"It's certainly big, because it's at home and it is the SEC home opener," Kennedy said. "If you're going to put yourself in a position to aspire for the postseason, and also to compete for championships in your league, you've got to protect home floor. This is our first opportunity to do so."
Ole Miss is 12-4 overall. Mississippi State, the consensus preseason favorite in the SEC West, is 8-7. The Bulldogs are fresh off a conference-opening loss to Alabama, a game which finally paired point guard Dee Bost and forward Renardo Sidney on the same floor.
"All I know is that they're talented players," Kennedy said. "From a preparation standpoint, we're really basing it off the one game they've played together: the opener against Alabama.
"We've got a lot of respect for (Bost's) game, because we've seen first-hand what a quality player he is. Renardo, we've never faced. His reputation precedes him in that he's big and talented. Typically you don't miss when you're proclaimed the best player in your class, so his talent's unquestioned."
Bost and Sidney combined for 16 points in the loss to Alabama.
And while Sidney has drawn the most national attention – both on and off the floor – Ole Miss knows this Mississippi State team is run through Bost, the Bulldogs' newly-named captain.
Bost, in a two-game sweep of Ole Miss last season, scored a combined 36 points, including a 25-point outburst in Oxford. But while the Rebels are familiar with Bost, they have limited film to go by when preparing this time around.
Bost made his season debut vs. Alabama. He scored 14 points.
"I really don't know what to expect from him," senior guard Chris Warren said. "I'm not going to underestimate anyone; I'm not going to overestimate anyone. From past memories, he's good in transition, so try and stop the ball in transition and try to contain him."
Kennedy, too, emphasized the importance of containing Bost.
"I think he's a strong lead guard that can hurt you in a number of ways. He's very fast in the open floor; he's strong. He's overpowered Chris, at times, when he's gotten closer to the rim," Kennedy said.
"If you look at his numbers, they don't jump off the page. But he's a big shot-maker. He's always stepped up and made big plays when his team has needed it."
Ole Miss entering critical two-game stretch:
Even with its most recent game a loss at Florida, Ole Miss improved its RPI rank to 58 this week, thanks to Florida's win at Tennessee and Penn State's last-second upset win over No. 16 Illinois.
Ole Miss is the only current member of the SEC West in a favorable position for an NCAA at-large berth. The Rebels have won nine of their last 11 games. Mississippi State's RPI is 233, according to RealTimeRPI.
"It's a big game regardless, just because of what we're trying to do and where we're trying to go," Warren said. "This is going to be a big win, anyway. Even though they're our rivals, we need this win for an NCAA bid."
Following Thursday's game, Ole Miss welcomes a Georgia team that now finds itself ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 after beating Kentucky. The Bulldogs, who face Vanderbilt tonight, are riding an SEC-best nine-game winning streak.
"This is a big weekend for us with State on Thursday and then a very quick turn against a good Georgia team that I saw just got nationally ranked," Kennedy said.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State tipoff at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2.