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PREVIEW: Mississippi State @ Arkansas

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Date: Tuesday, February 2
Time: 8:00PM
Place: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Arkansas
TV/Streaming: SEC Network
All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 33-31
All-Time Series at Arkansas: Arkansas leads 21-8

The Bulldogs 10-8 (4-5)

MSU comes into to tonight’s game off of a dominating win over Iowa State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Bulldogs won 95-56. A season high of scoring for State.

Ben Howland has 4 players that have started every game they have been available. His leading scorers, Iverson Molinar, DJ Stewart, Tolu Smith, and Abdul Ado. Howland has searched around for a 5th starter. Jalen Johnson, Cameron Matthews, and Deivon Smith have all had opportunities rounding out the starting lineup.

Molinar and Stewart are both gifted scorers at the guard position. They both average 17.6 points a game. Molinar has been on fire from 3 this year shooting 51.1% from beyond the arc. Stewart is no slouch from the 3 either at 36.8% from 3.

The Bulldogs only have 3 players averaging 6.3 points or more a game so they really rely on Molinar and Stewart. If you stop them, then you have a great chance at winning and winning by a large margin.

Big man Tolu Smith gives every team problems. He is 6-10, 240. He scores 12.9 points per game with 8.5 rebounds. Abdul Ado is his counterpart on the other side of the paint. The senior big man is not much of a scorer, but he hauls in 6.7 rebounds and blocks 1.9 shots a game.

Hog fans may remember Ado getting an offensive rebound and put-back layup at the buzzer last year in Bud Walton Arena to give MSU the win. I was in attendance that day. Just brutal.

Howland has had a lot of success against Arkansas. He is 6-1 during his time at MSU against the Hogs with those 6 wins coming in a row.

In conference play, the Bulldogs have to live with a lot of “what ifs.” State has 4 SEC losses by 8 points or less. They hang around with everyone.

The length Howland employs gives teams fits. 6-11 Ado, 6-10 Smith, 6-6 Molinar, 6-7 Matthews, 6-6 Johnson and 6-9 Javian Davis-Fleming. The only 2 players in Howland’s 8 man rotation under 6-6 is Stewart and Smith.

The keys for MSU are to rebound, rebound, rebound. If they can outrebound Arkansas by 10 then they have a great chance.

Another key will be when Connor Vanover brings the big men out to the 3 point line, the other player must rotate to protect the paint.

The Razorbacks 13-5 (5-4)

Because these Hogs can’t seem to take advantage against good teams, they put themselves in a position where they cannot afford to lose Q2/Q3/Q4 games. Tonight’s game is a Q3. Mississippi State is currently #80 in the NET. In order for it to be a Q2, the Bulldogs would need to move up to #75.

Arkansas did a lot of good things on Saturday in Stillwater. They fought back in a tough road game. There some killer sequences that ultimately lost the game, but there was a lot to be proud of.

Jaylin Williams suffered a bone bruise to his knee on Saturday. He is day-to-day, but this is a game where Jaylin may be needed. I hope he is able to play.

Connor Vanover has been under a lot of fan scrutiny since the start of SEC play. He has not shot the ball as well and has struggled to stay on the floor in certain matchups. That will not be the case tonight. I actually see tonight’s game being a big opportunity for him.

Let’s be honest, Vanover is going to have a tough assignment on defense. Tolu Smith and Abdul Ado are both tough to handle in the post. Despite that, I think Vanover can give both of them problems when Arkansas has possession.

He should have some open chances from 3 on pick and roll scenarios.. His lurking from deep range will open the paint for Arkansas drivers. He is a key piece to Arkansas’ success tonight.

Arkansas needs much better play from the point guard spot tonight. Jalen Tate struggled mightily against OSU. They pressured him all night. When teams have gotten Tate’s face early and often, he has not been good. I expect the Bulldogs to do the same. Tate needs to be better, Notae needs more chances running the point, and Devo Davis needs to lock up their guards. Guard will play be extremely important.

The key to an Arkansas win is to take care of the basketball, rebound at an even clip or better, and don’t let the Stewart/Molinar combo go for 35.

Prediction

MSU is allowing teams to make 8 threes per game this year. I love the stat for this Arkansas team. Coach Eric Musselman will have a game plan to slow down Iverson and Molinar. I am picking the Hogs at home and for the MSU winning streak in this series to win.

Arkansas 74 Mississippi State 66