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Mississippi State Opens SEC Play vs. Texas A&M: Five Things to Watch

MSU opens SEC play under Ben Howland at the Hump Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Here are five things to watch as the Bulldogs battle the Aggies.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

MSU faces arguably its most difficult opponent thus far in No. 21 Texas A&M as SEC play opens for Ben Howland and the Bulldogs. Here are five things to keep an eye on when the Dogs and Aggies tip off Wednesday night.

Coming down to the wire

MSU and Texas A&M have played each other four times since the Aggies joined the SEC. Three of those four games have either been decided by less than six points or in overtime. A&M won last year's only matchup 74-70 in College Station. However, if A&M's season to this point is any indication the chances of another nail biter Wednesday night are slim. In their 11 wins, the Aggies have won by an average of over 24 points. In the team's league opener last Saturday against Arkansas, the Aggies dominated by a score of 92-69.

Struggles against ranked opponents

With a win Wednesday, Ben Howland would accomplish something in year one that Rick Ray didn't in three years with the program. MSU has lost 10 games in a row to top 25 teams, and Texas A&M will be the first ranked team the Bulldogs have played this season. Arizona in 2011 was the last ranked foe MSU defeated, when Texas A&M assistant coach Rick Stansbury was the head man for the Bulldogs.

Two of the league's best go head to head

There should be no shortage of points scored down low as Gavin Ware and Jalen Jones battle it out under the basket. Ware paces MSU with 17.7 points per game and ranks second in the SEC with a 70.4 field goal percentage. The forward Jones is the reigning SEC player of the week after scoring 28 points against Arkansas. He leads his team with a 16.3 scoring clip after missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension.

Taking care of the basketball

MSU must limit the turnovers in order to win or keep the game competitive. A&M ranks second in the league with 7.9 steals per game -- led by Alex Caruso's 2.4 a game. Caruso has 230 stills in his career which makes him the active leader in the NCAA. MSU has improved the turnovers since last season but is still coughing the ball up a little over 12 times per game. A&M has forced 12 or more turnovers in nine of its 13 games.

Rick Stansbury returns to the Hump

Stansbury will return to the place where he made a name for himself as a SEC head basketball coach for 14 seasons -- part of 22 total years with the MSU program. He will be honored at center court prior to tipoff. It will be interesting to see how the fans respond: a standing ovation or a echo of boo's. I'm guessing we'll get a mix of both, but the majority will be applause. His tenure went south toward the end, but the man still did a lot for MSU and kept the team relevant for many years. Ben Howland has expressed his respect for Stansbury more than once, and I think the fans will do the same Wednesday night.