Free Pick Breakdown, Odds & Prediction: March Madness - #10 Utah State vs. #7 Missouri - Taking Vegas



Free Pick Breakdown, Odds & Prediction: March Madness – #10 Utah State vs. #7 Missouri

By TakingVegas Staff Writer
March 16, 2023
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#10 Utah State Aggies vs #7 Missouri Tigers

Spread: Utah State -2
Moneyline: Utah State -122 / Missouri +108
Total: 156

Overview and Betting Info

The tenth-seeded Utah State Aggies (26-8) will meet the seventh-seeded Missouri Tigers (24-9) in a first round NCAA Tournament game on Thursday. The Aggies finished second in the Mountain West Conference, while Missouri finished fourth in the SEC. These teams did not meet in the regular season.

Utah State is 21-12 against the spread this season and have covered seven of their last eight games. They’ve gone over the total 20 times but have been under in six of their last ten games.

Missouri is 16-16-1 versus the spread and have covered three of their last five games. They’ve gone over the total 18 times, including in three of their last four games.

#10 Utah State Aggies

The Aggies lost their Mountain West Championship Final game against San Diego State but have still won seven of their last eight games. The last two were close, with the Aggies losing by less than six points in each. The good news is they finished the season by winning their final five games and then beating a good Boise State team on a neutral court. While they lost to the Aztecs in the final, the Aggies were within 3 points with nine seconds left.

Utah State had a soft non-conference schedule, with their biggest wins coming against Washington State and Sam Houston. They have been great on offense, ranking second in the Mountain West in scoring (78.6 PPG), third in field goal percentage (48.0%), first in three-point percentage (39.3% – 5th in NCAA), and first in assists (16.9 APG). The defense has struggled, ranking seventh in opponent scoring (69.7 PPG), fifth in field goal percentage (42.1%), fourth in three-point percentage (32.2%), and fourth in rebounds (35.6 RPG). The Aggies went 3-4 against tournament teams this season.

The Aggies are led by a trio of stars in Steven Ashworth (16.3 PPG, 4.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 44.3% 3PT, 87.8 FT), Taylor Funk (13.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 90.0% FT), and Max Shulga (12.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 82.6% FT). Ashworth is one of the best three-pointers in the country, though his numbers have dipped in the last two games (35% FG. He has struggled against great defenses but has just four games where he scored less than 10 points. Funk had an incredible start to the season, but his shot has been inconsistent in the second half. In his 20 games in 2023, he has made less than 40% of his shots nine times. That carried over into the Mountain West Tournament, as he went 4-15 in the final two games after going 10-16 in the first. The good news for the Aggies is that Funk has contributed when not scoring, with five blocks and 17 rebounds in their last two games. Shulga had a poor showing in the Mountain West Final, but he is still averaging 14.7 points over his previous eight games. Watch out for Dan Akin (12.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG), as the big man has at least eight rebounds in his last three games and is making 66.7% of his shots this season.

#7 Missouri Tigers

The Tigers had a strong season that placed them fourth in the SEC. They went 6-4 against ranked opponents this season and have impressive wins on their resume, including Illinois, Arkansas, and Tennessee (twice). One of those wins against the Vols came in the SEC tournament on a neutral court, which is an excellent sign for the Tigers this week. Even more impressive is that all but one of their losses came against tournament teams. That means the Tigers beat the teams they are supposed to, like Utah State. The Tigers were 7-8 against tournament teams this season.

The Tiger’s success has been predicated almost entirely on their offense. They are second in the SEC in scoring (79.5 PPG), second in field goal percentage (47.3%), first in three-point shooting (36.1%), second in assists (16.2 APG), and third in turnovers (11.3 TO/G). The defensive has been atrocious by ranking last in opponent scoring (74.6 PPG), twelfth in field goal percentage (44.5%), last in three-point percentage (35.4%), and tenth in blocks. The Tigers rely on their ability to create turnovers to stop teams, leading the conference in steals (10.3 SPG).

Missouri’s top players include Kobe Brown (15.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 55.2 FG%, 44.7% 3PT), D’Moi Hodge (14.8 PPG, 2.6 SPG, 40.1% 3PT), and DeAndre Gholston (10.7 PPG). Brown is their top-scoring threat and one of the country’s better shooters. He tends to occasionally disappear on offense, but he is constantly contributing rebounds and steals. Hodge is the hottest scorer on the team, averaging 20.4 points over their last five games. He also added 15 steals during that span. Hodge’s success has come from his red-hot three-point shot, making 44% of his attempts over his last ten games. Gholston is averaging 14 points over his previous five games, making over 50% of his shots in four of his last five games. He doesn’t add much in any other categories, so he needs to be scoring to contribute.

Free Pick: Missouri ML +108

We absolutely love the Tigers in this one. While these teams haven’t played, we have a bit of a preview from how the Aggies did against New Mexico. The Lobo’s stats are very similar to the Tigers, both on offense and defense. While Utah State won in both their meetings, they did so in a shootout. That won’t work against a Missouri team that put up 86 and 79 points in their two meetings with a Tennessee team that is third in the country in opponent scoring (58.0 PPG).

The other factor is Utah State’s trouble hanging on to the ball. They ranked towards the bottom of the Mountain West in turnovers, with more than 12 per game. That’s a big problem against Missouri, who is second in the country in steals. While the Aggies will get their points, those turnovers will fluster the Utah State guards and give Missouri the edge.

This is why we’re rolling with the Missouri moneyline on Thursday.