Mississippi State looks to get back on track Tuesday night in Rupp Arena after dropping two in a row to open up Southeastern Conference play.
That will be easier said than done against the 12-3 Kentucky Wildcats, the No. 14 team in the nation and one of the more challenging teams to play in the league year in and year out (especially on the road).
First on coach Ben Howland's list of things he'll need his players to execute -- other than playing better defense -- is boxing out after doing so. As Howland talked about in his Monday press conference, his team is preparing to face one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the league.
Offensive boards killed MSU in its loss to Texas A&M when the Aggies hauled in 20 rebounds after missed shots. Those second-chance points ultimately saved the Aggies, who shot an unimpressive 30.6 percent from the floor.
It would take that same type of poor shooting performance for State to pull off an upset. Kentucky isn't leaps and bounds ahead of MSU offensively like we're used to seeing. They've scored just a shade over a point of game more than MSU (77.6 to MSU's 76.4). Kentucky also doesn't shoot the long ball as well as they typically do (only 31 percent).
But it won't matter if State can't get a body on Kentucky players crashing the boards. The Wildcats average over 14 offensive rebounds a game. Overall they are just under a +7 rebounding margin. While their two big men Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee have been active on the boards, what really makes them dangerous is the willingness of their guards to contribute in that area of the game as well.
Isaiah Briscoe, Tyler Ulis, and Jamal Murray combined bring down 13.3 rebounds a game. Briscoe and Murray don't pose a huge size mismatch for MSU. They're about the same height as Craig Sword and Malik Newman. But Sword and Newman have a big challenge on their hands to focus on boxing those two out before running back down the floor to play offense.
MSU's zone defense is still a work in progress. When it comes down to it, if Kentucky has a lot of chances at offensive rebounds that's a positive thing because it means they're missing shots. Arkansas shot the lights out from three-point range against MSU last Saturday. Assuming Kentucky doesn't replicate that performance, this game could end up being a lot more competitive than most expect it to be.