Kyle Wiltjer with a 3-goggle
For Whom The Cowbell Tolls is SB Nation's excellent Mississippi St. Bulldogs blog, and the site editor Mark thoughtfully asked me to do a Q&A with them about the upcoming game with the Kentucky Wildcats in Starkville tomorrow.
Obviously, this is a much bigger game for the Bulldogs than for Kentucky, primarily because the Bulldogs are on a 3-game slide, and a win against UK would really lift both their spirits and their seed, assuming (as we do) that they will be an at-large team at least in the NCAA tournament.
But that doesn't mean this game is meaningless for Kentucky. None of them are, and the Wildcats have seemingly treated every game as a big game, and the Bulldogs are possibly the most capable team in the SEC to defeat Kentucky at home, primarily because they are so athletic and match up so well with UK.
So with all that said, here is our Q&A with Mark of For Whom The Cowbell Tolls:
ASoB: Mississippi St. has suddenly hit a rough patch and dropped their last three games in a row, including two overtime losses. What's going on with the team right now?
FWTCT: Frankly, State fans are just as confused about the last 3 games as the rest of the country is. 3 games ago State was 19-5 and was expecting to be 22-5 heading into the big matchup with UK tonight. One week later here we sit at 19-8 and the feeling around the program couldn’t be more different than after that Ole Miss game. I think a lot of it has to do with depth or lack thereof. State’s Dee Bost, Rodney Hood and Arnett Moultrie are 1-2-3 in the SEC in minutes played per game, and I think that is starting to take a toll late in the year. The Georgia game I think was simply MSU overlooking UGA and credit to them, they came out and played like they wanted to win. The LSU and Auburn games? No clue what happened there. State led 30-13 against LSU in the first half and blew that lead. Really no words for that. Auburn is the same, I expected to win that one. No SEC road game is ever given, but it’s Auburn. Then again, we’ve always had trouble playing there.
ASoB: I notice Renardo Sidney was out for the Auburn game. What are his chances of playing against Kentucky? How important is it to your chance of victory that Sidney be available?
FWTCT: I think you’ll most likely see Sidney tonight. Renardo is all about the spotlight, and he knows playing Kentucky is a chance for the world to see him play. I am not questioning the severity of his back spasms, but something tells me he’ll feel much better going into tonight's Super Tuesday matchup on ESPN.
ASoB: Who has been the biggest surprise for the Bulldogs this year? Why?
FWTCT: To me the biggest surprise has been Arnett Moultrie. I think many of us knew he was talented and expected him to be a key contributor this season, but I don’t think I expected him to be nearly this good. He has been a beast in the low block, collecting 15 double doubles on the season. I think he’s like Jarvis Varnardo was for us several years ago, minus the shot blocking ability but with a better offensive game. Many of the NBA "mock" drafts have Arnett going early to mid first round, so this may be the only season we see him in Maroon and White. I hate that we’ll only get one year out of him, but we’ve been lucky to have that. Without Moultrie this year I think State is .500 at best.
ASoB: Mississippi St. has a recent history of frustration versus the Wildcats, which has prompted coach Stansbury to freak out more than once. Is this game likely to produce another controversy? How do think MSU fans view this matchup this year?
FWTCT: Man, frustration doesn’t even begin to describe what State has felt vs. UK in recent years. I don’t remember ever playing another team so close and coming up short more than we have against Kentucky in the past few years. That being said and taken into consideration the current status of this team and Rick Stansbury’s popularity in Starkville, I think tonight is the perfect storm of conditions for Rick Stansbury to "freak out." I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stans get t’ed up in the first half to motivate his team. His seat is quickly heating up, and at this point no tactic would surprise me in an effort to salvage the season.
ASoB: Kentucky's length, skill, and efficiency have overwhelmed foes lately, with only Vanderbilt at home being a competitive game. How can the Bulldogs surprise UK?
FWTCT: For whatever reason, State has matched up well against Kentucky in the past. I think this year is no different as tonight’s game will produce several interesting matchups to watch. I think Anthony Davis vs. Arnett Moultrie will be interesting to watch as they are arguably the two best big men in the SEC. I think another will be Rodney Hood vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: a matchup of 2 blue-chip freshman who can do a lot of different things with the basketball in their hands. I also look forward to watching Dee Bost and Marcus Teague match up. Overall, I think State will matchup fairly well against Kentucky, with the key being how many quality minutes we can get out of Wendell Lewis and Renardo Sidney. I also think it will be key for State to attack the low block early and attempt to get Anthony Davis into some early foul trouble. I think with him out of the game State has a better chance at hanging in there with the talented ‘Cats.
ASoB: Predict the outcome, and score.
FWTCT: I am a hopeless optimist and homer, but in times like these my realist side takes over a bit. I think State comes out in the first half fired up and pissed off at their play the last few games, and I think they give Kentucky a run for their money. That being said, I see this game going much like the Vandy-UK game did, with UK’s length, depth and defensive ability eventually wearing us down and securing a road W for the blue and white. I think it’s close, but Kentucky wins 68-60 with some late FT’s to seal it. Also, please tell Ashley Judd she’s welcome to come back, our bottle throwing days are over ;)
Thanks to Mark and For Whom The Cowbell Tolls, and here's go a good, injury-free ballgame for both teams. And Ashley, if you're reading, see Mark's assurances above. :-)