There's not really any sense in beating around the bush on this one. Mississippi State isn't going to win tonight. To wit, a few of their losses this year are against Hampton, Winthrop, Santa Barbara, and Southern Miss. They're 233 in RPI as of Tuesday night and they managed an SEC win against Ole Miss, who is also 1-6 in league play and has lost against Lamar, Cleveland, and Hofstra. Mississippi State is not a top 50% team in D-1 play.
So with that out of the way, what will we see tonight? Well, Tennessee is licking its wounds after a loss to Notre Dame that (a) reinforced that this team is still a year off of being a favorite to the Final Four, (b) reminded everbody that their defense is well ahead of their halfcourt offense, and (c) finished the tear to Harrison's meniscus, which leaves Tennessee's depth at LOLNOPE. Mississippi State is on the other end of the spectrum: a win against their rival, a 12-deep roster that got meaningful minutes out of 9 players against Ole Miss, and not a single player that can match up one-on-one with their counterpart on Tennessee. Hopefully that adds up to an early lead by Tennessee, ample time by the remnants of Tennessee's bench, and a chance to practice halfcourt offense, kill the clock, and avoid any further injuries. That's what we really would hope to see.
A bit about MSU:
- They are not really a three-point shooting team. About 15% of their shots are beyond the arc and though it's a decent-ish 30%, it's not a mark that will make anybody nervous. A zone defense should work quite well for most of the night, which should really help keep players rested as they wait for Burdick to return from injury.
- Their A/TO is well underwater at 227/403. Given their record, this suggests that they don't do well against the press, so UT should be able to create some easy scoring opportunities and create an early, insurmountable lead.
- They have averaged 57 PPG against a #134 SoS. Tennessee has held the #2 SoS to 63 PPG. Don't expect MSU to set any scoring marks tonight.
- 6'-4" sophomore center Martha Alwal is the key player to stop. She has 9.7 rebounds per game, 12.2 PPG, and 46 blocks on the season. She'll match up against Graves and Jones which will probably make for the most interesting match on the court all night long. If she can't have a career night, MSU doesn't have a chance.
- Why yes. Yes I did scout MSU by reading their stat sheet. How'd you guess? (I normally do watch prior games when writing these but am short on time this week. Sincere apologies to MSU.)
No prediction tonight. We'll settle for a win, nobody else getting hurt, and a chance to improve in the half court.