowhere to score 20 points in the lane against the NCAA’s all-time leading shot blocker, Jarvis Varnado, who had only one rejection on that day. Macklin has been a steady force offensively since emerging against the Bulldogs.

MSU sophomore point guard Dee Bost, who committed nine turnovers in the loss in Gainesville, has a hip injury that may slow him.

After last night's win over Auburn, one that likely will result in Jeff Lebo's dismissal, Billy Donovan told the Associated Press, “(Mississippi State is) a team that really has great speed, great athleticism. They really stretch you on defense because they do shoot the 3 from four different positions and they have a guy they can throw it inside to in (Jarvis) Varnado.”

Georgia ended a turbulent season for Arkansas sometime after midnight this morning. Trey Thompkins enjoyed a stellar performance, finishing with 23 points, 14 rebounds and six assists to lead UGA to a 77-64 win as a 1 ½-point underdog.

Mark Fox’s team will now face Vanderbilt. The Dawgs spanked the Commodores 72-58 in Athens and let a late lead get away in regulation at Vandy. Kevin Stallings’ squad eventually won 96-94 in overtime, but the Dawgs covered the spread while catching 12 points.

Friday Update at noon Eastern: Most books are listing Mississippi St. as a 1 1/2-point favorite against UF with the total in the 132-133 range. Also, most spots have Vandy favored by 7 1/2 over Georgia with a total of 141 1/2.

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

If you wish, you can follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.

  
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