As Wednesday approaches the nation’s #1 team, the Kentucky Wildcats, will invade the Hump for a 6 PM showdown. Many believe this team has what it takes to complete the first perfect season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Kentucky boasts 9 McDonald’s All-Americans while being led by a coach who was just nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame. All four of the main Kentucky RESERVES would start on any other team in the SEC. Going up against a struggling Mississippi State team who has losses to Arkansas State, McNeese State and South Carolina-Upstate, there is absolutely no way this dynamic of a team loses this game. Except, its sports. Now I know it is extremely unlikely for a team who hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since 2011 to upset the #1 team in the land and one of the best college basketball teams of all time. I am just saying it is not the absolute impossible feat that everyone else is making it out to be.
It will no doubt be a difficult feat for Mississippi State if they want to slay Goliath. It will take perfect execution in all phases of the game. If they are to do it, they should hope to play a game similar to the way LSU played the Wildcats on February 10 in Baton Rouge to a down to the wire 71-69 loss. LSU is a team that Mississippi State beat so it is at least possible to think Mississippi State could play at this level. LSU held the Tigers to 2-for-12 from 3 point land and only allowed Kentucky 11 free throw attempts which made the Wildcats earn their points. On the offensive end of the floor, LSU was able to get nice guard play, which is key against a long Kentucky defense. Lastly, the Tigers took advantage of their opportunities. They were able to go on important runs, including a 16-0 run, when Kentucky went cold to enable a close finish. Mississippi State is capable of playing like this if they can play well in these three phases.
The Bulldogs have struggled in many areas this season but one area where they have been strong is on defense. Mississippi State has held opponent’s to under 40% shooting 5 times during SEC play. If the Bulldogs can hold the Wildcats under this number and cause a few turnovers that lead to easy baskets, the score can be kept low enough to keep the Dogs within striking range. It will be important for the Bulldogs to only allow Kentucky one shot because giving a team this good multiple opportunities on a regular basis will lead to a long night. Rebounding will no doubt be a key factor in the Bulldogs keeping this one close and giving them a chance to win.
While the defense has been good this year, the same cannot be said for the Bulldog offense. If Mississippi State wants a chance, the offense will have to be firing on all cylinders, particularly the guards. With Kentucky’s height and length, scoring around the rim will be extremely difficult. This means Bulldog guards will need to find their jumper for the Bulldogs to be successful. A healthy IJ Ready, questionable with an ankle injury, would be huge to give the Bulldogs their floor general back. If Craig Sword can play at his early SEC level, this would give the Bulldogs the go-to scorer they need against a quality defense. The Bulldogs will also need Travis Daniels and Fred Thomas on the wings ready to knock the shot when their number is called. If the guards can get good penetration into the defense, coupled with a good shooting night, the Bulldogs can put up the offensive numbers they would need to pull off the upset.
3. Seize Opportunities
Lastly, even if the Bulldogs follow the first 2 keys, it won’t be enough if Mississippi State doesn’t seize the opportunities if Kentucky gives them. If the Wildcats go cold for a stretch, the Bulldogs cannot have the lulls where they do not put up points and keep the score stagnant. LSU was able to go an enormous run to get them a lead and Mississippi State will need one of their own against the Wildcats to not only give the Bulldogs a lead, but give the team confidence they can beat Kentucky.
It will undoubtedly be difficult for Mississippi State to beat an extremely talented and deep Kentucky team. However, they have proven that they are not immune to games where they do not play well and have to fight to the end for a win. So all I’m saying is while it’s gonna be tough to win, it’s not impossible and I think our Mississippi State Bulldogs have just a good a chance as anyone.