Kentucky looks to knock off second straight top 25 team tonight

The Cats return to Rupp Arena tonight to face #22 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are having their best season in years and appear to be headed for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2009. It has taken time for Ben Howland to turn the ship around but he has done it with a team that returned all of it’s key players from last season. They also added a solid recruiting class to the mix and look to have a bright future ahead. Kentucky is coming off their biggest when of the season and another top 25 win would be big for the young team.

Mississippi State likes to slow the game down and limit possessions. They play at a pace that is the opposite of Auburn who wanted to run and shoot early in the shot clock. Ben Howland is a defensive coach that is very good at making the opposing team play at the pace he wants. The Cats have to look for opportunities to speed the game up and may need to employ some full court pressure to force the Bulldogs to play faster. The Dogs are shooting over 38% from the 3-point line this season and they can stretch the floor with multiple shooters. They almost always play a three guard lineup with skilled shooters. Quinndary Weatherspoon is their leading scorer at 17 points a game. He scores most of his points by driving the ball to the basket but he can get hot from deep as well. Lamar Peters is a quick point guard that shoots over 40% from deep. Slowing him down will be a huge key for the Cats tonight. Their best big man is 6’10 senior Aric Holman who is also an exceptional shooter. He averages 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while shooting 44% from deep. His length could give the Cats trouble inside and his shooting will be a challenge for whoever has to defend him away from the basket. Nick Weatherspoon is the younger brother of Quinndary and he is a talented guard averaging 10 points a game and shooting 46% from 3. Tyson Carter is another guard averaging right at 10 points a game as a very good shooter. Reggie Perry is a five star freshman big man that will likely play a lot tonight to help negate the Cats size. He is 6’10 and averages 7 points and 6 rebounds a game. The big time shot blocker Abdul Ado rounds out the list of their main contributors. He averages 5 points, 5 rebounds and almost 2 blocks a game. The Dogs have the length inside to give Reid Travis and PJ Washington some problems so that will be something to watch.

Kentucky is growing by leaps and bounds but tonight will be a big test for them. How will they come out and play after such a big win? It is good that they are facing a ranked team because that should help them get up for the game more. The slow start issue looked much better on Saturday but they need to follow that up with a good start tonight. The length that the Bulldogs have inside will make shooting the ball from the 3-point line very important for the Cats. That length also makes it important for Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery to contribute tonight. It will be interesting to see who Cal matches Hagans up with on defense. I would guess that he would start on Lamar Peters, their primary ball handler. I have a suspicion that this game will come down to a battle of the back courts. Whichever group plays the best will likely win the game.

It should be a close game for much of the contest. I expect the Bulldogs to be fairly effective at keeping it a low scoring game. In the end the Cats talent will be too much for the Dogs and pull away with a 67-62 win. Every win against a quality team will help the Cats tournament seed in March. It will also be another step in the growing process for a young team.

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