1. Potential SEC Player of the Year
While we’ve all been impressed with what Nick Richards has done this year, we all need to meet Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry. The 6’10”-250 pound sophomore is one of the top two or three potential SEC Players of the Year. Perry is fourth in the SEC in scoring at 17.2 points per game and is the conference leader in rebounding at 10 a game. Even more impressive is that Perry can score from all over the floor, shooting 75% from the free throw line and nearly 32% from three. On top of scoring and rebounding, he’s a solid defender with a steal and a block per game.
The partial good news for Kentucky is the very noticeable difference between Perry’s performances at home versus on the road. With this game being played at Rupp Arena, Perry’s averages decrease in almost every statistical category. He averages 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 blocks, 2.6 fouls, and 1.9 turnovers per game at home. Every single one is worse on the road, as he puts up 14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, 3.6 fouls, and 3.7 turnovers in games outside of Starkville. He’s certainly still no slouch on the road, but being manageable is better for Kentucky than being dominant.
2. Someone other than Nick Richards please box out and rebound
After the abysmal performance on the boards in the Auburn game on Saturday, Kentucky is met with an equally as impressive rebounding team tonight in Mississippi State. The Bulldogs pull down 13 offensive rebounds per game, which is 16th in the country. That number would be higher if Mississippi State took near as many shots as Auburn does per game. Ranking third in the nation, the Bulldogs rebound an impressive 37.4% of their own missed shots. This means that Mississippi State is either scoring or rebounding their own miss on nearly 67% of their total shot attempts.
The rebounding margin against another great rebounding team has to be better than the 42-28 performance Kentucky put up against Auburn on Saturday. Giving up 17 offensive rebounds is absolutely unacceptable when most of the rebounds come from simply not boxing out. It was clear to see on almost every offensive rebound given up. Richards did what he could, while being brought out of the lane to defend guards after switches on a lot of possessions, but the other forwards were very bad on the boards. Montgomery, Sestina, and Brooks combined for just 7 rebounds in 57 minutes, while Richards had 7 rebounds by himself. Those three have to get their act together for Kentucky to be able to avoid an upset bid tonight.
3. Winless against ranked opponents
Traveling to Rupp Arena tonight, Mississippi State will be playing just their third ranked opponent on the season. The Bulldogs are winless in their first two attempts at a ranked win this season. Sitting at an overall record of 14-7 this year, Ben Howland’s squad have two Quadrant 3 losses that hurt the résumé, one at home to Louisiana Tech and the other to New Mexico State on a neutral floor.
A bad loss here and there can be overcome on any schedule, especially since Mississippi State’s 42nd overall strength of schedule isn’t terrible. However, not having any good wins is definitely a problem. In six total Quadrant 1 games, the Bulldogs sit at just 1-5, with the lone win coming at Florida last week behind 27 points from Reggie Perry. On the road against Kentucky is easily the toughest game on the schedule this season for Mississippi State and presents a fantastic opportunity to boost the team sheet going into the last month of the regular season.
4. Same team, different jerseys
Pulling up the stats for Mississippi State, I realized that so many of their numbers line up extremely evenly with Kentucky’s numbers. If you put these two teams on paper and removed the team names, you’d struggle to tell which was Kentucky and which was Mississippi State. The biggest difference is Mississippi State’s ability to rebound the ball on the offensive glass and Kentucky’s defensive field goal percentage being right around top 20 in the country.
Kentucky scores 75 points per game, Mississippi State scores 73.6. Kentucky gives up 65.5 points per contest, Mississippi State gives up the exact same number. The Cats shoot 46% from the field, while the Bulldogs shoot 46.7%. UK grabs 38 rebounds per game, MSU pulls down 38.6. Kentucky dishes out 14.2 assists on average, with Mississippi State getting 13.5. Blocks and steals are extremely close as well, with the Cats blocking 5.1 and stealing 5, while the Dogs block 5 and steal 5.9. The team stats put this game close, which is when overall talent should take over.
5. Still trying to beat Cal
Since John Calipari took over in Lexington in the 2009-10 season, Mississippi State sits with an overall record of 0-14 against Kentucky. There have certainly been close calls on the road to 14 straight wins for Kentucky, including two overtime games and eight total games decided by 10 points or less. With how lethargic the Cats have come out in Rupp recently, Mississippi State has a chance to get on the board against Cal for the first time.
Playing to your competition is great when the opposition is a marquee opponent, but doesn’t look so great when you’re losing at home to Vanderbilt at halftime. Kentucky needs to get over that attitude and learn to get up for each and every match up. The Cats sport a 6.5 point spread advantage going into tonight’s game as they try to improve on the 90-18 overall record that Kentucky has over Mississippi State all-time.
Go Cats. Beat Bulldogs.