A must-win game just two contests into the conference season? Well, not exactly, but for Mississippi State, going 0-2 in league play with one of those losses being at home to in-state rival Mississippi on Saturday would not be the start it is seeking. The Bulldogs played Kentucky tough in the first half on the Wildcats' home floor in their SEC opener - until Kentucky found its groove and pulled away for a 22-point victory.
The Rebels will be without their leading scorer, Marshall Henderson, who is sitting out the first two conference games because of on- and off-court problems last season. The Rebels won their season opener against Auburn without Henderson, but they'll have to compensate without his 18.8-point average in the lineup. Still, an emotional game like this one against a longtime rival is sure to bring out the best in the rest of the team.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI (10-4, 1-0 SEC): The Rebels take a bit of a hit offensively without Henderson in the lineup, but coach Andy Kennedy was extremely proud of the way his team responded to playing without Henderson in beating Auburn. While Mississippi didn't have the firepower to simply overwhelm the Tigers, they fought hard to get a close win, earning praise for their toughness from Kennedy. "The result is ultimately what shows progress," Kennedy told The Oxford Eagle. "We're in a results-oriented business, so for that I'm excited."
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (10-4, 0-1): Every coach preaches to his team that they need to play hard the entire game, never letting up in their effort. For Mississippi State coach Rick Ray, he has a perfect example of such a game where the effort wasn't sustained, after the Bulldogs led Kentucky by three wound up losing by 22. "I thought we did a great job in the first half," Ray said. "I thought we really competed and no one will know that because of the final score and that's something we have to fight to get past."
1. Mississippi leads the SEC and is third in the nation with an average of 7.3 blocks, led by junior F Aaron Jones' 2.7 per game.
2. Mississippi State is 8-0 when outrebounding its opponent but just 2-4 when losing the board battle.
3. The in-state conference rivals have faced each other 247 times, with Mississippi State leading the series 140-107.
PREDICTION: Mississippi State 69, Mississippi 66