Mississippi State (9-4, 0-1 SEC) at LSU (9-4, 1-1)
When | 2:30 p.m. (CT) Saturday
Where | PMAC | Baton Rouge
TV/Radio | SEC Network | The Eagle (98.1-FM, Baton Rouge)
Series | The Tigers own a 109-98 edge against the team they have played more than any other, with a 68-35 edge in games played in Baton Rouge, including the last four at the PMAC.
Last meeting | LSU prevailed 88-77 last Feb. 6.
Last time out | LSU 88, Missouri 77; Alabama 68, Mississippi State 58
Antonio Blakeney comes in with a hot scoring hand – three games in a row at 20 points or more for the second time in his career. Blakeney has generated 69 points in the streak, hitting 25-of-47 from the floor, 6-of-15 from 3-point range and 13-of-17 from the foul stripe. … After notching 88 points vs. Mizzou, LSU is now 38-7 in Jones’ five-year tenure when scoring 80-plus. … Wayde Sims has scored in double digits in both SEC games (14 vs. Vanderbilt, 10 vs. Missouri), marking his first games with 10 or more consecutively since the first two of the season. He has knocked down 10-of-15 field goals in the two outings and has also corralled 14 rebounds. Sims’ 30 minutes at Mizzou were a season-high. … Brandon Sampson’s 8 rebounds vs. Mizzou were a career-best. … Duop Reath’s scoring has tailed off in the two league games (14 points total), but he chimed in with 3 blocks, 3 assists and didn’t turn the ball over in 20 minutes at Missouri. The Tigers’ junior has lofted only 13 field goals in 52 SEC minutes. … Skylar Mays has 7 assists and 0 turnovers in 36 league minutes. He has logged 3 or more helpers in six of the last seven games. … Since missing 19-of-22 3-pointers in the first eight games, Jalyn Patterson is shooting 44.4% (8-for-18) from outside the arc. Like Mays, he has yet to turn the ball over in two SEC contests when he has scored 11 points in each.
Breaking down Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are playing their first true road game of the season. … State connected on only 19 field goals in its loss to Alabama, a season-low, which equated to a season-low 58 points. A big reason for State’s abysmal 36.5% shooting was a 4-for-21 performance (19%) from 3-point territory. … The Bulldogs are scheduled to start two freshmen (three started against Alabama) and three others average 14 minutes a game or more. State is the second youngest team in Division I according to KenPom.com. … Second-year Bulldogs’ coach ben Howland has used five different lineups this season. … Former LSU assistant Korey McCray is on the MSU staff and former Tiger player Jalen Courtney is the Bulldogs’ video director.
Bulldogs to watch
G Quindarry Weatherspoon: Much like Blakeney for LSU, as the 6-foot-4 sophomore goes, the Bulldogs go. Since eschewing season-ending surgery to repair torn wrist ligaments right around Thanksgiving, Weatherspoon is averaging 17.6 points a game. But Alabama limited him to 7 on 2-for-11 shooting and he missed five of his six 3-point tries. Controlling the dynamic playmaker has to be at the top of LSU’s to-do list.
F Aric Holman: While the 6-10 sophomore isn’t a major offensive threat, he could be a handful on the Craig Victor-less Tigers in the paint with his shot-blocking and altering skills as well as a rebounder. Holman has four games with 4 blocks or more, including the Alabama outing, and snags 4.5 defensive boards a contest.
F Mario Kegler: Consistency has been a problem for the highly touted rookie big man so far, but he has the potential to do damage against a smallish front line like LSU’s. Kegler has reached double digits in only six games and is coming off one of his better games with 12 points and 7 rebounds vs. Alabama.
Projected starting lineups
G Quinndary Weatherspoon (18 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 46.8% FG, 22-53 3-pt. FG, 82.1% FT)
G I.J. Ready (10.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 46.8% FG, 80.6% FT, 24 steals)
G Tyson Carter (10.1 ppg, 40% FG, 24-59 3-pt. FG, 88.5% FT)
F Mario Kegler (9.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 41.3% FG)
F Aric Holman (9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 52.2% FG, 30 blocked shots)
G Brandon Sampson (11.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 50.9% FG, 18-54 3-pt. FG)
G Antonio Blakeney (17.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 47.5% FG, 23-61 3-pt. FG)
G Skylar Mays (5.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.9 apg)
F Duop Reath (13.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 55.6% FG, 26 blocks)
F Aaron Epps (6.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 52.5% FG)
Matchup to watch
Which team’s freshmen show the quickest signs of maturity will be a major focal point. Two (or three) will start for the Bulldogs and either one or two for the Tigers. In a game where the positions match up fairly equally at every spot, getting expected or more production from Skylar Mays-Wayde Sims or Mario Kegler-Tyson Carter looms large. LSU’s two rookies came up large in the road win at Missouri and the Tigers may need that and more.
Keys to the game
A major key is how well each team defends the opponent’s star player. Blakeney and Weatherspoon are two of the more dynamic scoring threats in the SEC, each capable of taking games over in a variety of ways – and of creating chances for their teammates. It’s unlikely that the two will check each other, so that puts the onus on other guards to provide stingy defense and that’s an edge that seems to tilt toward the Tigers. Sampson has grown as a defender, Mays is big enough to frustrate Weatherspoon and Patterson has re-established himself as a stopper on that end of the floor. And that’s not even mentioning junior Branden Jenkins, who if he is healthy enough to play, is regarded as a dogged defender.