After a victory over #11 Tennessee in front of the largest home crowd of the season, the #25 Texas A&M men’s basketball team travels to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 PM. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. It will be another tough test for the Aggies, who are current 21-7 overall and 13-2 in the SEC. The Bulldogs had a rough start to SEC play, going 1-7 before knocking off TCU in the Big XII-SEC Challenge. The win over the Horned Frogs seemed to spark the Dawgs, who have gone 5-2 in conference play since. Now MSU sits squarely on the bubble for the NCAA tournament and is desperate for a statement victory to boost its resumé. On the other side, the Aggies are looking for their second Quad 1 win of the week to improve their current #22 NET ranking.
Mississippi State is currently 18-10 on the year with a 6-9 mark in conference play with notable wins over Missouri and Arkansas. However, the Dawgs have dropped two of their last three, including a 3-point home loss to Kentucky and Tuesday night’s overtime loss at Mizzou. Offensively, the MSU is largely unremarkable. They are a good offensive rebounding team, but they get plenty of opportunities because they don’t shoot the ball particularly well. They do boast a high assist rate, meaning that their best chances to score come when they are moving the ball to create open looks. What the Bulldogs do well is defense. They are #4 nationally in defensive efficiency rating and second in the conference, behind Tennessee and just above Alabama. MSU has height on the wings and uses it effectively to ramp of the pressure. Five of the eight players in their regular rotation are 6’ 7” or taller. Fortunately, the Bulldogs aren’t prolific shot blockers, an attribute that has plagued A&M this season, but they do create a lot of steals and turnovers with their defensive attack. I expect that this game will be very comparable in style, tempo, and physicality to the Tennessee matchup.
There are certainly strong parallels between last year’s Texas A&M squad and this Mississippi State team when it comes to tournament resumes. Last year, the Aggies lost eight straight games after starting the year 15-2. These Bulldogs started the season 11-0 before losing 8 of their next 9 games. Last season’s Ags went 5-1 down the stretch to get back to a .500 record in the SEC. Mississippi State will likely need to win all three remaining games to close the season on a 9-2 run to have a shot at the NCAA tournament. The biggest obstacle standing in their way is Texas A&M.