Nine times over the last five weeks, the Kentucky Wildcats have laced up their shoes and taken down the opposition.
On Saturday, head coach John Calipari and his team (19-3) will take their winning streak on the road to Starkville as they face the Mississippi State Bulldogs (16-6) in Humphrey Coliseum.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Wildcats a 62% chance of logging their 10th-straight win. While Kentucky has won in nearly every fashion during their streak, Saturday’s game will present another hostile road environment.
When the Wildcats come to town, it’s like the home team’s Super Bowl. Sure enough, Humphrey Coliseum will be sold out and ready to rock for the 1 pm tip-off. However, if anything has been learned about this team over the last five weeks, they’ll be ready.
Starting point guard Ashton Hagans has looked rather lost in consecutive games and will draw a difficult task on Saturday. The Bulldogs top-scorer is senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon. When the two teams met back in January, the margin of victory was considered a blowout. However, Weatherspoon managed to hang 19 points on the Kentucky defense.
That specific end of the court has vastly improved, though, as the Wildcats have since then held their opposition to an average of 54.4 PPG. For the offense, veterans regularly lead teams on the road and Calipari should look no further than reigning Co-SEC Player of the Week PJ Washington.
Washington is averaging over 20 points and nine rebound over his last five games, recently asserting himself into contention for SEC Player of the Year. While there are quite a few games left to be played, a strong performance in Starkville would certainly help the team as well as his case for that honor.
In the Wildcats’ most recent win over South Carolina, twas their bench who provided the spark. Specifically, EJ Montgomery was a 1-man energizer bunny by recording his first double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds. Nick Richards was plagued by foul trouble but has also been a sight for sore eyes in recent weeks when on the court.
Look for Calipari to go deep into his rotation early, finding the five guys in rhythm who he can close the game with. Needless to say, a win won’t come easy against a respectable Bulldog team.
As far as advanced analytics go, it will be contrasting styles of play when the two teams face off in Starkville. Kentucky is currently ranked eighth in KenPom defensive efficiency compared to 18th in offensive efficiency.
The Cats tend to win games on the strength of their defense, as evidenced by them holding seven of their last eight opponents to 63 points or less. The one blemish was allowing Auburn to score 80 down in their arena, though the Cats still did enough to win 82-80.
As for the Bulldogs, they win with offense more often than not. They’re ranked 25h overall by KenPom, 20th in offensive efficiency and 66th in defensive efficiency
A big reason why Kentucky won the first matchup was the Bulldogs hitting just three of their 20 three-point attempts. It’s safe to think they’ll shoot much better at home, which should make this a much closer game than the one in Lexington.
Kentucky has covered in five-straight games, and if they win Saturday, they’ll likely make it six. That’s because the Cats are only a three-point favorite down in Starkville. During Kentucky’s five-game streak of beating the spread, they’ve won at Auburn, at Florida, at Vanderbilt, vs Kansas, and of course, vs Mississippi State.
- Kentucky is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games
- Kentucky is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Kentucky’s last 5 games
- Kentucky is 6-1 ATS in its last 7 games on the road
- Kentucky is 6-1 SU in its last 7 games on the road
- Kentucky is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing Mississippi State
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Kentucky’s last 5 games when playing Mississippi State
- Kentucky is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing on the road against Mississippi State
- Mississippi State is 3-6 ATS in its last 9 games
- Mississippi State is 16-6 SU in its last 22 games
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Mississippi State’s last 5 games
- Mississippi State is 0-5 SU in its last 5 games when playing Kentucky
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Mississippi State’s last 5 games when playing Kentucky
- Mississippi State is 0-5 SU in its last 5 games when playing at home against Kentucky
ESPN’s four experts are all siding with Kentucky with scores of 83-69, 77-71, 72-61 and 80-72.
Michael Beller of SI thinks this is a big mismatch in favor of the Wildcats:
The first time these teams met this season, Kentucky cruised to a 76–55 win in Lexington, getting 21 points from P.J. Washington and 18 from Tyler Herro. Given the respective styles of play here, this is a terrible matchup for the Bulldogs. They turn it over a lot, and Kentucky ranks second in conference play in defensive turnover rate. They struggle at cleaning up their defensive glass, and Kentucky is second in the country in offensive-rebounding rate. The Bulldogs can get hot from behind the arc on the right night, but their high-volume shooters—Lamar Peters, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Tyson Carter—are all streaky from deep. They went 3 for 20 in the first loss to Kentucky. The bet here is they’ll need at least 10 threes in this one to have a shot at evening up the season series.
Kentucky 77, Mississippi State 68
KenPom gives Kentucky a 59-percent chance of winning and projects a final score of 72-70 in favor of the Cats.
Eight of our nine staff picks were in favor of Kentucky.
TeamRankings projects a 73-69 win for Kentucky.
Ranked as the nation’s fifth team, Kentucky ascended in the Associated Press Top-25 for a fifth-consecutive week. A loss at Mississippi State on Saturday would all end the Wildcats’ winning streak, knock them back in the rankings and decrease their outside shot of a one seed for the Big Dance. Calipari is in the midst of arguably his best coaching job to-date. He’ll have a gritty Wildcats team ready to take a punch and return a few as well. It won’t be a simple task, but Kentucky has plenty of experience and firepower to grab their 10th straight victory.
Final Score: Kentucky 74, Mississippi State 66