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Kentucky vs. Mississippi State viewing info, odds, what to watch for, and predictions

Will the Cats rebound from their first SEC defeat? Here’s what you need to know for Cats vs. Bulldogs.

Huddle. Justin Edwards. Tre Mitchell. Reed Sheppard. Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - A Sea Of Blue

Kentucky Basketball vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Time: 7 PM ET on January 17th
  • TV Channel: ESPN2 has tonight’s TV coverage.
  • Announcers: Tom Hart and Jimmy Dykes will call the action.
  • Location: Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center in Lexington, Kentucky.
  • Online Stream: WatchESPN and ESPN app
  • Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
  • Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
  • Rosters: UK | MISS ST
  • Stats to Know: UK | MISS ST
  • KenPom: UK | MISS ST
  • Team Sheets: UK | MISS ST

How do you see this one going? Sound off in the comments section!


Following their first SEC loss on the road in overtime to Texas A&M, the Kentucky Wildcats return to Lexington for a huge home test vs. the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Both teams are coming off tough losses in which they had multiple chances to win down the stretch but came up just short, so they’ll be looking to get that bad taste out of their mouth with a key win at Rupp Arena on Wednesday night.

While unranked and suffering some bad losses early this season (Southern, 203rd in KenPom), the Bulldogs are analytically the fifth-best team in the SEC and are a borderline top-25 team. And those bad losses came without their best player, so Kentucky should absolutely view this as a top-25 matchup.

The 12-4 Bulldogs recently returned their best player, preseason All-American pick Tolu Smith, and just beat a top-five Tennessee Volunteers team last week. With a full roster and plenty of experience, they could cause some fits in the SEC. Defense has been their calling card, as they’re ranked ninth in defensive efficiency in KenPom, while Kentucky is ranked eighth in offensive efficiency.

Under John Calipari, Mississippi State has only beaten Kentucky once, in the 2021 SEC Tournament. However, of the last four games in the series, two have gone into overtime, and the other two have been decided by one possession, so while the Bulldogs don’t have many wins, history suggests this will be yet another down-to-the-wire game that could go either way.

Now, here is what you need to watch for Wednesday night at Rupp.

Protect the Paint

If you look at the season stats, it would appear that Mississippi State shoots a fair amount of 3s, averaging more than 23 per game, but at just a 32% clip, the third lowest in the SEC.

However, since Tolu Smith has been added back to the lineup, the Bulldogs are averaging just 16 attempts per game. It is a small sample size, but it shows a different offensive approach, and for good reason, Smith is one of the most efficient bigs in the SEC in the paint, shooting better than 58% from the field.

Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso’s length could prove bothersome to Smith, but they must be smart and stay out of trouble. Even outside of Smith, the duo has shown improved rim protection, specifically Onyenso, who had five blocks against Texas A&M and who is also daring opponents to bring it into the paint.

“If you think you can make a basket, if you think you can go get a layup on us, good luck with that,” he said last week.

Let’s also see if the guards have started to embrace the “desperate” mentality Calipari is trying to instill in them and stay in front of the ball.

Take Advantage of Turnovers

The biggest weakness of this Mississippi State team is their inability to take care of the ball. In fact, averaging more than 13 per game, they are third third-worst team in the SEC in turnovers. These turnovers primarily come from poor entry passes, poor drives, or pressure in the paint.

If Kentucky can force the same turnovers the Bulldogs have committed all season, this will allow Kentucky to get some easy transition opportunities and push the pace a bit.

Rebound

It’s no coincidence that since Smith has returned, Mississippi State has reached double-digit offensive rebounds in three of the four games, something they had only done in three of the previous twelve games. This is an area that Kentucky has struggled against.

The Wildcats are coming off allowing 25 offensive rebounds to Texas A&M, the most of the John Calipari era. Last Saturday’s performance didn’t fall on any one player, as everyone got outworked for rebounds, but it’s disappointing given this team’s athleticism.

As Onyenso said while previewing the matchup is an effort thing, and the effort must be better.

Opposing Players to Watch

F Tolu Smith, 6-11, 245 lbs

  • 16.8 PPG (8th in SEC)
  • 6.8 RPG (T-10th in SEC)
  • 58.3% FG (Doesn’t qualify, but would be 2nd in SEC)

G Josh Hubbard, 5-10, 185 lbs

  • 15.1 PPG (15th in SEC)
  • 38.8% 3P
  • WATCH ON/OFF BALL SCREENS!

G Shakeel Moore, 6-1, 190 lbs

  • 8.0 PPG
  • Best perimeter defender, Top 15 in steals in SEC back-to-back seasons.
  • 3rd time playing Kentucky