Days after the biggest win of the season, Texas A&M hosts their second-to-last game at Reed Arena in a rematch against Mississippi State. After what had been a confounding few weeks and a near late season collapse, Billy Kennedy's squad recovered with impressive back-to-back victories over Ole Miss and Kentucky. Tonight will be the first of three straight games against teams with a RPI of 145 or lower, with the Ags just 1.5 games back (they'd improve to 1 game back with a win tonight) of Kentucky, with whom they now have a tiebreaker.
The road ahead is as good as you could ask for A&M to earn an SEC regular season title, or at least a double bye in the conference tournament. It will not be completely smooth sailing, however, as the Bulldogs of Starkville ride into tonight's game playing arguably their best basketball of the season. Mississippi State has won three of their last four, including back-to-back victories against bubble teams Vanderbilt and Alabama. Plus, we cannot forget in the first matchup where the Bulldogs were seconds away from pulling off a huge upset over A&M in Starkville.
Let's look at some keys for tonight's contest.
It will be a different matchup than last time.
The first game between the two included two key factors. Due to personal reasons, Danuel House left Starkville prior to gameday and the Ags were without one of their top scorers. DJ Hogg was thrust into the starting lineup and A&M subsequently had one of its worst shooting outings of the year. The absence of House made the Ags unable to stretch the floor on offense, leading to poor outings in the frontcourt from Jalen Jones and Tyler Davis.
For Mississippi State, highly touted freshman Malik Newman has suffered from back spasms, causing him to miss their last game against Alabama. Reports show that he'll probably be a game-time decision tonight and will be limited at best.
Mississippi State's Malik Newman (back) will be a game-time decision for tonight's Texas A&M, a school spokesman told @CBSSports.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 24, 2016
If he can't go, the Bulldogs will replace the freshman with another freshman, Quinndary Weatherspoon, who took the reigns in the starting lineup with 15 points in a victory over the Crimson Tide.
Davis vs Ware
When the two went up against each other, Gavin Ware definitely got the best of Davis, scoring 15 points and nabbing 13 rebounds while the Aggie freshman went 1-6 from the floor for just four points in 19 minutes.
It's obvious that Mississippi State goes as Ware goes. He matches up with Davis with a similar frame (6'9, 260), but can also get above the rim. It's no coincidence that when the senior's on his game, the Bulldogs play at a different level. (The same also goes for the Aggies and Tyler Davis, for what it's worth)
The freshman from Plano has only gotten better in SEC play, and is not only is a solid contributor but a go-to option on big late possessions. When A&M is able to dish to him inside the paint, the offense becomes more versatile and things open up for the rest of the guys on the floor.
Prediction: Double-digit points from Gilder
Last contest, Admon Gilder struggled to put the ball in the basket but did not shy away from the moment with a decent 10 pt-4reb-2 steal effort against the Bulldogs. The Dallas native can get to the rim and can put a lot of pressure on an opponent in transition.
The Kentucky victory provided a resurgence for this A&M season, and they'll get to follow it up with another game in the safe confines of Reed Arena against an opponent that previously took them to the brink. A&M will remember that and will keep up the intensity with the SEC title and NCAA seeding on the line, and Gilder will be the beneficiary.
Look for Gilder to combine with Alex Caruso to lead to some steals and transition points by the freshman. If he can get into the groove and provide a spark off the bench, the Ags will have the tools to put the Bulldogs away early.
Who: Mississippi State
Where: Reed Arena