8-10 (0-6 SEC)
19-2 (7-0 SEC)
Tonight's game marks the halfway point in SEC play for the Lady Vols, who have (mostly) cruised through their opponents in the fashion that most tend to expect a Tennessee team to do. In conference play, the Lady Vols are outscoring their opponents on average 80.6 to 51.6 and have only really had two games were a loss even seemed possible (@LSU and home against Vanderbilt).
(Ok, how to respectfully put this next bit?)
With a SEC-winless Mississippi State coming into Knoxville, the expectation is certainly that Tennessee should have this game won by the opening tipoff, when Cain bats the ball to a streaking Stricklen who scores an easy layup and puts Tennessee on top for good. Even if the game doesn't play out according to the full potential of Tennessee, the natural talent and depth of the team is so great that MSU can't be expected to contain it all.
Still, Mississippi State is not as bad as their record would indicate. Rather than explain (again) why Tennessee should win this going away or why it would take an epic fail by Tennessee for the upset to happen, I'll take a look at what Mississippi State has available and why they should be given healthy respect by the orange-clad fans tonight.
First, the rosters:
Hope in the Roster
First, Mississippi State has experience. They have four starting juniors and a starting senior, but their entire 14-deep roster includes two seniors, seven juniors, one sophomore, and four freshmen. (For comparison, Tennessee's 13-deep is: two seniors, seven juniors, two sophomores, and two freshmen.) Most of MSU's players have considerable experience in hostile road games and shouldn't be spooked by Knoxville's crowd. In that regard, they are in better shape than Ole Miss in their ill-fated 86-46 loss in Tennessee.
Second, Mississippi State has size. The starting rotation is undersized, but they do have two 6'-5" centers (both juniors) and four other players at 6'-0" to 6'-3". The Lady Bulldogs can afford to rotate their interior players and still maintain some semblance of fairness of height, which is absolutely crucial when playing against a Tennessee roster that now has Cain, Johnson, Baugh, and Brewer available. This is better than South Carolina's offering of one 6'1" player and a bunch of shorties. (Seriously.)
Schedule of Doom
If we make the assumption that Tennessee is the #1 team in the SEC (an assumption that is currently challenged only by Georgia), then Mississippi State started conference play against teams #2-7. In order: @Vanderbilt, Arkansas, LSU, @Kentucky, Auburn, @Georgia. In those games, they were only really blown out by Vanderbilt (44-65) and Georgia (58-78 - both road games. They led Auburn for most of the game and really should have won.
Reality: if you want to beat Tennessee, you really do have to be able to win several of those games. MSU hasn't, and nobody could rightly expect that to change sans a Tennessee collapse. But not all 0-6 starts are created equal, and MSU has had the toughest SEC schedule for the opening six games.
Mississippi State might be better than 0-6 tends to indicate, but it's still 0-6. Tennessee wins 88 - 47, even without Bjorklund's services.
Brianna Bass Watch: the under-12 media timeout of the first half. (With Bjorklund out, the guard rotation will reach her sooner than normal.)