One of the more memorable games in the John Calipari era was his first trip to Starkville to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs. That was the infamous "call me" game with Boogie Cousins, and that was the first of two memorable games versus the Bulldogs that season which culminated in a SEC Tournament title.
None of the games versus the Bulldogs have matched those first two meetings as Calipari is a perfect 9-0 versus Mississippi State, including winning all four games at Starkville. That said, winning at Starkville is always a tough task and this game is vital for the Bulldogs to stay in the SEC race. A loss will push the Bulldogs 2.5 games behind Kentucky, so the Wildcats will be walking into a tough environment.
Even with a 12-4 record, the Bulldogs need a win over a big-name opponent as Jerry Palm gives them an RPI of #119. Their best win was on the road against #41 Arkansas and worst loss at home to #121 East Tennessee State. Howland has virtually a brand new team from last season with the best recruiting class ever for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are playing well lately now and come into tonight's game having won six of their last seven games and Ben Howland will have his team ready for the Wildcats.
Let's meet the Bulldogs.
#1 G - LAMAR PETERS (FR, 6'1, 188) 10.4 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.8 RPG
#11 G - QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON (SO, 6'4, 205) 17.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.1 APG
#4 G - MARIO KEGLER (FR, 6'7, 220) 9.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 RPG
#35 F - ARIC HOLMAN (SO, 6'10, 222) 10.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.7 APG
#34 C - SCHNIDER HERALD (FR 6'10, 250) 4.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.3 APG
Freshman LaMar Peters has recently moved into the starting lineup and has scored 43 points in his last three games. He is a pretty good three-point shooter that hits 43.1% of his treys. He also is good at getting fouled and getting to the line, although this aspect of his game seems to disappear at times. Peters is coming off a game where he went 11-11 from the line and had five steals, so he is playing well at all aspects of the game right now.
Quinndary Weatherspoon is one of the few holdovers from Howland's team last year, and he is the best player on the team. He hits 47.1% of his three-pointers and has been on fire lately, hitting 9 of his last 12 attempts. Weatherspoon is also good at creating his own shot and can score from all over the court. Mario Kegler is another of the seven true freshmen on this team, and he can be a streaky scorer. He hits just 31% of his treys and is a scrappy rebounder.
Sophomore Aric Holman is one of two Kentucky players in the roster and hails from Owensboro. Holman has really stepped it up this year and hits 52.6% of this three-pointers and is a force defensively, averaging 2.3 blocks a game. He struggles with the outside shot, hitting 28% of his three-pointers but has a nice mid-range jumper. Freshman Schnider Herald is another freshman that recently got promoted into the starting lineup. He hits 54.5% of his shots but has been an inconsistent scorer. He is coming off his best game, a 16 point effort against Texas A&M, which was his first double-digit scoring game.
#15 G - I.J READY (SR, 5'11, 166) 10.1 PPG, 5.1 APG, 2.9 RPG\
#23 G - TYSON CARTER (FR, 6'4, 167) 8.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.9 APG
#3 G - XAVIAN STAPLETON (SO, 6'6 195) 6.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.1 APG
#2 G - ELI WRIGHT (FR 6'4, 203) 2.8 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.3 APG
#45 - C - EJ DATCHER (FR, 6'9, 240) 1.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.1 APG
Even though he has been coming off the bench lately, IJ Ready still plays starters minutes and is a capable floor general. He has an A/TO of over 2.50 and averages 2.0 steals a game. Tyson Carter is another talented freshman that will see plenty of minutes, and he has started several games. He hits 38.5% of his three-pointers but has been in a scoring slump, tallying just 3 points in his last three games combined.
Xavian Stapleton has played in just seven games after sitting out a year and transferring from Louisiana Tech. He hits 46.7% of his shots and plays good defense at 1.3 steals a game. Freshman Eli Wright hails from Owensboro, but he is one of the lat men in Howland's rotation and gets inconsistent minutes.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
I admit, this is a game that I am a little concerned about because I know that the crowd in Starkville will be insane and hungry for blood. While this is a talented Bulldog team, it is very inexperienced with a lot of new faces. Howland has done a great job in guiding this team to a 12-4 record. Kentucky by far will be their toughest test so far.
The Bulldogs are a team that can give Kentucky trouble. They are a pretty good shooting team (45.4% and 37.5% three-pointers) that likes to get after it on defense. They average 8.1 steals a game and allow opposing teams to hit just 30.8% of their three-pointers and 42.4% overall.
Kentucky is a much better rebounding tea, and they average 5.8 rebounds more than their opponents as compared to the Bulldogs who get outrebounded by .7 boards a game. Kentucky also has much better guard play and have a 1.7 A/TO ratio compared to a 1.0 for Mississippi State.
The key to this game will probably be how Kentucky responds to the insane road environment. UK has the talent but each team is very inexperienced, and Kentucky's youth could cause them to be rattled. It's not like they are facing an experienced team as Howland's charges are just as young, but I think the Bulldogs get a good home court advantage out of this.
While both teams are deep, Kentucky still has the talent at almost every position and players like Fox, Monk, and Adebayo are battle tested at this point. I would not be shocked if the Bulldogs pulled off the W tonight, but in the end, Kentucky has too much talent. Let's call this 85-78 for the Wildcats in a tough battle.