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. All three return for Ben Howland and are leading an extremely experienced Mississippi State team. 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 fifth in the SEC at 16.6 points per game, to go along with 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.3 steals, while shooting 32.7% of his threes. Quinndary’s little brother, Nick Weatherspoon, starts at the two guard position for the Bulldogs. The sophomore gives Mississippi State 10.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 steals per contest. He can fill it up from deep, hitting 46.3% of his attempted threes this season, good for third 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 13.4 points, dishing out a fifth in the SEC 5.8 assists, and swiping 1.2 steals per game. He’s made the third most threes in the SEC this season, and is hitting 41.5% 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 Auburn 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 over nine of them per game, both of which are good for second in the SEC. The Wildcats did a nice job of defending the three-point line for stretches in the Auburn game, but there were some times that breakdowns were evident. Several fouls on jump shooters, as well as letting Bryce Brown get red-hot in the second half almost cost them the game. If Kentucky can run these guards off the perimeter, and force tough twos rather than open threes, then tonight should be no problem. However, that won’t be any easy task. Strong defensive efforts from Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson will be key to stopping the three-point barrage from the Bulldogs.
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 only putting up 6 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks against Kentucky last season, the senior is a difference maker for the Bulldogs. Standing at 6’10” and 225 pounds, Holman is averaging 12.4 points, is fourth in the SEC in rebounding at 8.1, and is second in the SEC in blocks at 2.2 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 44.3% 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 on Holman to stop him from taking advantage of his unique skillset tonight.
4. So far this season, Mississippi State has put up a 14-3 record and come into tonight ranked as the 22nd best team in the country. The Bulldogs raced out to a 12-1 record to start the season, riding a nine game win streak into conference play. Unfortunately for Ben Howland’s squad, they dropped their first two games against SEC opponents, one at South Carolina in overtime and the other at home against in-state rival Ole Miss. After back to back wins, Mississippi State is ready to take on another big game and Kentucky is that win to get them back to making some noise in the Southeastern Conference. Tonight begins a brutal stretch for the Bulldogs as, including tonight’s game, they play a ranked team in five of their next six games. This stretch comes to end with another match up against the Cats, this time in Starkville, on February 9th.
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 11-0 in Calipari era against the Bulldogs, most of the games were close. In fact, 7 of the 11 wins over Mississippi State have been by 10 points or less and two have gone to overtime. On top of that, tonight will be only the 4th time in Calipari era that UK has played back to back ranked regular season opponents. Everyone knows that College Gameday is coming to Lexington on Saturday for the Kansas game, so taking tonight’s game in focus will be important to avoid the classic college basketball trap game. The Bulldogs aren’t some pushover team, so the Cats should be ramped up and ready to go come game time.
Go Cats. Beat Bulldogs.