Mississippi State (17-7, 5-6) dropped both their games last week by a combined 8 points against 2 very good teams. The Bulldogs rebounded by beating Alabama 81-62 on Tuesday night. Head Coach Ben Howland said that the game against the Tide was the best game of basketball he had seen since he started coaching here. I believe the Bulldogs turned a corner after defeating Ole Miss in Oxford 2 weeks ago. They have played great basketball since then and Howland has the pieces in place to make a run in the SEC.
The Bulldogs now travel to Fayetteville to take on the Razorbacks. Arkansas (14-10, 5-6) doesn't have the most impressive resumé to their name. Their best win was a 89-88 upset against LSU in Baton Rouge. After that, the Razorbacks beat Indiana at the beginning of the season, then there’s not another win to write home about. The Razorbacks have struggled in the SEC and are currently on a 2-game losing streak after losing to Missouri and South Carolina and have lost 7 of their last 10.
Arkansas has made it to the NCAA Tournament each of the last 2 years. Last year, the Razorbacks came in as a 7 seed and were upset by Butler in the first round. They lost many key pieces and have struggled this year to continue the same success. Sophomore Daniel Gafford leads the Razorbacks with 16.9 and 8.7 rebounds. Gafford is a reliable inside scorer and does not pose a threat from the outside. It will be a matchup between big-men as Abdul Ado will be tasked to slow down the 6’ 11” Center. Nick and Quinndary Weatherspoon will guard Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones. Joe is a Freshman averaging 14.2 points and shooting a team-high 43.9% from deep. Jones plays very similar to the way Q does; drive in, draw a foul, and make the free throws. Jones can punish teams from the outside as he shoots 34.5% from 3. Arkansas’ Point Guard, Jalen Harris, averages 5.6 assists per game and only 1.7 turnovers per game. Harris values the ball and Lamar Peters’ job will be to prevent him from creating opportunities for teammates
MSU currently has 5 different players shooting at least 35% from 3, 3 players shooting over 50% from the field, and 1 player in the top-100 in free-throw percentage. The deep ball has been an essential weapon to the Bulldogs’ success this season, and with the emergence of freshmen Reggie Perry and Robert Woodard the past few weeks, the floor has been spread out more and this gives the team more open shots to take. There have been less forced shots this season, and Howland has utilized his inside weapons more recently. The chemistry on this team is really falling into place and it’s happening at the right time.
Mississippi State is statistically better than Arkansas in every category except assists per game. MSU has many more outside threats than the Razorbacks, this will be the key to a Bulldogs victory. If Reggie Perry and Ado can work together to shut down Daniel Gafford, the guards will take care of the rest on the offensive end. Mississippi State looks ready to make a run in the SEC as the schedule lightens up. After Fayetteville, the Bulldogs travel to Athens, and then host South Carolina and Missouri. This is the most important part of the schedule and every game counts more towards seeding in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. MSU has a very good chance to make it to The Dance and the main question is how high of a seed they can get on Selection Sunday. Leaving Fayetteville with a win is the first step to a potential run in March. Go Dawgs and Hail State!