When thinking back to the first season that John Calipari was in Lexington, two of my favorite memories from that season include the DeMarcus Cousins “Call Me” dunk and the DeMarcus Cousins put back at the buzzer to send the SEC Tournament Championship to overtime. Both of those games were against Mississippi State and both went to overtime with UK narrowly escaping with victories.
Outside of those two games, Kentucky hasn’t struggled with Mississippi State too much as the next 7 victories came by an average margin of almost 15 points. Last year was the closest margin since those two overtime games, as the Cats took down the Bulldogs in Rupp Arena by the score of 80-74, behind Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and Isaiah Briscoe combining for 57 of the team’s points.
Mississippi State is in Ben Howland’s second season as head coach after going a disappointing 14-17 last year. The Bulldogs, holding a 12-4 record, host the Wildcats tonight in Starkville. Let’s take a look at the starting lineup as of late for Coach Howland.
#11 Quinndary Weatherspoon, Sophomore Guard, 6’4″
Quinndary Weatherspoon is the current reigning SEC Player of the Week. Last season, as a freshman, he started more than half of the games for the Bulldogs. Weatherspoon was the leading scorer for Ben Howland in SEC play, and the third leading scorer overall. His efforts were good enough to be named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
This season, Weatherspoon is leading the Bulldogs in scoring yet again. He’s averaging 17.9 points per game, good for fourth best in the conference. He’s also chipping in 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. He’s a knock down shooter, hitting 47.1% of his threes, good for 3rd best in the SEC, but can also get to the bucket and score as well.
Weatherspoon had 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in 22 minutes against the Cats last season. Look for him to draw the defensive attention of Isaiah Briscoe, as has been the case all season for the best scoring guard or small forward for opposing teams.
#35 Aric Holman, Sophomore Forward, 6’10”
Aric Holman is a second-year player out of Owensboro High School in Kentucky. He missed the first ten games of last season with a micro-fracture in his knee, and never really got going throughout the remainder of the season. He was a non-factor against Kentucky last year, playing less than 1 minute.
The sophomore is having a breakout season so far this year. He’s third on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game and is leading the team in rebounding and blocks, with 6.8 and 2.3 respectively. Holman’s height keeps him mostly in the post, but don’t put it past him to step out and take a jumper or two in tonight’s game. He’s taken 25 threes in 16 games this season, but has only made 7 of those attempts.
Despite being 6’10” and 222 pounds, Holman won’t be the biggest player on the floor for the Bulldogs tonight, and he’ll play at the four position. The Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis duo will take up defensive duties on Holman, as both of them have similar body types to the sophomore forward. I’m more interested to see how Holman will defend the athleticism that UK can throw at opponents. It will be something unlike anything the Bulldogs have seen this season.
#4 Mario Kegler, Freshman Forward, 6’7″
Mario Kegler is one of three freshman starters for Ben Howland this season. He was a top-50 player in the class of 2016 coming out of high school, and was the best player out of Mississippi that year. He was the second-leading scorer on an Oak Hill Academy team that went 45-1 his senior year, ending in a national championship victory in the DICKS Sporting Goods High School Nationals.
Kegler has started all but one game for the Bulldogs this year, and is putting up solid numbers for a first year player. He’s averaging 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds, while shooting 31% from behind the three point line. His game is stereotypical of most swing-men at the small forward type position.
Kegler will play the three spot for the Bulldogs, and will probably be guarded by Malik Monk for the Cats. Kegler is taller and weighs more than all three guards that Coach Cal starts, so defending him could present some issues. If a bigger body is necessary to guard Kegler, look for Briscoe to make the move over. However, I think Kegler will struggle with the speed and athleticism of UK’s guards for a lot of this game.
#1 Lamar Peters, Freshman Guard, 6’0″
Lamar Peters, the second of three freshman to start for Mississippi State this season, was a four-star prospect coming out of Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans. Peters has only started four games this season, but his contributions have been very solid for Ben Howland.
Peters is the second-leading scorer on the team at 10.4 points per game, to go along with 2.9 assists, 1.8 rebounds, and 1 steal per contest. He’s shooting well in his first season in Starkville, knocking downs 3’s at a 43.1% clip and his free throws at 84.6%. Something that may hurt Peters is how often he picks up fouls. He’s only played 14 of the 16 games this season and still leads the team in total fouls.
Playing in the true point guard spot for the Dogs, Peters will likely be matched up with De’Aaron Fox. Fox’s speed will likely be something Peters has never defended against before, so foul trouble could rear its ugly head if he tries to use physicality to stop Fox from driving around him.
#34 Schnider Herard, Freshman Center, 6’10”
Schnider Herard is yet another freshman starter for Mississippi State lately. He, like Lamar Peters, would be making his fifth start of the year tonight against the Wildcats. Herard was a top-100 player in the class of 2016, choosing MSU over Texas Tech and Kansas, among others.
Herard’s stats aren’t much, but he clogs up the lane with his size, which is why he’s out there in the starting lineup in the last few games for Coach Howland. He’s putting up 4.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Any fouls that his size advantage draw for him are often squandered, as he’s shooting only 55% from the charity stripe.
The freshman from Plano, Texas is 6’10” and 250 pounds, giving him similar measurements to Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo. Herard’s inexperience in defending someone with the combination of size and athleticism that Bam has could prove to be huge for the Cats. I think Bam has a big game offensively tonight, maybe even hitting the 20-point mark for the second time in his career.
The Bulldogs bring a 12-4 record into tonight’s game, with losses to UCF, Lehigh, East Tennessee State, and Alabama. Their best win is probably against Texas A&M, which isn’t saying much. One player to look at, who has been coming off the bench recently for Mississippi State is IJ Ready, who was a starter at the beginning of the season. Ready is one of the top scorers on the team at 10.1 points per game. He also is leading the team in assists with 5.1 assists per and steals with 2 per. He’s second in the SEC in assists per game, only behind Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. Ready is the lone senior on this roster, so look for him to play a lot of minutes to handle the pressure of Kentucky’s backcourt
Go Cats. Beat Bulldogs.