It has been one heck of a stretch for these Kentucky Wildcats, and they look to keep it going against a talented Mississippi State Bulldogs team. The game is scheduled for 1:00 pm EST and will be aired on CBS.
As of late, we have seen nothing but great execution from this team, especially on the defensive end. It looks as if everyone understands their role, and as a result the Cats have now won nine straight and 12 of their last 13.
They’re now ranked 5th overall and only looking to climb higher with a month left in the season. The rise of PJ Washington, along with the defensive prowess of Ashton Hagans, has made this team a serious title contender.
What’s scary is the fact that Keldon Johnson has played far from his best basketball during the Cats’ winning streak. If he can get going in the final month of the regular season, it will be hard for anyone to beat this squad.
For Mississippi State, this is a huge game for them. The Bulldogs started off the season hot, but they have cooled off during conference play. They’re now 4-4 in SEC games and are in desperate need of a big win to keep their NCAA Tournament goals in tact.
The staff at A Sea of Blue have come together to discuss the matchup and give their picks for the game.
It’s no secret that this team has been on an absolute tear as of late. But what I want to point out is their defense. Over their last three games, they have been zoned in on that side of the ball, holding each opponent to no more than 54 points in a game. For these guys to be playing that well on defense right now is amazing considering how many new pieces were added this year.
With that being said, Mississippi State is a talented team with some really good offensive players. Quinndary Weatherspoon lit up the Cats in Rupp earlier this year and is averaging 17.6 PPG on the season.
That, along with the fact that the Bulldogs desperately need an impressive win, will make this game much more difficult for Kentucky. Despite this, I’m still taking Kentucky in a grind-it-out game.
Prediction: Kentucky 65, Mississippi State 61
Kentucky pulled away from Mississippi State in the second half of their game in Lexington last month due to hot outside shooting by the Wildcats and an abysmal shooting performance from the Bulldogs. Kentucky earned a 76-55 victory in that match-up.
Expect this game to be much closer.
Kentucky probably won’t hit 8-16 from the perimeter, and Mississippi State probably won’t shoot 3-20 again either.
The Bulldogs fare much better in Starkville, having lost only twice in conference play at home, a four-point loss to Ole Miss and the other a four-point loss in overtime to LSU.
I think Kentucky pulls out a victory, but I think it’ll be a one-possession game with five minutes left to go that could go either way.
Prediction: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 65
Kentucky may be on their best nine-game run in more than two years, so I am definitely enjoying that. The Cats are playing as well as anyone in the country right now, so it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where they go in as an underdog until the Tennessee game coming up.
The key to the whole thing is defense, defense, and more defense. The UK defense was 8th in the country in KenPom defensive efficiency going into the South Carolina game, and that number held steady based on the Cats holding SC to 48 points.
UK is 166-7 under Coach John Calipari when keeping the opponent to 63 points or less, including 14-0 this season. The stuff UK is doing right now on D is borderline historic. UK has held six straight opponents to 63 or less, which is the first time that has happened since November 2015.
Heady times indeed.
Make no mistake, Mississippi State is going to be a tough out Saturday. Led by coach Ben Howland, the Bulldogs rely on their defense and rebounding to see them through, kind of like UK. The Dawgs are coming off a win over arch-rival Ole Miss, so they’re feeling pretty good.
I do think that the Cats have more than enough firepower to win the game, but I kinda expect a low-scoring tilt. I say the Cats win to run the streak to 10!
Prediction: Cats 68, Dawgs 54
Kentucky has been playing great over the last month, but it feels like they’re due a loss in the upcoming stretch of games between Mississippi State, LSU, and Tennessee. The last time Kentucky played three-straight ranked foes, they needed a shot to rim out in the final seconds to escape Auburn with a win.
If feels like Saturday is going to be that type of game, but even if the Cats do go down, it won’t be a bad loss by any means. The Bulldogs are still a top-30 NET team (28th as of Thursday), which means a loss in Starkville would be a Quadrant 1 loss.
Also, if you could pick one more game left on the regular-season schedule for Kentucky to lose, this would be it.
Because Kentucky plays Tennessee twice in the coming weeks, and even if the Cats lose in Starkville, going 2-0 vs. the Vols would all but ensure Kentucky gets a 1 seed over them.
Another thing to consider is the imbalanced schedule Kentucky is playing compared to Tennessee. The Vols host the Bulldogs and play at Auburn later this season, while Kentucky played each of them twice.
If Kentucky goes 3-1 against the Bulldogs and Tigers compared to Tennessee’ best possible record of 2-0 vs. those teams, it may be another feather in the cap for Kentucky come Selection Sunday. The committee tends to favor teams with more good wins than the teams that have more wins but against lesser foes.
Regardless, Saturday is a game Kentucky ideally wins to stay in the top five going into those matchups with LSU and Tennessee. Even when Mississippi State has been bad, they’ve still given some great Wildcats teams all they could handle in Starkville.
This is probably the best Mississippi State team they’ve had in almost two decades. Oh, and John Calipari has never lost to the Bulldogs, despite having so many down-to-the-wire thrillers with them.
I think this is the year the cowbells get him, but it should help Kentucky regroup and get refocused for next week’s challenging slate.
Prediction: Mississippi State 73, Kentucky 72
The Cats’ nine-game winning streak will be on the line Saturday in what promises to be another hostile environment. Despite Kentucky taking down Mississippi State by 21 at home just two short weeks ago, the Bulldogs will be a tough opponent in Starkville where the Wildcats have rarely ever won big.
