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Preview: Vanderbilt Aims for Four Straight Wins When Mississippi State Comes to Nashville

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Mississippi State beat Vanderbilt 57-54 in one of the ugliest games of January. Can the Commodores pull together to run the Bulldogs out of Nashville in Wednesday night's rematch?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The last time Vanderbilt and Mississippi State met, the Bulldogs snapped a 16-game conference losing streak. Now they'll have to get by the Commodores one more time if they want to avoid the opening round of the SEC Tournament.

State currently sits in 12th place in the conference standings, but a pair of wins in the final week of the regular season would give them an inside track in finishing the the league's top 10 and avoiding a Wednesday matchup when the postseason starts. Vanderbilt can clinch one of those spots by beating the Bulldogs at home. In fact, a win on Wednesday would even put them in solid shape to avoid the #1 Kentucky Wildcats until a potential showdown in the tournament finals.

Mississippi State beat Vanderbilt in an all-time stinker six weeks ago. Neither team shot better than 40 percent and the Commodores failed to capitalize on State's 17 turnovers in the upset loss. Both teams have grown significantly since then. Vandy's youngsters have leveled up their composure ratings while the Bulldogs notched wins over LSU and Tennessee in February. It won't take much to make Wednesday's contest a better game than their last one, but both teams should be up to the task.

The Opponent: Mississippi State University (12-17, 5-11 SEC)

KenPom Rankings: Mississippi State is 173rd. Vanderbilt is 44th.

Key Stat: 38.5%. That's what the Commodores shot when these two teams first met. It was a shade lower than the Bulldogs' 38.6% mark. Needless to say, any and all recording of that January meeting have been banned from use in prison camps thanks to the Geneva Convention.

Vanderbilt's worst offenders were the freshmen in their backcourt. Riley LaChance, Wade Baldwin IV, Shelton Mitchell, and Matthew Fisher-Davis made just seven of their 28 shots in the third loss of what became a seven-game losing streak. Those players have grown considerably in the month and a half that has passed - especially Baldwin. If they can shoot effectively from long range they'll give the Commodores the leverage they need to avenge January's loss.

Matchup to Watch: Damian Jones vs. Gavin Ware. MSU had no answer for Jones, who made nine of his 13 shots and went to the free throw line 11 times. Unfortunately, he missed eight of those attempts and gave the Bulldogs reason to believe in the "Hack-a-Dame" strategy. Ware is a wide bodied rebounder who is tenacious in the paint, but he doesn't have the athleticism to hang with Jones for 40 minutes.

Jones kept the Commodores afloat when his guards failed him when these two teams last met. If he can have another efficient game - this time while making his free throws - then he can help send James Siakam and Shelby Moats off right on Senior Night. If not, then it could be a frustrating night in Nashville.

Starters and Rotation Players:

Vanderbilt
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Wade Baldwin IV 8.6 3.9 4.3
G - Riley LaChance 12.2 3.2 2.7
F - Jeff Roberson 4.9 3.4 1.2
F - James Siakam 8.9 5.8 0.6
C - Damian Jones 14.6 6.4 0.8
Key Reserves
F - Luke Kornet 9 3.7 0.9
G/F - Matthew Fisher-Davis 6.6 2.3 1.2
G - Shelton Mitchell 4.2 2.2 3.4
Mississippi State
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - I.J. Ready 8 1.9 2.3
G - Fred Thomas 9.6 3.8 0.8
G - Craig Sword 10.4 2.6 1.6
F - Roquez Johnson 9.7 5.4 0.5
F - Gavin Ware 10.1 7.3 0.3
Key Reserves
G - Travis Daniels 6.2 4 0.6
G - Trivante Bloodman 3.9 1.5 2
F - Demetrius Houston 2.9 2.2 0.3