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What to Know: Tennessee at Mississippi State

After starting conference play with an 0-3 record, Mississippi State has turned things around. Tennessee, meanwhile, just turned in one of their more perplexing performances earlier this week and have now lost two-straight games.

Tennessee (12-8, 4-3 SEC) travels down to Starkville to take on Mississippi State (13-7, 4-3) for a 2:00 PM Eastern conference showdown on ESPNU. The Bulldogs fell to Oklahoma 63-62 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but they’ve won four-straight conference match-ups after losing to Auburn, Alabama, and LSU to start the SEC slate. Mississippi State has beaten Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida over their last four SEC games.

The Vols lost their first SEC game of the season to LSU, but they rebounded to win four of their next five conference contests. Since then, though, Tennessee has lost to Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and put together a disappointing performance against Texas A&M at home, losing 63-58 to the Aggies.

Saturday’s game is a must-win for the Vols if they want to keep their slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive. For the Bulldogs, a win would keep their hot streak alive and keep their NCAA Tournament dreams in their own control.

Tennessee is 85-43 all-time against Mississippi State, and they’ve actually won four of their last five games against the Bulldogs in Starkville. Overall, the Vols have won four-straight games against Mississippi State, including two victories over MSU in the SEC Tournament.

Here are the most important things to know about Saturday’s Tennessee vs. Mississippi State match-up.

Player of the Year Candidate 

When Tennessee takes on Mississippi State on Saturday, they’ll be facing one of the top players in the SEC down in Starkville.

Sophomore forward Reggie Perry is having a phenomenal second year of college. The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging a double-double on the year, posting 16.9 points and 10.0 rebounds a game in 29.5 minutes a contest. He’s shooting 51.7 percent overall and is making 32.1 percent of the threes he attempts. He’s also blocking a shot per game and is averaging 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals a game.

This season, Perry has scored 20 or more points in six contests and has put up 17 or more points in 10 of the 20 games he’s played in. Hes totaled double-digit rebounds in 11 contests and has totaled 11 double-doubles on the year.

In Mississippi State’s last game, a 78-71 victory against Florida in Gainesville, Perry scored a career-high 27 points and brought down eight rebounds. Perry has scored 21 or more points in five of Mississippi State’s seven SEC games this season.

Not Just a One Man Show

Perry is a dynamic post player, but he’s not the only good player on Mississippi State’s roster.

The Bulldogs feature three other players who average double figures in scoring, and three other Mississippi State players average at least five points a game. Abdul Ado, a starter, only scores 5.6 points a game, but he averages 6.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game, putting his 6-foot-11 frame to good use.

Tyson Carter has been the main source of offense outside of Perry for most of the season, as he’s averaging 13.6 points and 3.5 assists. But Nick Weatherspoon has turned it on since getting back into action on December 22nd, and he’s been a force in SEC play. The junior is averaging 14.1 points, 5.0 assists, and 3.7 rebounds a game against conference foes.

Robert Woodard is the team’s best three-point shooter, though he has only attempted 46 threes all season. He’s made half of those, though, connecting on 23 three-pointers. Carter has made 31.9 percent of his team-leading 116 three-point attempts. Woodard is averaging 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.

Rebound, Rebound, Rebound

Against Texas A&M, Tennessee got torched on the boards. The Vols were out-rebounded 46-21 by the Aggies, and UT gave up a whopping 23 offensive rebounds to Texas A&M.

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Texas A&M was pretty inefficient when it came to rebounding, especially off the offensive glass. The same cannot be said for Mississippi State, however.

The Bulldogs are averaging 13.3 offensive rebounds a game, one of the highest averages in all of Division I basketball. Their 97 offensive boards in SEC play are the second-most in the conference. Mississippi State’s 282 total rebounds in league play is the fourth-most among all SEC teams.

Tennessee, meanwhile, has given up the most offensive rebounds in SEC play this season, allowing 99 offensive boards to their conference opponents.

Not only does Mississippi State do a great job of bringing down missed shots, but they also prevent other teams from getting rebounds at an exceptional rate, too. They’ve only allowed 397 rebounds all season, the 15th-fewest in all of college basketball. Their 397 defensive rebounds allowed are the sixth-fewest in Division I basketball. In SEC play, no other team has given up fewer rebounds than Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs have only allowed opponents to rebound the ball 220 times in seven games.

The Vols’ leading rebounder, John Fulkerson (6.1 RPG), would rank fourth on Mississippi State’s roster for the season.

Work It Down Low

Mississippi State doesn’t shoot a lot of three-pointers. In fact, most teams in college basketball shoot it more from distance than the Bulldogs.

In 20 games, Mississippi State has attempted just 334 threes. Only 10 other teams in all of Division I basketball have shot fewer three-pointers on the season. The Bulldogs connect on their threes at decently a high rate when they shoot them, making 33.8 percent of their shots from distance, but they only average 16.7 three-point attempts a game.

With forward Reggie Perry and lengthy guard Robert Woodard providing a lot of the scoring for Mississippi State, it’s no surprise they like to score inside the three-point arc. And they do that exceptionally well, shooting 51.5 percent on their two-point field goals. In SEC play, Mississippi State leads the league in two-point field goal attempts, putting up 308 shots inside the three-point line.

Because of that more aggressive approach, the Bulldogs are able to get to the free throw line more often than other teams. They’ve attempted 415 free throws on the year and have made 74 percent of them, ranking 76th in the country. MSU has been even better in SEC play, sinking 80.9 percent of their free throws against conference foes.

When Tennessee’s offense has been the most successful, it’s been when they’ve tried to work it inside more. So they need to take a page out of Mississippi State’s book for Saturday’s game.

The Vols are 6-2 this season when attempting 17 or fewer three-pointers, with their only losses coming against Kansas and Cincinnati. UT is just 6-6 when they take 18 or more threes, and they’re 4-5 if they shoot 22 or more three-pointers in a game.

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