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Kentucky vs. Mississippi State: TV/Streaming Info, Keys to the Game, and Predictions

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Kentucky Wildcats plays Mississippi State in Rupp Arena on January 17th.
© Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Following a tough defeat in College Station against Texas A&M, the Kentucky Wildcats will return to Lexington to play a tough Mississippi State team. While unranked and suffering some bad losses early this season (Southern, 203rd in KenPom), the Bulldogs are analytically the fifth-best team in the SEC and are a borderline Top 25 team.

The 12-4 Bulldogs recently returned their best player, preseason All-American pick Tolu Smith, and just beat a top-5 Tennessee squad last week. With a full roster, with plenty of experience, they could cause some fits in the SEC. Their defense has been the calling card for this Mississippi State team, ranked 9th in defensive efficiency in KenPom.

Under John Calipari, Mississippi State has only beaten Kentucky once, in the 2021 SEC Tournament. However, of the last four games in the series, two have gone into overtime and the other two have been decided by one possession.

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I expect another close one on Wednesday. Let’s dive into the matchup.

Protect the Paint

If you look at the season stats, it would appear that Mississippi State shoots a fair amount of threes, averaging more than 23 per game, but at just a 32 percent clip, the third lowest in the SEC. However, since Tolu Smith has been added back to the lineup, the Bulldogs are averaging just 16 attempts per game. It is a small sample size, but shows a different offensive approach, and for good reason, Smith is one of the most efficient bigs in the SEC in the paint shooting better than 58 percent from the field.

Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso’s length could prove bothersome to Smith, but they must be smart and stay out of trouble. Even outside of Smith, the duo has shown improved rim protection, specifically Onyenso who had five blocks against Texas A&M, and who is also daring opponents to bring it into the paint. “If you think you can make a basket, if you think you can go get a layup on us, good luck with that,” he said last week.

Let’s also see if the guards have started to embrace the “desperate” mentality Calipari is trying to instill in them and stay in front of the ball.

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Take Advantage of Turnovers

The biggest weakness of this Mississippi State team is their inability to take care of the ball. In fact, averaging more than 13 per game, they are third third-worst team in the SEC in turnovers. These turnovers primarily come from poor entry passes, poor drives, or pressure in the paint. If Kentucky can force the same turnovers the Bulldogs have committed all season, this will allow Kentucky to get some easy transition opportunities and push the pace a bit.

Rebound

It is no coincidence that since Smith has returned, Mississippi State has reached double-digit offensive rebounds in three of the four games, something they had only done in three of the previous twelve games. This is an area that Kentucky has struggled against.

The Wildcats are coming off allowing 25 offensive rebounds to Texas A&M, the most of the John Calipari era. Last Saturday’s performance didn’t fall on any one player, as everyone got outworked for rebounds, but it’s disappointing given this team’s athleticism. Has Onyenso said previewing the matchup, it is an effort thing and the effort must be better.

Opposing Players to Watch

F Tolu Smith, 6-11, 245 lbs

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  • 16.8 PPG (8th in SEC)
  • 6.8 RPG (T-10th in SEC)
  • 58.3% FG (Doesn’t qualify, but would be 2nd in SEC)

G Josh Hubbard, 5-10, 185 lbs

  • 15.1 PPG (15th in SEC)
  • 38.8% 3P
  • WATCH ON/OFF BALL SCREENS!

G Shakeel Moore, 6-1, 190 lbs

  • 8.0 PPG
  • Best perimeter defender, Top 15 in steals in SEC back-to-back seasons.
  • 3rd time playing Kentucky

Kentucky Basketball vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Date: January 17th, 2024
  • Time: 7:00 pm ET
  • TV Channel: ESPN2
  • Announcers: To be announced.
  • Location: Central Bank Center in Lexington, KY.
  • Online Stream: Stream the game online with WatchESPN and the ESPN app.
  • Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
  • Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
  • Rosters: UK | MISS ST
  • Stats to Know: UK | MISS ST
  • KenPom: UK | MISS ST
  • Team Sheets: UK | MISS ST
  • Odds: DraftKings has yet to release the odds of this game. ESPN’s matchup predictor basically gives the Cats a 3 in 4 chance to win at 73.7%. Both Bart Torvik and EvanMiya are less confident in Kentucky, still projecting them to win at 63% and 65.2% respectively.
  • Predictions: Bart Torvik and Haslametrics are nearly identical in their projections, picking Kentucky to win 80-77 and 81-77. EvanMiya is still picking the Cats but in a slightly less scoring game, 77-73.

Men's Basketball

Lamont Butler Believes In Mark Pope And Will “Do Whatever It Takes To Put A Number Nine Up In Those Rafters”

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Lamont Butler transferred to Kentucky to prove that his more than just a defender.
Photo by Eddie Justice | UK Athletics

Lamont Butler has proven himself as one of the premier defenders in college basketball over the last four seasons at San Diego State, having earned MWC All-Defense honors in three straight seasons and winning the 2024 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Award.

With that level of defensive impact, Butler had no shortage of interest when he put his name in the transfer portal this Spring. In less than 48 hours after officially entering the portal, he had his decision, choosing Kentucky and becoming just the second commit of the Mark Pope era.

Butler’s parents, Lamont Butler Sr. and Carmicha Butler, recently spoke to KSR about how the family decided on Kentucky and what kind of player and young man the Wildcats are getting.

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“I can start off simply by saying that it’s Kentucky,” Lamont Sr. said. “Most kids in America, if they ever got the opportunity to play for a program like that, any kid would jump at it. With Lamont being in the position in life that he put himself in, it was the perfect move for him.”

