Starkville Daily News
Bulldogs host hungry Wildcats
Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (34) is sixth in the Southeastern Conference with 15.7 points per game and first in the conference with 13.3 rebounds per outing. (Photo by James Crisp, AP file)
Challenging a hungry Wildcat can be a very dangerous thing.
Mississippi State head men's basketball coach Chris Jans knows there is nothing the Kentucky Wildcats would like more than to make up for a 75-68 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs with a victory against his version tonight.
Jans doesn't expect a very happy bunch of Wildcats when they visit Starkville and he's been trying to warn his MSU players about that this week.
“It's Kentucky and everyone in college basketball understands what that means with their program and success,” Jans said on Monday. “I know they are going to be super hungry and are going to be coming in here with the attitude of a must win and got to have it. That will be talked about plenty in our locker room.”
With the defeat at the hands of Georgia, Kentucky has a 16-9 record this season and stands at No. 45 in the NET rankings, which is used by the NCAA Tournament committee to select the field of 68 teams for March Madness.
That places the Wildcats on the bubble so they know there is not much more margin for error.
“I think that, around this time of year, no matter what the circumstances or the situation is, there's a sense of urgency,” Kentucky assistant coach Chin Coleman said. “You're nearing the conference tournament, postseason play and all of that stuff is starting to play a factor.”
Oscar Tshiebwe can be a load to handle inside for the Wildcats.
Earlier in the SEC schedule, Tshiebwe had 37 points and 24 rebounds in the first meeting with Georgia on January 17. It was the first 30/20 game by an SEC player since South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell did the trick with 44 points and 21 rebounds against Alabama on February 7, 2017.
Tshiebwe leads Kentucky and the SEC with 13.3 rebounds per game and he is sixth in the league in scoring at 15.7 points per outing.
It should be a charged up atmosphere inside the Humphrey Coliseum with the anticipation of a rare victory over the Wildcats as a possibility for the Bulldogs. A near sellout is expected.
Jans knows that can put pressure on MSU but feels his players can handle it.
“These kids have proven to me that they are working and they get it,” Jans said. “They understand that's going to be there (tonight) and we need to do what we need to do leading up to the game to make sure we are being physically prepared. I've always felt we were business-like in our approach and understand the approach of the preparation on the floor. That's just a positive to know we are going to have an electric crowd. To me, it just makes more sense to lock in even more to make sure we are ready to go.”
The Bulldogs have been locked in and ready to go for the last couple of weeks now.
After upsetting then-no. 11 TCU in overtime in a nonconference matchup via the SEC/BIG 12 Challenge, MSU got back to conference play and has defeated South Carolina, Missouri, LSU and Arkansas for an overall record of 18-8 and 5-7 mark in the league.
Tolu Smith has been a big part of the success for the Bulldogs this season. He averages 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Shakeel Moore and D.J. Jeffries are knocking on the door of double-digit scoring averages as Moore scores 9.2 points per outing and Jeffries adds nine points per contest.
Jans likes the balance MSU has been showing lately in terms of point production.
“We don't necessarily have to rely on one guy carrying the brunt of our scoring, which is hard to prepare for and nice to have,” Jans said. “I think it's obvious that a lot of our guys are gaining confidence and that certainly helps our play.”
The encounter between State and Kentucky tips at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by SEC Network.