*With three weeks left on the SEC schedule, the Bulldogs are three games behind Alabama in the West standings. But they remain a half-loss in front of 5-6 Arkansas and one game ahead of 4-6 Ole Miss for second place, and the corresponding first-round SEC Tournament bye. State also has beaten both of the nearest competitors this season with rematches looming.
*Kentucky has historically owned this series and holds a 86-20 lead. But State did win three-straight in the 2007 and '08 seasons (SEC Tournament, away, and home) before losing both of last year's meetings in overtimes. Kentucky is 43-5 against MSU in Lexington.
*Rick Stansbury is 4-11 against Kentucky.
*The Wildcats are 11-0 in all home games this season, including four SEC successes.
The Opponent: Hmm, haven't we seen this act before? Yes indeed, as for a second year John Calipari can throw a rookie class on the court and have such youth serve Kentucky's needs well. Admittedly not as well as the rightly-fabled frosh of 2010, which merited top-five rankings right up to the sudden surprising end in the NCAA fourth round. It also must be noted that these kids don't have as much veteran help as their predecessors did, thus they've endured a few more growing pains—read, SEC losses. Yet even in recent struggles the three losses (in a four-game stretch) the remarkable potential is obvious. Scary, even. It seems a safe bet that the SEC's Player of the Year will again be a Wildcat rookie as forward Terrence Jones has to be the current leader. Not just for his potent pointing, but the nine-rebound average and team-best 49 blocks. He's second this week in SEC-only play in both scoring and rebounding. Jones is comfortable inside or outside and when he takes a true frontcourt position it only makes for the most athletic club in the conference. Kentucky increasingly needs him around the goal too because the glaring difference from last year is lack of top post talents. 275-pound Josh Harrelson obviously fills the lane well but is barely a statistical factor; much like his backup, 240-pound Elroy Vargas. Their chief virtues are simple bulk and ten total fouls to give. He won't be a number-one draft pick after one college season but the pros can still hope guard Brandon Knight offers his services. He's been splendid this rookie year as a shooter-scorer and might not get as much respect as he deserves for distributing as well. Knight's 42% arc accuracy is steady, but even better is backup Doron Lamb who pops 48% of his long shots and has 45 so far in the backcourt rotation. Needless to say the entire lineup has the three-point green light but they've rewarded such faith by being a bit selective outside; seven SEC clubs have thrown up more trey tries in fact. Overall the Wildcats are 6th-best in SEC shooting but second-best in defending the field, and if not as big as last year they are agile enough to get to more misses than most. Question marks? Their recent struggles remind that depth is a real concern for what is essentially a 6-and-a-half man rotation. And at times in these close losses there seems general uncertainty about individual roles and collective cohesion, perhaps because there isn't the one clear take-charge guy as last season. But the fact remains that in the modern game talent tells more often than not, and once again Kentucky is as much aptitude as any starting squad anywhere.
Projected Starting Lineups (full-season stats):
KENTUCKY: F Terrence Jones, FR 6-8, 17.9ppg, 9.0rpg, 1.2stls; C Josh Harrelson, SR 6-10, 6.3ppg, 8.7rpg, 1.0blks; G Darius Miller, JR 6-7, 9.7ppg, 4.8rpg, 1.8asts; G Brandon Knight, FR 6-3, 17.4ppg, 61 3ptrs, 3.7apg; G DeAndre Liggins, JR 6-6, 8.9ppg, 3.8rpg. 2.8asts.
Top Reserves: G Doron Lamb, FR 6-4, 13.3ppg, 45 3ptrs, 48% 3pt%; F Elroy Vargas, JR 6-11, 1.9ppg, 2.3rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, SR 6-8, 11.8ppg, 7.3rpg, 20 3ptrs; F Renardo Sidney, SO 6-10, 13.1ppg, 7.3rpg; G Dee Bost, JR 6-2, 17.7ppg, 27 3ptrs, 5.2apg; G Riley Benock, SR 6-4, 7.0ppg, 3.6rpg, 44 3ptrs; G Jalen Steele, FR 6-3, 5.3ppg, 19 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Ravern Johnson, SR 6-7, 17.0ppg, 3.6rpg, 54 3ptrs; C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8, 3.7ppg, 3.8rpg, 24blks; G Brian Bryant, JR 6-2, 5.3ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.8asts.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 68.1, KY 76.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 69.1, KY 63.4
FG Shooting: MSU 42.5%, KY 45.9%
FG Defense: MSU 41.5%, KY 38.7%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.0%, KY 39.9%
3-point Attempts PG: MSU 22.0, KY 19.2
Rebounding: MSU 36.2, KY 38.8
Rebound Margin: MSU -1.5, KY +5.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 71.2%, KY 71.2%
Turnovers: MSU 13.7, KY 11.4
BULLDOG NOTES: Mississippi State's SEC fortunes have swung with the shooting. In their five wins the Bulldogs have shot 47.0% overall and 38.1% at the arc. In the five losses the accuracy is just 40.8% and 30.0%.
