After handling their business fairly easily on Tuesday night, the Cats return to action this afternoon to take on a talented Mississippi State team in Starkville. The Hump won’t have an empty seat in the house and it will be a rabid atmosphere even if Stark Vegas is not everyone’s cup of tea. The Wildcats rolled over Mississippi State a few weeks ago and will be looking to complete the season sweep with CBS on the call.
Despite being under .500 in SEC play, the Bulldogs are still sitting on a very quality resume. Ben Howland’s squad is better than their record and they will provide a legitimate challenge to Kentucky. The Bulldogs currently rank 25th in KenPom and 27th in the NET rankings. The Cats must be ready to play against a team in desperate need of a marquee victory.
Nuts and Bolts
The Bulldogs entered the season with a top-20 ranking and they’ve remained in the polls for the entire season until this week. That will turn into two weeks unranked without a victory today.
Mississippi State is fresh off their second overtime loss in conference play after LSU pulled off a second half comeback to defeat the Bulldogs in Starkville. Howland’s squad is now 4-5 in league play after going 12-1 against a very respectable non-conference slate. At the midway point of conference play, State is in danger of not posting a winning season for the fourth time in four years under Howland. However, they’re still a lock for the tournament at this point and would probably be a 7-seed.
In the 76-55 loss to Kentucky, the Bulldogs were ice cold and sloppy with the basketball. It was a recipe for disaster in their worst loss of the season. Every other defeat State has suffered this season has been by five points or less.
This will be the 108th meeting between the two long-time SEC programs with Kentucky owning a commanding 89-18 series lead over Mississippi State. John Calipari is 12-0 against State including five wins at Humphrey Coliseum. Mississippi State has not won in Starkville since Rick Stansbury’s Bulldogs knocked off Billy Gillispie’s Wildcats in 2008.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 4-point favorite with a total of 143.5. That’s a projected final scored around 74-70. Kentucky is 13-9 against the spread with seven consecutive covers. Mississippi State is 10-12 against the spread and 1-3 in SEC home games. The over is 8-2 in Mississippi State’s last 10 games while the under is 6-2 in Kentucky’s last eight games.
Quinndary Weatherspoon was a second team All-SEC member last season and the senior guard has been really good this season. In SEC Play, the Mississippi native is putting up 19.3 points per game and has really cranked up the production since the loss to Kentucky. In the last four games, Weatherspoon has scored exactly 27 points on three different outings. He’s a big time scorer and was the only Bulldog who showed up in Lexington.
The second most important player in the backcourt is junior point guard Lamar Peters and the lefty from New Orleans is currently in a bit of a slump. Peters went scoreless in Wednesday night’s loss to LSU where he was severely out played by Tremont Waters. In the blowout loss to Kentucky, he put up just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. The team’s second leading scorer is very streaky and State needs him to be on this afternoon.
Nick Weatherspoon is the third guard in the starting lineup and Quinndary’s younger brother is this team’s perimeter stopper on the defensive end. He’s a very good on ball defender, but he’s also an efficient offensive player. Tyson Carter comes off the bench and the junior gets buckets. The combo guard can get hot from three and is shooting just under 60 percent from two-point range. With him and Quinndary Weatherspoon both in the lineup the Bulldogs can be very dangerous on the offensive end.
Abdul Ado and Aric Holman start in the post for the Bulldogs and the two long bigs have been productive. Ado is your typical five-man who provides rim protection, but is limited offensively. Aric Holman is a stretch big who can step away from the basket, but can also get physical when required on the interior. The senior is shooting over 40 percent from three and is one of the best shot blockers in the SEC. Each is an important piece for this squad, but recently the story has been something else.
Reggie Perry was a blue-chip recruit out of the state of Mississippi and a huge win on the trail for Ben Howland. After easing his way in during the first few months of the season, Perry has become a huge part of the offense in the last couple of games and this has given State a true post threat.
Perry, a 6-foot-11 and 245-pound big, has put up consecutive double-doubles and is averaging 19.3 points per outing in the last three games. He has now played over 30 minutes for the first time in his career in consecutive games. Perry is becoming a legit post threat and is shooting 58 percent from two-point range. He has the chance to be a dominant rebounder in college and will get plenty of action against UK’s very good frontline.
Robert Woodard II is another freshman who comes off the bench for the Bulldogs and he’s played at least 12 minutes in seven consecutive games. After struggling early, the 6-foot-7 wing/big has seen his shot come alive in the last two weeks. Woodard is 5-0f-8 from three in his last four games and it’s easy to see that he is developing.
Keys to Victory
- Defense has been the story for UK during this win streak and they had their way with Mississippi State on that end of the floor in the last meeting. The Wildcats have been excellent everywhere on that end and it shows with UK being able to lock up some very good offenses. Heading into a game where an opponent is struggling a bit, UK will be facing a wounded animal today. In front of the sellout crowd, expect for UK to get State’s best shot. Kentucky must run the Bulldogs off the three-point line, keep them off the offensive glass, and make them make tough twos.
- In four of the last five games, we’ve seen P.J. Washington put up at least 20 points. The sophomore big has been playing at a really high level and he appears to be making a run at Grant Williams for SEC player of the year honors. He is a walking mismatch for most opposing defenses and Mississippi State is no different. Washington has the physicality to push around Abdul Ado and Aric Holman to go with the athletic ability and offensive polish to take advantage of Reggie Perry. UK will need his scoring punch to keep pace with a potentially high-flying offense from Mississippi State.
- Since dropping 23 points in a homecoming win at Georgia, we’ve seen Ashton Hagans score double-digits once in the last six games. This was following a stretch that saw him record double-digit scoring efforts in five straight games. For Kentucky to be at their best, they need some buckets from the point guard spot. This will be a good opportunity to break out of this scoring slump. The pace should be picked up and Mississippi State knows they need to score at a high rate to win this game. There will be transition opportunities and State is a bit small on the perimeter. It’s hard to envision Kentucky picking up another road win without Hagans picking up the production on the offensive end. In the last meeting, he only had five points but dished out nine assists. This is a good matchup for the freshman point guard.
- Looking for a wildcard? Immanuel Quickley is just 3-for-16 from three in the last eight games. He’s too good of a shooter for that to continue. Expect the reserve guard to break out in a big way very soon. Playing a team that gives up a lot of open looks on the perimeter could be the time.
Trip Down Memory Lane
The last time Kentucky played a Mississippi State team this good in Starkville was all the way back in 2004. The Bulldogs won 26 games that season behind Lawrence Bowers and it was easily the best team of the Rick Stansbury era. State went on to win their 10th SEC championship that season, but Kentucky got the best of them at The Hump on a Tuesday night in January.
Erik Daniels scooped up the loose ball and knocked in a lay-up as the clock hit zeroes. It was a huge road win for Kentucky and the Wildcats will look to pickup another one this afternoon.