So let’s just lay it all out there. Last week was one of the worst weeks for Kentucky Wildcats basketball in a long time. Back to back losses to SEC teams that the Cats should’ve beaten, coupled with the Zion Williamson announcement of his future as a Duke Blue Devil made for a brutal weekend. Kentucky has now lost 3 of their last 5 games in this January slump, but fingers crossed that the Cats are leaving that in the past and moving forward starting with Mississippi State tonight.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs come to Lexington as they go through a similar stretch as Kentucky. The Bulldogs have lost four of their last five games, bringing their overall record to 14-5 on the year. Ben Howland is in his third season in Starkville, and is having his best season to date as the Bulldogs have their sights set on their first NCAA Tournament berth in his tenure.
Let’s take a look at the probable starting lineup for the Bulldogs tonight:
#11 Quinndary Weatherspoon, Junior Guard, 6’4″
Quinndary Weatherspoon is now in his third year as a starter for Coach Ben Howland. He was named to the Second Team All-SEC last season, and was on the same team in the preseason this year. Last year against the Cats, he finished with 15 points and 4 steals in a losing effort.
This year, Weatherspoon has continued his role as the largest contributor on the team, but the scoring has become a bit more balanced since he averaged about 17 points per game last year. He leads the team in scoring at 14.5, assists at 4.1, and steals at 1.5. He’s also pulling down 5.8 rebounds per game. The scoring guard is shooting 31.4% from the three point line this season.
Despite being the bigger of the two guards in the starting lineup, Weatherspoon is the primary ball handler for the Bulldogs. He leads the offense and has the ability to make plays for himself and for his teammates. I think if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to start in place of Quade Green, then he matches up with Quinndary here.
#35 Aric Holman, Junior Forward, 6’10”
Aric Holman is a native of Owensboro, Kentucky, where he attended Owensboro High School. He started all of last season for the Bulldogs, while being a presence in the post. Holman actually picked Mississippi State coming out of high school over Northern Kentucky University, and the Norse have been to one NCAA Tourney since then, whereas Mississippi State has not.
The junior Kentucky native has developed a lot more to his game this season than he has shown in the past. He’s currently averaging 12.1 points, a team leading 7.3 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. He developed a stronger perimeter game this offseason and has made 53.3% of his three balls on the year, compared to the 24.5% he shot last season.
Holman has turned himself into a legit stretch four for the Bulldogs and he will be a chore for PJ Washington to control. Holman has the size advantage over Washington, and his ability to work on both the perimeter and the post makes him tough to match up with. Washington may also struggle to score over him on the offensive end.
#0 Nick Weatherspoon, Freshman Guard, 6’2″
Nick Weatherspoon is starting as a true freshman under Ben Howland, alongside his older brother Quinndary. Weatherspoon was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, as a top-40 player and rated with 4-stars. He was the top ranked player out of the state of Massachusetts.
The freshman has played second fiddle to his brother in the backcourt, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up solid numbers of his own. He’s averaging 10.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He’s struggled early getting his perimeter game to fall, shooting only 29.6% from three on the season.
As I mentioned earlier with how the Cats may defend Quinndary Weatherspoon, the other starting guard for the Cats should be guarding Nick. Hamidou Diallo matching up with the player that has the ball in his hands less would make more sense here, but we also don’t know what role Quade Green will play tonight either, so time will tell.
#23 Tyson Carter, Sophomore Guard, 6’4″
Tyson Carter started just 12 games last season, but has already eclipsed that mark, starting 16 of the first 19 this year. He saw only seven minutes of action last season in Mississippi State’s loss to Kentucky, getting a rebound and an assist, but failed to attempt a shot. His father was an All-SEC and honorable mention All-American player for Mississippi State from 1988 to 1991.
The sophomore has seen a jump in production this year with the increase in playing time. He’s now giving Ben Howland 9.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. His three point shooting has fallen off this year, hitting only 30.4% compared to last year’s 36.1%.
A third guard in the starting lineup, Carter measures in at 6’4″ and 165 pounds, meaning that he will give up 5 inches and 50 pounds to Kentucky’s Kevin Knox. Knox has had the tendency to disappear in games, including the Florida loss. If he doesn’t take advantage of this match up, it may be time to accept that Knox won’t be the scorer Kentucky needs in March.
#24 Abdul Ado, Freshman Forward, 6’11”
Abdul Ado is the second freshman in the starting lineup for Ben Howland. Nick Weatherspoon is a true freshman, whereas Ado did take a redshirt year last season. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Ado played his high school basketball for Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The freshman is definitely raw and needs developing into his size, but the potential is there. He’s giving the Bulldogs 7.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. He’s fifth in the SEC and leads the team with 2.1 blocks per contest. His free throw shooting is a project, as he’s hit only 43.4% of them on the season.
At 6’11” and 250 pounds, Ado has the body type that is comparable to that of Kentucky starting center Nick Richards. I thought Richards played a good game against Florida, finishing with 8 points and 9 rebounds, to go along with 2 blocks and zero fouls. Crazy thought that Richards could impact a game when he’s not picking up immediate fouls.
Go Cats. Beat Bulldogs.