First Scouting Report: Is Kentucky primed to earn a payback win over Mississippi St.?

·3 min read
Gerry Broome/AP

An early look ahead to the Kentucky Wildcats’ next men’s basketball game:

The opponent

No. 12 Kentucky (15-4, 5-2 SEC) will face Mississippi State (12-5, 3-2 SEC) on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at Rupp Arena (capacity 20,545) in downtown Lexington.

The game will tip off at 9 p.m. (EST) and be telecast by ESPN.

Coach Ben Howland’s Bulldogs faced archrival Mississippi on Saturday at 4 p.m. (EST).

Series history

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Mississippi State 92-19.

Most recent meeting

Iverson Molinar had 21 points and Tolu Smith added 13 points and 11 rebounds as Mississippi State snapped a 15-game losing skid vs. Kentucky with a 74-73 victory in the SEC Tournament on March 11, 2021, at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Power rankings

Through Friday’s games, the NCAA’s NET Rankings had Kentucky No. 10 and Mississippi State No. 49.

The Kenpom Rankings rated UK No. 4 and Mississippi State No. 44.

Kentucky stood No. 8 in the Sagarin Ratings with Mississippi State No. 47.

Know your foe

1. Going into Saturday’s game with Ole Miss, Mississippi State is 3-4 vs. power conference (the football Power Five plus the Big East) opponents. Coach Ben Howland’s Bulldogs have SEC wins over Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama plus league losses at Mississippi and at Florida.

In the pre-conference slate, Mississippi State lost to Louisville of the ACC on a neutral court and fell to Big Ten foe Minnesota in Starkville.

MSU is 0-2 this season in true road games.

2. Mississippi State’s top two players in its SEC Tournament victory over UK last season remain the Bulldogs’ main threats.

Guard Iverson Molinar is MSU’s best player, averaging 17.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Going into the Mississippi contest, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior was struggling from the outside, making only 29.7 percent of his three-point shots.

Big man Tolu Smith is averaging 13.4 points and 7 rebounds. A 6-11, 245-pound redshirt junior who began his college career at Western Kentucky, Smith entered the Ole Miss game shooting a better percentage on field-goal tries (63.6) than free throws (63.2).

3. MSU supplemented its roster for 2021-22 by bringing in a series of high-profile transfers.

North Carolina transfer Garrison Brooks, a 6-9, 230-pound graduate student, is averaging 10.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Memphis transfer D.J. Jeffries — once a Kentucky recruiting commitment — was averaging 10.0 points and 4.8 rebounds going into play Saturday. The 6-7, 215-pound junior has not shot especially well, making 41.4 percent overall, 31.7 percent on three-point tries.

North Carolina State transfer Shakeel Moore, a 6-1, 185-pound sophomore, was averaging 11.2 points and three rebounds and making 36.3 percent of his three-point tries.

Michigan State transfer Rocket Watts has been slowed by the lingering effects of a hip injury. Going into the Mississippi game Saturday, the 6-2, 185-pound junior had appeared in only 13 games and was averaging only 4.1 points in 13.3 minutes of playing time.

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