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Kentucky Wildcats at Mississippi State Bulldogs Game Preview

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Kentucky makes the trip to Starkville today to try to set a new school single-season winning streak record.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The game tonight against the Mississippi State Bulldogs represents an opportunity for Kentucky to go 28-0, not only the best start ever for a Kentucky team, but the longest in-season winning streak ever. This is the last chance for a while for Kentucky to break an existing record in its historic 2014-15 season

For some reason, Kentucky never has an easy time at Mississippi State. I don’t know if it’s their arena, which is often considered one of the toughest places to play in the SEC, the crowd, or what. N matter what it is, Kentucky must not come into the Hump and try to skate through to a victory.

Game Particulars

Date: Wednesday, February 15th
Time: 7:00 PM EST
Place: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, MS
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Network
Stream: Live Video via SEC Network+
Stream: Live Audio
Other: Live Stats

Season so far for Mississippi State:

Overall record: 12-15

SEC Record: 5-9

Mississippi State has already won two more SEC games this season than last, but they are still one of the league’s worst teams this season. They have pulled significant upsets against Vanderbilt, LSU, and Tennessee with the Tennessee win coming in Knoxville. Other than those, they have pretty much beaten teams they were supposed to beat and lost to teams they were supposed to lose to.

Series history

Kentucky leads the series with the Bulldogs 90-20 (.82), not the most dominant of records against SEC opponents, but surely sufficient. The last time Mississippi State beat Kentucky was in Rupp Arena on February 3rd, 2009. Rick Ray, the current coach of the Bulldogs, has never beaten Kentucky as MSU coach.

Stats

Mississippi State Roster:

No. Name Status Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG
20 Gavin Ware S** F 6-9 260 Jr. 26.5 10.2 7.4 0.3 0.4 1.1
25 Roquez Johnson S** F 6-7 210 Sr. 26.4 9.7 5.4 0.6 0.9 0.2
32 Craig Sword S** G 6-3 196 Jr. 23.7 9.8 2.4 1.7 1.1 0.3
23 Travis Daniels S+ G 6-8 219 Jr. 20.7 6.8 4.1 0.6 0.5 0.1
3 Trivante Bloodman S* G 6-0 190 Jr. 18.6 3.8 1.5 2.0 0.7 0.0
1 Fred Thomas MR* G 6-5 206 Jr. 25.5 9.9 4.1 0.8 0.7 0.5
15 I.J. Ready MR* G 5-11 170 So. 25.4 8.4 2.0 2.2 1.2 0.0
33 Oliver Black MR F 6-9 224 Fr. 15.6 1.7 2.4 0.3 0.4 0.3
22 Fallou Ndoye R*+ F 6-11 222 Rfr. 13.0 2.2 1.8 0.2 0.2 0.2
2 Demetrius Houston R F 6-7 210 Fr. 11.9 2.5 2.2 0.3 0.6 0.2
0 Maurice Dunlap R& G 6-2 175 Fr 9.8 2.7 0.7 0.2 0.2 0.0
5 Isaiah Butler R* G 6-2 214 Sr. 2.9 0.0 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.0
10 Jeffery Johnson R@ G 6-2 172 Sr. 2.0 0.0 0.5 0.0 0.5 0.0
4 Johnny Zuppardo R&+ F 6-9 235 Jr.





12 De'Runnya Wilson R*@ F 6-5 215 So.





14 Elijah Staley R@ G 6-6 220 Fr.































Legend
S Starter
MR Major reserve
R Reserve
* Returning player
** Returning starter
+ Eligible transfer/red shirt
- Ineligible
@ Walk on
& Injured, not available

Source: Mississippi State Athletics and Statsheet.com

Team Comparison

Rank and Records UK MState
RPI #1 #187
Strength of Schedule #34 #98
Overall 27-0 12-15
Conference 14-0 5-9
Home 17-0 8-7
Away 8-0 3-6
Top 25 3-0 0-2
RPI Top 50 11-0 1-6
KenPom.com #1 #162

