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The SEC's Worst Losses: Mississippi State

Vanderbilt will get the opportunity to recover from a tough loss to Kentucky with a trip to play the SEC's worst team. Mississippi State is mired in a rebuilding year and has lost 11 straight. That means Vandy should get the W...right?

The Rick Ray rage face. On display for the last 11 games straight.
The Rick Ray rage face. On display for the last 11 games straight.
Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt was served another game that can only be described as "character building" on Wednesday, as another rally against Kentucky fell short and left this team at 4-9 in SEC play. Fortunately, the Commodores will get a tremendous opportunity to record a league win when they travel to Mississippi State on Saturday.

State currently sits in the SEC basement thanks to an 11-game losing streak that derailed a promising 2-0 start to league play. The Bulldogs are undergoing a huge rebuilding process thanks to the firing of coach Rick Stansbury and the loss of players like Renardo Sidney, Dee Bost, and Arnett Moultrie. Young players like Gavin Ware and Craig Sword have looked good in spurts, but the 'Dogs have suffered in 2013 thanks to injuries and suspensions. They'll head into their game against Vanderbilt with only five scholarship players ready to go.

That should make Vanderbilt a considerable favorite despite their sub-.500 record. They'll need a win on Saturday to have a shot at climbing out of the SEC's bottom four and thereby earn a bye on the first day of the league tournament.

Lost in the commotion of Vandy's recent roller coaster of emotion has been the steadily improving play of Rod Odom. Roddy Slater has been an offensive presence for the Commodores lately, putting up more than 15 points and four rebounds per contest in his last five games. Much of that revival has come from a newfound confidence in his three point shot. The junior is making 46.4 percent of his threes over that span but only 35.7 percent of his two-point shots. This is a small sample size, but the up-and-down forward could be rounding into the player that fans hoped he could become when he was a top 100 recruit coming to Nashville.

Neither State nor Vandy rank in the top 300 in the NCAA in terms of per-game scoring, so this could be a brutal one. Don't expect the Hump to be booming with fans of either side - or fast paced basketball - when the two teams tip off at 12:30. This should be a grind through and through - but those are the types of games in which Vanderbilt performs best.

MIssissippi State (17-8 overall, 8-4 SEC, Unranked)

Worst Loss (possibly ever): vs Alabama A&M (KenPom #340, CBS RPI #329) 57-59
Other Losses: There are 17 of them.

Remember Alabama A&M? The SWAC team that Vanderbilt beat by 25 points back in December? Well, Mississippi State lost to them.

The Bulldogs dropped what should have been a home-game gimme to exasperate fans and throw some extra adversity into new coach Rick Ray's rebuilding plans. State led by a 27-12 margin early but their scoring failed them late, allowing A&M to pull off a shocking win. Mississippi State made just two field goals in the final eight minutes of the game to seal their fate. The Bulldogs were protecting a five-point lead with under two minutes to play, but three turnovers and a spate of fouls on the defensive end gave the SWAC bottom-feeders all the opportunities they'd need to notch one of the biggest wins in program history.

Key to Destruction: Play confident. Alabama A&M pulled off a tremendous comeback in a hostile environment (which, granted, was less than half-full) thanks to the swagger of a veteran led team. Junior Green Hill came up with two huge steals, scored seven straight points, and pulled down the rebound of the only free throw he missed to cap off the Bulldogs' comeback. Junior Justan Banks gave A&M an efficient performance on both ends of the court at center. Jeremy Crutcher and Brandon Ellis - also juniors - played composed down the stretch and made some big plays to key the upset win.

Vanderbilt doesn't have a veteran-laden squad like Alabama A&M, but this young team has been put through its share of character-building games this season. Players like Kedren Johnson, Rod Odom, and Dai-Jon Parker have learned to adjust on the fly and this team has certainly grown compared to where they were just three months earlier. They'll have to turn this season's tough experiences into the kind of stability that wins games on Saturday if they want to run State's losing streak to 12 games.

Keys to the Game:
  • Challenge shots. State has some good rebounders in Gavin Ware and Colin Borchert, but the Commodores would be better suited by challenging shots rather than getting in position for misses against MSU. A&M recorded eight blocks and their hand-on-hand pressure forced the Bulldogs into a shooting funk. Much of A&M's success came from 7'1" center Justan Banks, but Vandy has a similarly lean presence in the middle in 6'11" Josh Henderson. If Hendo can shore up his help defense and keep his hands up in the paint then Vandy will have a great opportunity to impose their grinding, low-percentage defense on a State team that often struggles to score.
  • Take advantage of rookie mistakes. Mississippi State is one of the few teams that the Commodores will face in 2013 that rolls out a younger lineup than theirs. This lack of experience crushed the Bulldogs when they couldn't buy a basket as the clock wound down against A&M. MSU led by five points with under two minutes to play, but three turnovers and a missed Jalen Steele layup led to a big time choke job in Starksville. Vanderbilt has grown considerably this season, and they have the chance to be the team that takes charge in the final minute like Alabama A&M did in December against State.
  • Strong perimeter defense. Ware and Borchert are decent big men, but neither are A-1 scoring threats in the paint. State's offense is primarily going to come from guards and wings like Craig Sword, Jalen Steele, Roquez Johnson (suspended for Saturday's game), and Fred Thomas. All four are players who can be rattled by strong and dynamic defense out to the three-point line, and that's something that Vandy can provide with guys like Dai-Jon Parker, Kevin Bright, and the steadily improving Rod Odom.