Mississippi State Basketball: Bulldogs With a Huge Opportunity Against Kentucky

Mississippi State basketball has won five-straight games. Now with Kentucky coming to town, they have a chance to all but lock up a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Will they get it done?
Kentucky   s D.J. Wagner brings the ball up the court against Mississippi State   s Shakeel Moore
Kentucky s D.J. Wagner brings the ball up the court against Mississippi State s Shakeel Moore / Scott Utterback/Courier Journal / USA

Mississippi State basketball has a chance to add another massive win on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs (19-8, 8-6 SEC) welcome the 17th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (19-8, 9-5 SEC) to Starkville. MSU is coming off of five-straight wins and has placed themselves on the cusp of locking up a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight season. A win over the Cats would all but assure the Bulldogs go dancing.

It's a humongous opportunity for State, and there's plenty of excitement in Starkville for the matchup. Mississippi State has announced yet another sellout, and a whiteout will be in effect, with free t-shirts being given out to the entire arena.

It's sure to be an incredible scene and rowdy atmosphere inside Humphrey Coliseum Tuesday night as State will look to avenge their earlier season loss to Kentucky in Lexington.

What Happened in Game 1?

Mississippi State basketball lost at Kentucky 90-77 on January 17. The Bulldogs had a horrendous day defensively, allowing the Cats to shoot 55.6% from the field with four players in double figures. UK guard Antonio Reeves torched State for 27 points on 8-12 shooting and 9-9 from the free throw line.

State center Tolu Smith had a strong day with 26 points on 11-15 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. But despite decent offensive numbers overall for MSU, no one else in the lineup provided enough production, and the Bulldogs simply could not keep pace with the Cats.

A Look at Kentucky

Since that game, Kentucky has been somewhat up and down. They've mixed dominant and occasionally impressive victories with frustrating losses. But they have won three out of four, and that includes winning at Auburn by double-digits, something that's a rarity these days, and putting up a ridiculous 117 points on Alabama.

UK is an incredible offensive team at 88.7 points per game and 49.3% shooting. They are the nation's best three-point shooting team at 41%. This is one of the most formidable backcourts in the country, led by Antonio Reeves and Rob Dillingham.

Defense is where the Cats can struggle. Their 77.9 points per game allowed is certainly a bit inflated because of the fast pace they play at. Their actual shooting percentage defense is more respectable, and to be fair to them, they've played better as of late. But they are by means great on that end of the court, and it's possible to out-physical them down low.

Tournament Implications

This is pretty simple. If Mississippi State can beat Kentucky, you can just about consider the Bulldogs a lock for March Madness. State would then own a fourth Quad 1 win, five wins over the projected field, and their metrics would move to a spot where they'd have to be safely in the field. There's always the possibility for wackiness down the stretch to Selection Sunday, which is why I'd hesitate to call MSU a sure-fire lock with a win, but they'd be pretty darn close.

Matchup Notes

The Kentucky series has not been a kind one to Mississippi State basketball. State is just 21-101 all-time against the Wildcats with a 12-38 record in Starkville. They are just 1-17 against John Calipari at Kentucky, with the lone win coming in the 2021 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament. MSU's last regular season win over UK came in 2009, and their last win in Starkville came in 2008.

TV Broadcast

6:00 PM CT on ESPN

This is an absolutely huge game for Mississippi State basketball. It's a chance to win six-straight games, take down a ranked opponent that you've not beaten in the regular season in nearly 15 years, and effectively lock yourselves into the NCAA Tournament. It's sure to be a fun one in Starkville.

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