Kentucky basketball: Keys to victory game preview vs Mississippi State

The Cats are looking to get back on the winning side of things.
Kentucky v Louisville
Kentucky v Louisville / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

Kentucky returns home looking to bounce back after suffering their first loss of the early conference schedule. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs enter Wednesday’s game amid a fierce start to their conference schedule, including 8 of 9 games classified as Quad-1, which are instrumental in postseason placement. Another scheduling note, the Bulldogs have already played 8 games away from Starkville, and the clash at Rupp Arena will be the third true road game of the season. Coach Jans’ team should be well accustomed to playing on the road. This is another, huge matchup for both teams as they look to keep pace in the SEC standings

Mississippi State Snapshot

The undeniable leader and anchor of the Bulldogs is big man Tolu Smith. Smith is coming back from an injury that sidelined him for the team’s first 12 games. Now, Smith is at full strength and playing like the NBA prospect he was projected to. During that 12-game span, Coach Jans saw Seniors Cameron Matthews and D.J. Jeffries step up and become constant playmakers. Additionally, Josh Hubbard, an undersized freshman guard who has red-hot spurtability, comes off the bench and leads the Bulldogs in several offensive categories. Defensively, they use their physical presence and connectedness to stonewall anything near the basket. Tolu Smith’s return has immediately helped bolster the interior defense by his ability to alter shots and snatch rebounds. Coach Jans has several versatile, athletic guards and wings at his disposal. Maybe their most underrated piece about their defense has been the exceptional play along the perimeter. They lead the SEC and are one of the best teams nationally in 3-point defense by limiting their opponents to under 28% shooting beyond the arc.

Bigs are bringing it

At the halfway point of the season, Kentucky fans know the value and production Tre Mitchell brings to the team. Mitchell did not have his most impactful game statistically in the loss to Texas A&M, so he will want to bounce back in the next game. Kentucky fans should be elated with the production coming from the duo of Bradshaw and Onyenso. In 3 conference games, they have combined to score 33 points and haul in 32 rebounds. Both players are crucial if the Wildcats are going to match the rebounding efforts by the Bulldogs. 

Offensive firepower

The Wildcats are facing another team that ranks high nationally in scoring defense. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 65 points per game to their opponents. Coach Calipari knows that his players are on scholarship to score and he needs to continue to let them play with confidence. Almost every player has a green light and the Wildcats need to let the home crowd help carry the offensive momentum. 

Justin Edwards adjusting

Justin Edwards is playing himself into more minutes. As Adou Thiero continues to miss time, it is clear that Coach Calipari and his staff have challenged Edwards to do more with his time on the court. For several games, Coach Calipari monitored Edwards and played him in limited stretches. Now, in back-to-back games, Edwards has extended his rotation in both the first and second half. He is playing noticeably harder and his stat line is showing a direct correlation. Let’s hope Edwards has turned the corner and will continue to be a force for this team. His versatility and athleticism will be a good test against the Bulldogs’ wings. 


Sportsbooks have the lines opening anywhere as UK -5, or -5.5.. Analytics show a slightly closer contest. We see Kentucky prevailing at home in another nail-biter to the tune of 84-79. The game MVP is Tre Mitchell. We expect him to be the difference maker in his ability to stretch the bigs of Mississippi State out on the perimeter and allow for Kentucky’s offense to flourish.