Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Mississippi St. Bulldogs in Rupp Arena. At the beginning of the year, this was expected to be a game with SEC regular-season championship ramifications. Instead, it pits a team experiencing great turmoil in Mississippi State against a Kentucky team that is talented, but has been able to win only once on the road during the conference schedule, and as a result, is languishing somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The SEC standings and season comparison between the two teams are as follows:
|W-L Splits:||Kentucky||Mississippi St.|
|South Carolina||13-10||4-6||RPI 101-150||3-0||1.0||1-2||0.333|
The Bulldogs just suffered a rather humiliating loss to the conference doormat Auburn Tigers on the road Saturday in a game which saw the Tigers erase an 18-point deficit midway through the second half to come back and win by 3 points. That result left MSU tied with the Wildcats in conference at 5-5.
Kentucky suffered their sixth road defeat of the year versus the Vanderbilt Commodores, yet another close game away from home that the Wildcats failed to find a way to win. Subsequently, the team got together for a team only meeting (something that Coach Cal is apparently not a believer in) in an effort to clear the air and figure out where they have gone wrong. Tonight will put the utility of that meeting to the test.
Mississippi St. Bulldogs Basketball Roster
|Kodi Augustus||24||F||Starter, leading OR,
|Elgin Bailey||45||F||Thrown off team
|Twany Beckham||4||G||Left team, transfer to Kentucky
|Riley Benock||15||G||Starter, 44% 3pt shoter
|Brandon Bolen||33||G||Minor reserve
|Dee Bost||3||G||Starter, leading scorer, leading assist, lead steals
|Brian Bryant||22||G||Major reserve
|Ravern Johnson||2||G||Starter returning from suspension, 2nd leading scorer
|Wendell Lewis||30||C||Major reserve
|Taylor Luczak||20||F||Rarely plays
|Arnett Moultrie||23||F||Transfer from TAMU -- Year in residence
|Charles Parker||12||G||Rarely plays
|Baxter Price||21||G||Rarely plays
|John Riek||50||F||Minor reserve
|Renardo Sidney||1||F||Starter, leading rebounder, 50% from the field
|Jalen Steele||-||G||Starter (in place of Johnson), usually major reserve
As you can see, this season has been one big mess for the Bulldogs as Elgin Bailey and Renardo Sidney got into a fight in the stands at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu earlier this year, and Bailey was dismissed from the team. Twany Beckham became dissatisfied with playing time and has transferred to Kentucky in a preferred walk-on status. He will be eligible to play the second semester of next year if he is good enough to make the team.
Combine that with Rick Stansbury's coddling of Renardo Sidney and the angry Twitter outburst by Ravern Johnson that led to a two-game suspension, stir in the far-worse-than-expected season, and Stansbury finds himself very much on the hot seat at MSU. If he survives after this year's debacle, which right now looks very much in doubt, he'd better find a way to deliver at least an NCAA bid next year.
For Kentucky, Darius Miller injured his groin against Vanderbilt on Saturday and is doubtful for the game today.
For the Bulldogs, Taylor Luczak is suffering from an upper respiratory infection and is questionable for tonight. Ravern Johnson is expected to play tonight after being suspended for the last two games.
Four Factors Analysis
Kentucky has the advantage in all of the Four Factors between these two teams. Mississippi St. is still a decent-shooting ball club that can make the three and has a major inside presence in Renardo Sidney.
Overall Game Analysis
This MSU team can only go as far as Bost, Sidney and Johnson can take them. Bost has been playing well and Sidney has been improving game by game as his conditioning gets better. He is a major talent and a dangerous post player. If Ravern Johnson is back, he can be a major problem, as he is a proven three-point shooter as well as being a skilled and athletic wing.
Make no mistake, the Bulldogs have some players. Riley Benock is a very dangerous shooter if left open, and virtually all of the MSU wings and guards can shoot the three if left alone. Sidney will be very tough for Josh Harrellson to defend, and only the comfy confines of Rupp Arena make me believe that Kentucky is in a real position of strength here. If this game were in Starkville, I'd be sweating bullets right now.
Mississippi St. has rarely played well as a team this year, and chemistry as well as outright player hostility has made them unsuccessful all out of proportion to their talent. The main worry is that they could suddenly put all that aside any fine moment and become a major concern for everybody left on their schedule. Let's just hope that tonight is not the night they decide that teamwork is the best way to win.
Kentucky has relatively few matchup advantages outside of Terrance Jones and DeAndre Liggins in this game. With Miller likely out, Kentucky will be forced to do a lot of things they haven't had to do before. That could be a good thing, nodding to the possibility that any change from what has been happening lately can only be for the good, but things have not really been going bad at all in Rupp Arena, and therefore that maxim would seem not to apply.
I do expect to see the zone or a junk defense again from Calipari this game due to the short rotation and to help protect Harrellson from fouling out against Sidney. How much we'll see probably depends on how well the Bulldogs shoot the ball from the perimeter, and how successful Kentucky can be in avoiding foul trouble.
Darius Miller missing from the lineup makes this game a very dangerous one for Kentucky, and MSU matches up better with UK than several other teams that have beaten the Wildcats on the road.