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Bulldogs vs Volunteers Preview

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Mississippi State’s winning streak was snapped in Auburn Saturday afternoon, but that doesn’t end the Bulldogs’ chances to grab the 4th spot in the SEC.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State (21-8, 9-7) lost its first game in nearly a month after winning five in a row. The Bulldogs were 4-6 in the Southeastern Conference, but made a run to get well above .500 and in place to grab the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament. With that fourth place spot, the Bulldogs will get a two-round-bye and won't play in the Tournament until Friday. In that position, the Bulldogs will only have to win three games in the Tournament to take home the trophy. That’s easier said than done, but this team has the talent to do just that. Mississippi State has the same conference record as Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, and South Carolina, but holds the tie-breaker.

The Bulldogs now travel to Knoxville, Tenn. to play the No. 5 Volunteers. Tennessee (26-3, 14-2) is coming off a home win against No. 6 Kentucky to get revenge on the game the Wildcats lost in Lexington three weeks ago. The Vols are currently undefeated at home this season, but MSU is looking to spoil their opportunity to have that perfect home record.

In the past five games, Mississippi State is scoring 72.8 points per game, while allowing 64.8 points a game. On the other hand, Tennessee is scoring 73.6 points and giving up 67.4 points. Ever since Tennessee lost the game in Lexington, the Volunteers have looked like a different team. I get the feeling the Saturday game against Kentucky was emotionally draining and this is the perfect opportunity for Mississippi State to get a road SEC win against a top-five opponent.

Tennessee has the ability to score from all areas of the floor. The Vols’ leader, Grant Williams, is a high NBA prospect, and deservedly so. Williams is averaging 19.3 points a game, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists a game. Tennessee has four other players averaging double-digit points per game—Admiral Schofield (16.4), Jordan Bone (13.6), Lamonte Turner (10.9), Jordan Bowden (10.3). All of these guys can punish you from the inside and the outside.

The Volunteers have a six-man rotation, and it works for them. They have 26 wins for a reason. Those first six guys are shooting 50.5 percent from the field, 78.3 percent from the free-throw line, and 36.5 percent from 3-point range. The main problems with that six-man rotation is that there are only six guys you can get reliable production out of. If they were to get into foul trouble, or if one guy is having an off night, there isn't someone you could turn to off the bench.

Nick Weatherspoon is still suspended, but Tyson Carter has been very reliable replacing Weatherspoon. In the four games Weatherspoon has been suspended, Carter is averaging 15.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and is shooting 15-of-35 (42.9%) from behind the arc. Mississippi State was down by as much as 19 against Auburn on Saturday, and Carter was one of the main reasons why MSU was so close to completing a miracle comeback.

Mississippi State is for sure going to the Big Dance in three weeks, but the Bulldogs can still increase their seeding. Currently, State is listed as a No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region facing Minnesota in the first round. A win against the No. 5 team in the country on the road could bring Mississippi State up to a No. 5 seed. Becoming a four seed might be out of reach, but a run in the SEC Tournament could make that happen. Personally, I’m so excited to see what this Bulldog team can do in March. It’s been 10 long years since Mississippi State has been this good in basketball and this team can make March very exciting for the entire fan base.

Go Dawgs and Hail State!