Coming off a tough loss down in College Station on Saturday, Kentucky will welcome the Mississippi State Bulldogs to Rupp Arena on a night where UK Athletics is honoring the 1984 Final Four team. Makes it a perfect night to move to 13-3 if you ask me. The 'Cats fell to number eight in the most recent AP Poll after the loss, but have a good chance to start stacking some wins at the end of the month and climb back up. With a win over the Bulldogs, Coach John Calipari will pick up his 400th win at Kentucky.
Chris Jans' Bulldogs were seen as a middle-of-the-pack SEC team coming into the year with a good chance to get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. So far, that is about what they have been. They currently sit at 12-4 (1-2 in the SEC). They had a statement win last week as they took down No. 5 Tennessee at home, 77-72. Outside of an upset loss to Southern, the Bulldogs have beaten everyone they were expected to beat and lost to their expected losses. All in all, they are in a good position to pick up some SEC wins and grab an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament down the road, and a win in Lexington would surely help make that happen.
Mississippi has been very average offensively and defensively this year. They average just 75 points per game and give up 65 points per game as well. Their leading scorer is senior forward Tolu Smith. He averages 17 points and 7 rebounds per game, and the odds are that he will cause a lot of trouble for Kentucky tonight. Against Tennessee, Smith had 23 points and put all of the Vols' big men into foul trouble. Outside of him, true freshman Josh Hubbard has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs also. He is averaging 15 points a game and is a very capable shooter. As a team though, Mississippi State is 12th in the SEC in three-point percentage at 32% and they do not shoot a lot of them either. Containing Tolu Smith, and not giving up open threes will help limit the Bulldogs' offense.
For Kentucky, they just need to continue what they have been doing offensively. As long as that continues Mississippi State should have trouble keeping up with the 'Cats. After the abysmal rebounding effort this past weekend, Kentucky needs to find a way to pick up as many rebounds as possible and make sure they are not turned into extra possessions. Tolu Smith is one of the very best at that because of how physical he is in the paint, so our bigs will need to try to match that physicality. Staying out of foul trouble is a must against Tolu. If not for Tennessee's bigs picking up early fouls, the Vols would have probably won the game. If we can do all these things, it should lead to hopefully another SEC win.
The 'Cats are back at home now for this game and Saturday's game against Georgia. Two opportunities to get wins and keep building the core of the resume. The game will be on ESPN2 at 7:00. Let's bounce back.