Mississippi State has had the talent for a while to do some damage, but just can’t seem to put it together. Of its dismal 13 – 18 (6 – 12) record, 11 games were lost by 10 or less points. The Bulldogs showed what they were capable of with wins over the LSU Tigers and Tennessee Volunteers, but it’s plain to see by their record that this team just can’t seem to finish close games.
Auburn, on the other hand, has a terrible 12 – 19 (4 – 14) record. Not because of any sort of failure on the team’s part, but because of the youth and change that this team has seen. People assumed Auburn would compete in the SEC this season based on the arrival of Bruce Pearl alone, but it takes talent and experience to compete in such a convoluted conference – both of which are something the Tigers are still trying to build back up.
The Bulldogs are led in scoring by Craig Sword and Gavin Ware, two juniors who it feels like have led this squad for the last 10 years. They average over 20 points a game combined, but the most impressive statistic has to be their field goal percentage, which averages out at over 47 percent from the floor. When these two players are on, they can beat teams who are considered much better than Mississippi State.
KT Harrell and Antoine Mason lead the Tigers in scoring with a combined 33.2 points. Harrell is one of the most underrated scorers in college basketball, where Mason is one of the SEC’s brightest young prospects. Mason has missed three of Auburn’s last games due to the death of his father, NBA legend Anthony Mason. Mason is back with the team, but it has not yet been disclosed whether he will play or not. According to ESPN, Pearl recently stated that he was glad that Mason “would come back and be with his teammates after such a difficult time.”
However, the two key figures in this game will be Tigers forward Cinmeon Bowers and Bulldogs forward Roquez Johnson. Bowers is a monster in the paint, just .3 rebounds per game away from averaging a double-double. Bowers can control the game for Auburn, dominating the boards and finishing down low. Johnson, on the other hand, has disappointed this season, often finding himself in foul trouble early on in games. If he can stay in the game, he can contribute valuable minutes for Mississippi State.
The last time these two teams met, it was an extremely close contest, with both Ware and Bowers going for 16 points and 17 rebounds and ultimately finishing in a 78 – 71 Bulldogs win. These are two evenly matched teams.
Whoever wins this game will face the No. 5 seeded Texas A&M Aggies, a team which is 3 – 0 against both of these squads. The good news in this match-up is that the future is bright for both programs. Both Auburn and Mississippi State have commitments from several four-star recruits already for next season, as well as some highly touted recruits returning for another season.
I give a slight edge in this game to Mississippi State behind the outstanding play of Sword and Ware, who should be able to outscore Auburn’s guards and survive the monster presence down low for the Tigers in Bowers.