On February 10th of this year, Mississippi State was ranked #23 in the country and boasted a record of 19-5.
One day later the Maroon Dogs would be upset in overtime by the Georgia Bulldogs (14-16; 5-11), a loss that sent MSU on a five-game losing streak that nearly knocked them off the NCAA Tournament Bubble. Luckily for Coach Rick Stansbury his team was able to somewhat right the ship, securing much-needed victories over South Carolina and Arkansas to wrap up their conference schedule.
According to ESPN College Basketball “Bubble Watch” blogger Eamonn Brennan, “a first-round loss to Georgia on Thursday could spell trouble”. Motivation anybody?
Coach Mark Fox’s team drew probably the worst-possible opponent of the SEC teams that will be playing on Thursday in Mississippi State. The Maroon Dogs have a serious size advantage on Georgia, they need a win to put themselves in a position to earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance, and they will surely be out to avenge the loss from earlier in the season.
These aforementioned reasons probably account for why “Losing to Missy State” was the most popular reader-response (over 44%) to a poll I posed earlier in the week asking – “How far do you see the Georgia Bulldogs going in this week’s SEC Tournament?”.
The odds-makers in Las Vegas agree, setting UGA as a 5-point underdog.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Coach Mark Fox’s squad utilized a match-up zone to limit 6’11” Arnett Moultrie’s looks at the basket. This strategy worked to perfection as Georgia held the junior to 12 points – 4 below his season average – and just 6 field goal attempts. Moultrie, who led the conference in rebounding at 10.2 per SEC contest, found his groove over the past two games though, averaging 17.5 points and 11 boards in the wins over USC and Arky.
MSU is led in the backcourt by senior guard Dee Bost, who put together another excellent SEC season, netting 15.8 points and a league-leading 6.1 assists in conference games (and he knocked down 37% of his three-point attempts).
In the loss to UGA, Bost got 21 points, but he tossed up 10 three-pointers (of which he hit only 3) en route to that total. Mississippi State lost all three SEC games this year in which Bost hoisted up 8 or more threes.
If Georgia can again limit Moultrie’s touches inside, they may entice Bost into a few extra perimeter shots (again) that he might not normally take.
Missy State finished 5th in SEC games in offensive production at nearly 69 points per game. However, the Maroon Dogs were only 3-6 in conference games in which they failed to eclipse 70 points (they only scored 68 in OT against Georgia).
Defensively, Georgia yielded just 64.4 points per contest, ranking them 6th in the league in that category. Again, if Coach Mark Fox’s team can get after MSU on defense they will certainly have an opportunity to hang around in this game.
The play I remember most from the February 11 game between these two teams was the step-back three-pointer that freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope made with only 68 seconds remaining that put Georgia back on top 68-66 after they had just relinquished the lead to MSU on a three. This shot by KCP was absolutely huge, and it enabled the Dawgs to close out the game and secure the victory.
The Bulldogs were 3-3 (which is pretty darn good for a team that finished 5-11 in conference) in SEC games this season when KCP scored 18 points or more.
I know Gerald Robinson, Jr. is going to play well tomorrow night because for the most part he has played superb all season.
Even though Thursday will be young KCP’s first SEC Tournament game, his performance in it will be the difference in whether Georgia’s season ends tomorrow night, or if the Dawgs will play into the weekend.