*Though fans howl about officiating, State has attempted more free throws than their SEC opponent in five-straight games now, and in eight of ten league contests. In fact, over this latest 5-game stretch the Dogs have made almost as many free throws—70—as the five foes combined shot, 71!
*State has converted 77% at the stripe in this same stretch; opponents just 65%.
*At Auburn, the Bulldog defense finally produced more steals than the opponent (6 to 4) in a SEC game.
*Though still in minus-territory overall, Bulldog rebounding has improved lately. After losing the battle on the boards four times in five games, with a tie in the other, State has come away with more rebounds both the last two contests.
*And State has made at least 33% of trey tries in the last five games, while actually cutting down on the total attempts a bit to improve efficiency at the arc.
*G Dee Bost ranks first in SEC-only game assists and steals this week.
*Bost has led State in scoring in seven of ten SEC games, including four 20-plus point performances.
*Bost has played exactly 36 minutes in his last three games.
*A painful Achilles contributed to a bad shooting day at LSU. But in the next two games Bost was 15-of-26 from the field and 8-of-14 at the arc.
*Bost has hit the boards well the last four games with 17 total rebounds.
*Bost just broke into the 1,000 Point Club, the 33rd member in MSU history. He has 1,037 points now and needs five to make 32nd place.
*Those four treys against Auburn give Bost 151 in his three seasons, making him #9 on the MSU chart. He needs 160 for the next rung on the trey ladder.
*But not at the cost of distributing, since Bost has 52 assists against 27 threes in the same span. Bost now has 396 career assists and needs 413 for top-five status.
*Bost has not fouled-out since the 2009-10 season opener, 45 games ago.
*He is now 12th in career steals at 119 and needs 127 for top-ten status.
*Bost has started all 82 games of his college career.
*After posting consecutive double-doubles, C/F Renardo Sidney just missed a third with nine points and 13 rebounds at Auburn.
*Sidney has notched 11, 10, and 13 boards this last three games.
*Sidney has averaged 16.6 points in State's conference wins; only 8.6 in losses.
*In SEC wins, Sidney has shot 32-of-60 from the floor. In the losses he is 16-of-38.
*Regardless of outcome though Sidney is reliable at the line. He is 27-of-36 on SEC free throws.
*After going 0-of-6 at the arc in six games, Sidney hit one at Auburn.
*F Kodi Augustus shot exactly 50% in a four-game stretch, before going 4-of-13 in the last two games. He is 0-of-7 at the arc in the last four games though.
*Augustus is having a career year at the foul line, making 81.4% of attempts. He is #10 in SEC-game accuracy this week.
*After serving a two-game suspension G Ravern Johnson was reactivated for Auburn. He was 1-of-6 shooting and 1-of-5 at the arc.
*Still he did add a trey to his career list. The senior now has 231 and is third-best in Bulldog history, needing 258 for second place.
*Johnson played 19 minutes off the bench Saturday. In the seven SEC starts he was on the court 265 of 280 possible minutes.
*And Johnson is still seeking the old outside shooting touch, making just 26.1% on trey tries in SEC action. But when he moves closer to the goal Johnson is a 49% marksman.
*Johnson broke into the 1,000 Point Club on opening night of this season. Since then he's bolted up to 14th on the list with 1,324 points, with former teammate Jarvis Varnado (1,403, 2007-10) coming up next.
*G Riley Benock is 7-of-12 at the arc in February, and did not attempt a shot in the Arkansas game due to a hurting shoulder. He has 44 treys this senior season, more than twice his best previous year's output.
*Take away the Arkansas game and Benock has provided 13 assists in a four-game stretch.
*He has only been to the free throw line four times this month, all ironically in the Arkansas game.
*Benock has picked up the defense lately, with seven steals the last three games.
*G Jalen Steele has hit a trey in each of the last four games.
*And in his first two college starts the freshman was 5-of-6 on free throws.