The Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-7, 6-6) are now .500 in the SEC and back in the race for a top-4 finish in the conference. MSU went 2-0 last week and played tremendous basketball against Alabama and on the road against Arkansas. Nick Weatherspoon has been suspended indefinitely for “violation of team rules.” Tyson Carter stepped into Nick’s role and Carter showed out by finishing with 18 points and, surprisingly, going 0/5 from 3. The Bulldog defense has been suffocating recently and ever since the victory in Oxford two weeks ago, this team has looked different. With the SEC and NCAA Tournaments closing in, this team is getting hot at the right time and nobody will want to be on the other side of the court when March comes around.
MSU now turns their sights to the Georgia Bulldogs (10-15, 1-11). UGA is introducing a new head coach, Tom Crean. Crean was previously at Indiana where he had a 166-135 record, NCAA Tournament appearances 4 of the past 6 years, and 2 regular season titles. Crean has had a tough time adjusting to the SEC as they've only won 1 conference game so far (Vanderbilt). Georgia has lost 11 of their last 13 games and haven't scored more than 80 points since their last victory in the Big 12/SEC Challenge (Texas).
Georgia’s best player is Sophomore Nicolas Claxton and leads the Bulldogs in points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks. Claxton is one of the few bright spots on this team and Quinndary Weatherspoon will be the one tasked with slowing him down. Speaking of Q Weatherspoon, he has scored at least 20 points in 5 of his last 7 games and is coming off a game where he tied his season-high 6 steals. In those 7 games, Q is shooting 20/38 (52.6%) from 3 and 57.5% from the field. Q has taken the leadership position on this team and we are all behind him to lead our team through March and maybe even into April.
This Bulldog team is playing its best basketball so far this season and it’s at the perfect time. Coach Ben Howland has been utilizing his weapons off the bench and Abdul Ado has really stepped up the past few weeks and has become an anchor on defense. The combination of Ado and Reggie Perry in the paint is frightening for opponents driving into the lane. Robert Woodard has been fantastic on defense. Woodard is able to shut down opponents that are bigger than him, his athleticism makes up for it and he is a lock-down defender.
All of this defense has turned into fireworks on offense. In the past 4 games, the Bulldog defense is forcing 16 turnovers per game; this looks like the Howland defenses that he had at UCLA and Pitt.
MSU will travel to Athens and then come back to prepare for a rematch against South Carolina at The Hump Saturday night. If the Bulldogs leave Athens with a win, it will be the first time this season that Mississippi State is above .500 in the SEC. MSU can get far above .500 in the next few games and have a lot of momentum going into their games at Auburn and at Tennessee. Play like the Bulldogs have been playing, and no one on their schedule will be able to slow them down. Go Dawgs and Hail State!