Mississippi State vs. #1 Kentucky: Tuesday's Preview

    
February 20th, 2012
While Mississippi State's (19-8, 6-6) NCAA tournament prospects won't boil down to just one game there's no mistaking the importance of their game against #1 Kentucky (26-1, 12-0) in light of their three-game losing streak. It's one thing to drop three straight games at this point in the season and another to have those defeats come against Georgia, LSU and Auburn. That's not going to get it done for Rick Stansbury's squad, and their inability to take care of the basketball in recent games has been a big reason why.

Point guard Dee Bost leads the team in scoring (15.8) and assists (5.0) but over the last three games he's racked up 11 turnovers while interior presence Arnett Moultrie has ten. If your two primary offensive weapons are averaging a combined seven turnovers per game it's difficult to win games regardless of the opponent. Kentucky may only force 12.7 turnovers per game but with their talent, live-ball turnovers by the Bulldogs could turn the game into a rout quickly. And even if Mississippi State can take care of the ball, there's a presence on the back line unmatched by any team in America in the form of freshman Anthony Davis.

Not only is Davis the best freshman in the country, he's also made a strong case for being the national player of the year, something that hasn't happened since Kevin Durant was at Texas. Davis leads Kentucky in scoring and rebounding while blocking 4.9 shots per game, and while Mississippi State does have the experience of playing a long-limbed team in Baylor none of those players compare to Davis. Alongside Davis is Terrence Jones, who posted his first double-double of the season in the Wildcats' win over Ole Miss on Saturday.

If he can build on that Kentucky become even tougher to beat, and with Moultrie struggling and Renardo Sidney banged up the Bulldogs could be in serious trouble. UK rebounds 39% of their missed shots on the season, and even though Mississippi State has done a solid job of protecting the glass that becomes more important on Tuesday night. But back to Bost and the play of Mississippi State on the perimeter, which has to improve if they're to lock down a tournament bid.

He's a player who takes a high number of shots, and there isn't a serious problem with that considering the fact that Mississippi State needs him to in order to be successful. But as a senior he can't be lax with the basketball, and with a player like Rodney Hood on the wing there really isn't a reason for Bost to press when looking to make plays. Kentucky will counter with freshman Marquis Teague, who has played very well in recent games and may be the key to them not only getting to the Final Four but winning it all.

Doron Lamb and Darius Miller are steadying influences with the ability to score and distribute as well, and their play allowed the Wildcats to continue winning in spite of Teague's early struggles. These two teams are even when looking at the turnover percentage category (17.9%) but UK has done a better job of forcing them, as opponents turn the ball over on 19.1% of their possessions. The formula for Mississippi State is a simple one: quality shots, take care of the basketball and use their home crowd at The Hump for a slight energy boost. Executing this, especially against Kentucky, won't be simple at all however.

Mississippi State isn't the only team in need of a home win to bolster their NCAA tournament hopes as four teams in BCS leagues will take the floor looking for the same. Northwestern welcomes a Michigan team fresh off of a win over Ohio State to Evanston, and given the roles that John Shurna and Drew Crawford play it may take someone else stepping up for the Wildcats to win. Dave Sobolewski? Reggie Hearn? One of those players has to perform well in order to counter what Trey Burke and the rest of the Wolverines are capable of doing,

Seton Hall and NC State both get shots at Top 10 teams at home and it would be in the best interest of both if they were to pull off the upset. The Pirates host Georgetown, whose standout freshman Otto Porter is dealing with a thigh bruise but should be able to play. The key for Seton Hall is to remain disciplined on the defensive end of the floor, as the Hoyas run an offense that can slice teams apart if they don't pay attention to detail. NC State had the look of a mentally fragile team in their loss to Florida State, which came on the heels of a heartbreaking loss at Duke. Mark Gottfried's team has to move forward, and their big men have to remain on the floor if they're to beat North Carolina.

Kansas State will look to build on their win at Baylor as they visit Missouri, a contest that is a tougher matchup for the Wildcats. Angel Rodriguez has had his share of difficulties running the show for the K-State, and that cannot be the case against Phil Pressey on Tuesday night. K-State has players such as Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels who can be effective in this kind of contest, and they did win the first meeting in Manhattan, but beating Mizzou in Columbia is a much tougher task.

And in the Mountain West, Colorado State begins a three-game gauntlet that will ultimately decide their NCAA tournament hopes as they host first-place New Mexico. The Lobos took the Rams out behind the woodshed at The Pit, and the way that Drew Gordon's playing right now makes Steve Alford's team a very tough out. Greg Smith and Pierce Hornung are the two Rams to watch, because if they can't hold their own in the front court this could get bad.

Top 25 Games
9:00 PM (1) Kentucky at Mississippi State (ESPN)
7:00 PM Kansas State at (3) Missouri (ESPN2)
8:00 PM (7) North Carolina at NC State (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (8) Georgetown at Seton Hall (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Illinois at (9) Ohio State (ESPN)
7:00 PM Auburn at (11) Florida (ESPNU)
8:00 PM (13) Michigan at Northwestern (BTN)
10:00 PM (21) New Mexico at Colorado State (The Mtn.)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Stony Brook at Hartford
7:00 PM Clemson at Georgia Tech (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Xavier at Massachusetts
7:00 PM Kent State at Miami (OH) (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Vermont at Binghamton
7:00 PM Illinois-Chicago at Butler
7:00 PM Wofford at UNC Greensboro
8:00 PM Miami (FL) at Maryland (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Evansville at Creighton (FCS/ESPN3)
8:00 PM Cleveland State at Green Bay
8:05 PM Loyola (IL) at Valparaiso
9:00 PM Virginia at Virginia Tech (ESPNU)