Source: Statsheet.com

Four Factors

Offensive

uk-msu ff offensive

Defensive

uk-msu ff defensive

Mississippi State Team Notes

  • Offense is not something the Bulldogs do well. They are averaging under 1 point/possession (0.95) in SEC play. Unfortunately, they don’t defend well either, as they surrender 1.03 points/possession.
  • MSU turns the ball over nearly 25% of possessions, dead last in the SEC and 12th from the bottom in all Division I. This is a horrible ballhandling team, and any pressure at all will cause a parade of turnovers. Arkansas turned them over on 32% of possessions recently.
  • Getting to the line is one thing the Bulldogs do very, very well — an SEC-leading 56% FTA/FGA. They don’t make that many of them, though, managing only 68% from the line.
  • Mississippi is not a bad 3-point shooting team, but they don’t take a lot of shots from distance. They are next to last in the SEC in 3-point field goal attempt percentage.
  • MSU gets more of their points from the free throw line than any team in the SEC, which makes sense given how often they get there. I can only imagine how horrible their efficiency would be if they were only average at drawing fouls.
  • One thing the Bulldogs do pretty well, other than get to the line, is defend in the half court.
  • MSU is a very mature team, with all their major contributors but one being upperclassmen.

Mississippi State Player notes

  • Gavin Ware is the leading scorer and rebounder. He is one of the best defensive rebounders in the country, and shoots a high percentage inside. He also blocks shots and gets to the line well.
  • Craig Sword is a good defender and decent shooter from the perimeter. He gets to the line quite a bit, so keeping him out of the paint is a good idea. He is nominally the point guard, but spends a lot of time off the ball.
  • Roquez Johnson is a live body who gets to the line more than anybody on the team, and more than almost anyone in America. He is 28th in the nation in free throw rate.
  • Fred Thomas is the team’s best 3-point shooter at 34%, and takes the lions share of those shots. He also draws a good number of fouls, so he isn’t a one-dimensional player by any means.
  • Travis Daniels is a JUCO transfer, tall and long. He’s a role player on a team of role players.
  • I.J. Ready is the "true" point guard on this team, but he may be out with injury. He rolled his ankle against Ole Miss and may not be available tonight.
  • Trivante Bloodman is the other "true" point guard on this team, and if Ready is out, he’ll play a lot of minutes tonight.

Injuries

Kentucky
  • Alex Poythress is out for the season with an ACL tear.
Mississippi St.
  • Johnny Zuppardo is out for the season with a knee injury.
  • De’Runnya Wilson and Elijah Staley are both out indefinitely. They are both football players who made the basketball team as well, and I suspect they are on the team mainly for practice and emergency purposes.
  • I.J. Ready is questionable due to an ankle sprain.
  • Maurice Dunlap is out indefinitely with a hamstring.

Analysis

Mississippi State is a weak team, arguably weaker even than the Auburn Tigers. But this is a senior-dominated MSU team with guys who have been around college basketball for years. For the most part, they are full-grown men, and Kentucky has occasionally struggled with older teams that have been together a while.

To beat Kentucky, MSU will have to do something different than it has been doing — namely, take care of the basketball and not give Kentucky extra possessions. Turnovers absolutely kill the Bulldogs, and if I.J. Ready is indeed unable to go tonight, it will significantly hurt MSU’s already slim chances to pull the upset of the year (heck, this might be the upset of the decade).

Mississippi State is smallish, not particularly athletic and not particularly talented. What they have going for them is possible Kentucky complacency, which could show up tonight. MSU is a heavy 18-point underdog in their own arena, and I have no doubt the Wildcats are well aware of this fact. It is also a fact that this will be the only time remaining this season, other than the SEC Tournament, where the Bulldogs can make any kind of positive statement about the quality of basketball played in Starkville.

MSU has played very hard at times, but their effort can wax and wane, a bit unusual for a team with this many upperclassmen. I expect they will play especially hard tonight, particularly early in the game, so it is important for Kentucky to get off to a good start. The only thing the Bulldogs do particularly well is draw fouls, and I suppose if they draw enough of them, they could get into Kentucky’s bench and score very efficiently if they are hot from the line. Other than that, their statistical profile shows no real path to victory for them other than UK just not not putting forth any real effort, which is always a possibility for a young team like the Wildcats.

Nominally, Kentucky doesn’t even need their "A" game to beat the Bulldogs, even in Starkville. But as we have seen over the years, teams coming into SEC arenas with KENTUCKY on their chest usually bring out the very best the opposition has to offer, and the crowd will be partisan and loud. The perfect storm is always a possibility in SEC basketball, and in this one no less than the others. Kentucky should beware, and play hard.