Blue is a much better color on you, Twany.
Wednesday night, John Calipari and his Cats will play host to the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Whereas recent seasons have seen Kentucky and Mississippi State play fiercely competitive games, this season looks to be drastically different as the Bulldogs are a complete disaster. Of course, there was nothing first year head coach, Rick Ray, could do about their futility. He inherited a team with limited scholarships and was then promptly struck with a severe case of the injury bug. Because of this, the Bulldogs are moving into rare territory for all the wrong reasons; they’re on a 12-game losing skid, have zero wins against Kenpom top-100 opponents, and are being defeated by an average margin of 10 points per game against awful competition. Even though Mississippi State was twice victorious in SEC play, they’ll in all likelihood go down as the worst team in SEC history during the modern era. Though they shouldn’t pose much of a threat tomorrow night, here’s what to watch for.
The Bulldogs happen to be one of the nation’s youngest teams, ranking 329th nationally in team experience according to Kenpom.com. Much like their team make up would suggest, they’re led by 6-foot-3 freshman guard, Craig Sword.
Sword, who hails from Montgomery, Alabama, is currently averaging 9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. He’s also one of the conference’s best freshman ball-hawks, forcing opponent turnovers 1.5 times per game. However, this is where things start to get ugly. Sword may nearly average double figures in scoring, but it takes him an extraordinary amount of possessions to get there. He’s currently connecting on 17% of threes, 45% of twos, and 56% of attempts from the charity stripe. Adding insult to injury, Sword also turns the ball over nearly four times per game. Their team offense isn’t much stronger. As it currently stands, the Bulldogs rank 318th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to Kenpom.com. For those wondering, that’s the worst offense in SEC history since efficiency metrics have been monitored (starting in 2003). Mississippi State can’t shoot; connecting on 27% of threes and 46% of twos. They also have a severe turnover problem, losing the ball on 25% of total possessions (342nd nationally).
While Rick Ray’s squad has supreme trouble scoring, their defense isn’t nearly as bad. Of course, that’s a relative term as the Bulldogs currently rank 166th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. They may not be much above the D-1 average, but I’m sure they’ll accept it given their extreme level of offensive futility. The bread and butter of their defense comes via the turnover. They’re currently forcing opponents to lose the ball on 23% of possessions, placing them 48th nationally. While four players average over 1.2 steals per game, the brunt of the pressure is brought by Fred Thomas and Craig Sword who respectively average 1.7 and 1.5 per game. In recent losses to Tennessee and Florida, turnovers were a major pitfall for Kentucky. Both contests saw the Cats lose possession over 23% of the time. Not to mention, other defeats and close victories this season have been the direct result of a high turnover rate. Admittedly, Mississippi State is probably too poor in other areas to capitalize on turnovers, but they can keep the game closer than anticipated by pressuring Kentucky’s guards.
Despite the opposition being one of the worst teams in SEC history, tomorrow night’s game remains highly important for Kentucky. While this match-up certainly won’t boost our strength of schedule, it allows us the opportunity to break the 20-win barrier, something highly important for bubble teams. Of course, taking a loss against a team with the resume of Mississippi State would be a likely death blow to Kentucky’s tournament hopes. However, that’s highly improbable as Rick Ray’s squad is rated lower than Eastern Michigan, Portland, Lafayette, and Morehead State (KenPom). Given this, it’s no surprise that Vegas and numerous computer systems have Kentucky as heavy favorites.