In the last meeting between the two clubs, a year ago to the month, State jumped on Kentucky early, building a 37-24 halftime lead and cruised to a 66-57 win in Rupp Arena.
Almost all of the principal characters on the State team that beat Kentucky last year will be back. The Wildcats however, are almost a totally different club, ranked #2 in the nation.
Despite losing four of their last seven games, the Bulldogs have played tough at home. Their only home loss came against Rider in the opening game of the season. Since that time State has claimed victories against Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia. The Wildcats' sole loss came on the road against South Carolina. Mississippi State owns an 18-7 overall record and their 6-4 SEC record ties them for the third best record in the conference.
For State to win, they will need exceptional games from Ravern Johnson and Jarvis Varnardo, their leading scorers and rebounder respectively. Varnardo, 6-foot-9, 230 lbs, who had a history of foul problems during the middle part of the season, has settled down and he will certainly need to stay out foul trouble if the Dogs plan to hang tough against the formidable size of the Wildcat front line. Johnson, 6-foot-7, shoots 43% from three point range. He will have to come into the game firing on all cylinders.
If the Bulldogs take a page from the Tennessee game, they may try to slow the tempo of the game with zone defense and frustrate the Wildcat big man DeMarcus Cousins. If the Cats can increase the tempo by attacking the basket and keep Cousins in the game mentally, they should win by a comfortable margin.