1. The starting backcourt for Mississippi State consists of a trio of double-digit scoring guards. In the Bulldog’s loss to Kentucky last season, the three combined for 38 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and two steals. Quinndary Weatherspoon is the tallest of the three guards, despite being only 6’4″, and is the best player on this MSU squad. The senior is second in the SEC at 18 points per game, to go along with 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 steals, while shooting 37% on his threes. He was the only Bulldog to play well in the first match up with Kentucky this season, finishing with 19 points. Quinndary’s little brother, Nick Weatherspoon, starts at the two guard position for the Bulldogs. The sophomore gives Mississippi State 10 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per contest. He can fill it up from deep, hitting 40% of his attempted threes this season, good for tenth in the SEC. Lastly, Lamar Peters runs point for the Bulldogs and he can absolutely fill it up. While the junior isn’t needed to score every possession due to Mississippi State’s balanced attack, he can go off on a moment’s notice. The New Orleans native is scoring 12.3 points, dishing out a fourth in the SEC 5.8 assists, and swiping 1.2 steals per game. He’s made the fourth most threes in the SEC this season, and is hitting 38.2% of his shots from behind the arc.
2. If you didn’t gather it from the stats of the starting guards listed above, Mississippi State is similar to the style Auburn plays in that they can live and die through the three-point shot. While not quite as willing to chuck from downtown as Auburn, Mississippi State does shoot a better percentage. The Bulldogs hit 38.3% of their threes, hitting almost nine of them per game, both of which are good for third in the SEC. The Wildcats did a nice job of defending the three-point line for stretches in the first game against Mississippi State at Rupp, holding the Bulldogs to just 3-20 from the perimeter. While that shooting is an anomaly for Mississippi State if Kentucky can run these guards off the perimeter, and force tough twos rather than open threes, then they could try to replicate it today. It won’t be an easy task to stop them from scoring at home, but all three starting guards need to play well defensively this afternoon to do so.
3. Part of the reason that Mississippi State has success shooting the three is that they start three small scoring guards along with two bigs. The second big has varied throughout the season this year, but Owensboro, Kentucky native Aric Holman has been the mainstay in the starting lineup as a stretch four. While putting up a poor stat line of 0 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 blocks, and 5 fouls against Kentucky in their loss at Rupp, the senior is a difference maker for the Bulldogs. Standing at 6’10” and 225 pounds, Holman is averaging 11 points, is seventh in the SEC in rebounding at 7.2, and is fourth in the SEC in blocks at 2 per game. On top of what Holman can do in the paint, on the defensive end, and on the boards, he can step outside and hit a mid-range jumper or even a three if needed. He’s shooting 41.2% from beyond the arc, with the second-most made threes on the team. Kentucky’s going to need a solid defensive effort from PJ Washington and Reid Travis on Holman to stop him from taking advantage of his unique skillset this afternoon. The two UK bigs gave him fits earlier this season, so I’m sure he’ll be out to prove a point today.
4. When Kentucky first played Mississippi State, they were sitting at a 14-3 record and were ranked as the 22nd best team in the country. Conference play has not been kind to the Bulldogs. After racing out to a 12-1 record to start the season and riding a nine game win streak into conference play, they’ve fallen off a bit and out of the top 25. Including the late January loss to Kentucky, the Bulldogs have dropped three of their last five games, and now sit at a 16-6 record. After an overtime loss to LSU on Tuesday, Mississippi State needs to get back to their winning ways to stay on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday. For Kentucky to win the SEC in the regular season, not dropping today’s game is crucial to save a spot for a potential loss at Tennessee.
5. In the time since John Calipari took over at Kentucky, Mississippi State has always been a team that played the Cats tough. Despite the fact that Kentucky is 1w-0 in Calipari era against the Bulldogs, most of the games were close. In fact, 7 of the 12 wins over Mississippi State have been by 10 points or less and two have gone to overtime. On top of that, Kentucky has been playing extremely well as of late, and a down game is bound to rear its ugly head at some point. Everyone has assumed that College Gameday is coming to Lexington next Saturday for the Tennessee game, so taking today’s game and Tuesday’s game in focus will be important to avoid the classic college basketball trap games. The Bulldogs aren’t some pushover team, despite Kentucky putting the hurt on them a few weeks back, so the Cats should be ramped up and ready to go come game time.
Go Cats. Beat Bulldogs.