While the brand of Kentucky Basketball is a big selling point, and one that Pope is emphasizing more than Calipari did, it was not the only selling point. The other big part was how Butler was going to be used at Kentucky, and Pope and his staff hopped on a plane to Las Vegas where he was working out, to do just that.

“We were at the gym working out, when, all of a sudden, we see the men in black coming in,” Lamont Sr. said. “I’m like, wow. It was the whole kit and caboodle. They were serious about Lamont.”

Before meeting with Butler and his family, Pope was already very familiar with his game having competed against him for three seasons at San Diego State in the MWC, and that certainly showed.

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“He practically broke Lamont’s game down,” Carmicha said. “He told him how he played, who he is, how he wanted to use him, his plans for him at Kentucky, and what he wanted to do with him. For me, it was amazing for Pope, who he never played for, to know that much detail about my son, on and off the court. That was a major plus, a major benefit.” 

Pope’s plan for Butler though is to show off his full game. While he is known as a defender, there is much more to his game, with his father highlighting his unselfishness and leadership.

“Lamont is the type of player who’s unselfish to a fault,” Lamont Sr. said. “I was telling someone, that Lamont scored 1,000 points but would’ve passed those 1,000 points up to make the right play. There are too many selfish players in the world. Everybody wants me, me, me, me, me. Lamont is about us, us, us. I told him that’s what’s going to take him far in life.” 

Those two characteristics are a big reason why Pope wants Butler on the ball, rather than off the ball which was the case most of the time he was at San Diego State.

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“It doesn’t matter to Lamont, but Pope is going to have him on the ball. That’s what a lot of people don’t know,” Lamont Sr. said. “That’s what it’s going to be, to lead the team and make sure he’s playing faster than he’s ever played.”

The primary thing though, Kentucky fans are getting a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to put another banner in the rafters.

“They’re getting somebody who’s going to give it his all on the court, injured or not,” Lamont Sr. said. “He’s going to be out there and do whatever it takes to put a number nine up in those rafters. That’s what Lamont is coming to do.”

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Trent Noah Says He Looks up to His Friend Reed Sheppard, On and Off the Court

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Noah: UK Athletics, Sheppard: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The level of high school basketball talent in Kentucky is the best it has been in several years. Last year, Kentucky fans got to witness the emergence of Reed Sheppard, and they are hopeful more of “Kentucky’s own” can help the Wildcats on the court under Mark Pope. Two such players are coming in next season, Mr. Kentucky Basketball Travis Perry of Lyon County, and Trent Noah of Harlan County.

The latter was recently interviewed by a fellow Kentucky native and former Wildcat, Cameron Mills, and the UK Sports Network. In that interview Noah not only talked about his excitement to join his home-state program and preparation for this coming season, but he also talked about looking up his friend and former teammate Reed Sheppard.

“He’s (Sheppard) such a great player. One of the best I have ever been around,” Noah told Mills. That just doesn’t stop off the court either. “He is a really good person. A really good friend. Someone I look up to.”

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Noah is just one year younger than Sheppard, but both are from the 13th region and the two formed a friendship when they were teammates for two seasons in the Adidas 3SSB Circuit with Midwest Basketball Club. What does Noah look up to Sheppard most for?

“He’s such a great leader. He’s always leading by actions. He just knows how to play. He has that natural gift. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. He obviously shoots the cover off the ball.”

Noah notes that to take some of those attributes and apply them to his game wouldn’t do anything but help them.

Toward the end of the interview, Mills asked Noah a theoretical question: “In an NBA-style three-point contest, who’s winning, you or Reed?”

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We know that Sheppard just shot the third-best three-point percentage in Kentucky basketball history, but he shot just over 30 percent in high school. Whereas Noah shot 43% (102-237) from 3-point range as a senior. With that, Noah is taking himself. “He can shoot it, but I don’t know if I can say he would beat me.”

It’s pretty cool to see the connection that Kentucky’s own have with the program and share with each other. Check out the full interview below!

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BB Recruiting

2025 Five Star, Potential Reclass Candidate Will Riley Begins Kentucky Visit

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2025 five star prospect and reclass candidate, Will Riley, takes his official visit to Kentucky June 4th-6th.
IMAGN/USA Today

Will Riley, one of the top rising seniors in the class of 2025, is set to begin a two-day official visit to Kentucky on Tuesday. This was first reported by Kentucky Insider last week.

The 6-foot-8 small forward out of Malvern, PA, is currently down to five schools: Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, and Alabama, and is leaving the possibility of playing professionally in the NBL in Australia. Riley is coming off a visit to Illinois and will visit Alabama later this week.

Already considered a consensus Top 25 prospect in the country according to 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rival, Riley’s stock is only continuing to rise. His calling card is his scoring ability and he has put that on display this Spring.

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Through the first four sessions of the Nike EYBL circuit, he is averaging 21.9 points per game, on fairly efficient numbers, shooting 49.6 % from the field,  31.7 % from three-point range, and 79 % from free throws. Riley also adds 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game in just under 30 minutes.

A possible reclass candidate, Riley is considering making the jump from the 2025 class to the 2024 class. That decision is yet to be determined, adding an element of suspense to his potential future in college basketball.

With one current scholarship remaining for the upcoming roster, Kentucky is open to Riley reclassing and joining this year’s roster, underlining the significance of his potential addition to the team.

However, Jaxson Robinson’s commitment makes it less likely that Kentucky would be the choice if he does reclass. If he decides to remain in the 2025 class, Kentucky would remain toward the top of his list.

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Does Riley become the first top 25 recruit in the Mark Pope era?

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