The Bulldogs are a talented team with experienced leadership and will not be overwhelmed, despite what Kentucky was able to do to them a few weeks ago. In order to get this road win, Kentucky will need to bring the same intensity and swagger they have played with on the road all season and not allow Mississippi State to get open looks from downtown.
Winning 10-straight games is never easy, but this Kentucky team has not shown any signs of slowing down. Needing this win before entering their biggest tests of the season with LSU and Tennessee next week, I believe the Cats will come out with a sense of urgency and get the job done on the road.
Prediction: Kentucky 74, MSU 65
The Kentucky Wildcats are on fire and are currently on a nine-game winning streak after they took down South Carolina 76-48. The Cats are playing as good as anyone in the country and have climbed all the way back up to the top 5.
Now, the Cats will make another road trip as they head to Starkville to face Mississippi State for the second matchup with the Bulldogs this season. The first meeting was January 22nd when the Cats beat the Bulldogs 76-55 in Rupp Arena.
Mississippi State has been struggling some since Kentucky last played them, but they have taken down top-25 opponents Auburn and LSU in recent weeks. However, I think the Cats are the better team and we all know how this team thrives on the road.
So, I think the Cats will return to Lexington Saturday night with their 10th straight win and their 9th straight SEC win.
Prediction: Kentucky 73, Mississippi State 60
Kentucky will look to extend it’s win streak to ten when they travel to Starkville to play Mississippi State for the second time. The Wildcats beat the then 22nd-ranked Bulldogs in Rupp 76-55 a little over two weeks ago. They may no longer be ranked in the AP Poll (21 in Coaches), but this is still a quality opponent on the road. With the way the conference is shaping up and with how brutal the Cats’ schedule is next week, they need to win this one.
Kentucky extended its streak to nine on Tuesday night with a convincing win over South Carolina, where the Cats defense continued to be the story. They out-rebounded the Gamecocks by 23, forced 19 turnovers and have now held four of their last five opponents to under 55 points. That says a lot about the defensive growth of a group that gave up 118 points in their first game and had major problems guarding, specifically from the three-point line, to start the year.
In their win against the Bulldogs, Kentucky held them to 31.1% shooting from the field and just 15.0% from three. Although offense doesn’t always travel, a good defense will, and that’s exactly what Kentucky will need to steal another game on the road.
Mississippi State, led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, is averaging the same amount of points per game as Kentucky does and have a handful of notable pieces that the Cats will have to key into. While Kentucky has won their last four after their first meeting with the Bulldogs, Mississippi State has gone 2-2. They played good competition throughout while beating Auburn and Ole Miss, but losing to Alabama and LSU.
Their conference record shouldn’t define them since they’re only a six-loss team all season to this point, but I still don’t think they’ll be able to slow Kentucky. As dominant as Kentucky is inside Rupp Arena, this group seems to have accepted the challenge of not just playing and beating teams on their turf, but by competing for the entire game.
Tyler Herro is, strangely enough, statistically better on the road, the Cats defense is on a tear, and they’ll be motivated to pick up this one in order to keep pace in the lead for the SEC before they play LSU (3rd in the SEC) and Tennessee (1st in the SEC) at home next week.
Prediction: Kentucky 77, Mississippi State 59
Kentucky will look to extend its nine-game winning streak on Saturday as they travel to Starkville to face the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are 16-6 (4-5) overall, but they are 10-2 at home this season. The two home losses came Wednesday night against No. 21 LSU in overtime and their rival, Ole Miss.
Ben Howland’s squad has somewhat underachieved this year, as they started off in the preseason top 25. They’ve since fallen from grace, but they’re a solid, veteran squad that won’t go down easy. And they’re a better team than their record indicates.
MSU is led by senior Quinndary Weatherspoon, who is averaging nearly 18 points per game. The versatile guard can do a little bit of everything. He’s joined by his brother, Nick, a sophomore guard who can also fill it up. Both players are a threat from three, but Quinndary attacks the basket much better.
Other players to look out for are junior guard Lamar Peters, freshman forward Reggie Perry, and senior forward and Kentucky native Aric Holman.
Peters is a small scoring guard with a quick first step. He’s very streaky, but when he’s on, he can be lights out.
Perry is long and thick, but his progression this season reminds me a lot of EJ Montgomery’s. He’s really come on as of late.
Lastly, Holman struggled last time out against Kentucky, and he’s struggled recently, but he’s a dangerous player. He’s a great rim protector. He can score inside, but he also extends his game to the three-point line.
Kentucky is going to need another lockdown defensive performance, especially from Reid Travis. They’re going to need to guard the three-point line, and come out ready to play. I have all the confidence in the world with this bunch right now. I think they win in a close one.
Prediction: Kentucky 73 Mississippi State 65
I am a little late to the roundtable today, and I must say that I am shocked at all of the pessimism around here. Since rolling Mississippi State at home a few weeks ago, Kentucky seems to improve with every outing.
The Wildcats have only gotten stronger defensively since the last battle with the Bulldogs, and Kentucky also seems to play just as well, if not better, on the road as they do at home.
Look for Tyler Herro to have a big game and Mississippi State to be held under 60 points. Cats roll.
Prediction: Kentucky 69, Mississippi State 58