A pair of top-25 teams SEC teams will meet up Saturday night as the no. 16 Auburn Tigers visit the no. 22 Mississippi State Bulldogs. At home, the Bulldogs are a slim 1-point favorite.
Despite being ranked, both teams are off to a slow start in conference play. Auburn has lost back-to-back games after coming up short against Kentucky last weekend and losing at South Carolina mid-week. The Tigers are just 2-3 in conference play thus far, with their only wins coming against basement dwellers Georgia and Texas A&M, so they could use a marquee win.
Of course, the same is true of Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are also 2-3 since the start of SEC play and are coming off a 21-point thrashing at the hands of Kentucky. That game began a stretch of playing five of their next six games against teams that are currently ranked. If the Bulldogs can’t get back on track soon, their season could start to spiral out of control.
The Golden Spoon
The Bulldogs are once again led by guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who is poised to be the team’s leading scorer for the third straight season. The senior is scoring nearly 17 points per game while chipping in over five rebounds despite being just 6’4’’. The most impressive part is that Weatherspoon is scoring at a high rate without doing much perimeter shooting. He’s unafraid to drive to the basket and is getting to the free throw line more frequently than ever.
Fortunately for Mississippi State, they have a number of capable shooters surrounding Weatherspoon. Lamar Peters, Aric Holman, and Quinndary’s younger brother, Nick, are all shooting over 40% from three-point range. However, State’s shooters have been spotty during SEC play. Outside of their win over Florida, the Bulldogs are shooting 29% from the perimeter in their SEC games, a trend that can’t continue.
Missing Big Man
It’s worth noting that Auburn’s last two losses have come without the services of center Austin Wiley, who is on the shelf with a leg injury. Despite playing less than 18 minutes per game, the 6’11’’ sophomore is Auburn’s third-leading scorer, not to mention their best interior defender and rebounder. Perhaps more importantly, without Wiley, the Tigers don’t have a player in their rotation taller than 6’8’’.
On the bright side, Auburn is more of a perimeter-oriented team anyway. The Tigers are led by the backcourt duo of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. The pair combines for 32 points per game and both can be awfully streaky from three-point range. Of course, with Wiley unavailable, if either Brown or Harper has an off night, the Tigers may not have enough scoring to keep up in a high-scoring affair, which is how Auburn wins most of their games.
My Roar Beats Your Bark
Auburn is vulnerable inside with Wiley, but Mississippi State doesn’t have the kind of inside presence that can exploit that like Auburn’s last two opponents have done. That should make things easier for the Tigers, who have more reliable backcourt scorers. Bet on the Tigers beating the Bulldogs on the road.