Vanderbilt improved its NCAA Tournament resume - and gained some breathing room in the SEC standings - by routing Missouri and Auburn last week. Can the Commodores keep their momentum moving when they travel to Starkville on Tuesday?
Vandy will face a 10-14 Mississippi State team currently in the fourth year of an arduous rebuilding process. The Bulldogs have struggled through 2015-16 despite the occasionally brilliant play of Gavin Ware. The senior forward is one of the nation's most efficient scorers and has made nearly 63 percent of his shots this season. The rest of his team, by comparison, is shooting 42.7 percent from the field.
Offense, however, isn't MSU's big issue. The 'Dogs have given up 80 points or more in nine of their 14 losses this winter. In their last eight defeats - all in SEC play - they've allowed opponents to shoot 48.9 percent from the field. Vanderbilt has the shooting and inside prowess to take advantage, and both rose to the surface in Saturday's victory over Auburn. Commodore center Damian Jones needed only 25 minutes to score 17 points and pull down nine rebounds, while the team's starters combined to make over 41 percent of their three-point attempts.
Another performance like that one will carry the 'Dores to a three-game winning streak and nudge the team close to the happy side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. A loss will give the bracket makers one big reason to exclude Vanderbilt from March's festivities. So how do the Commodores avoid disappointment on Tuesday? Here's how UMKC did it back in December.
Mississippi State (10-14, 3-9 SEC, ranked No. 92 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)
Other Losses: Lots.
Point of emphasis: Attack Gavin Ware. Ware scored an efficient 12 points on six shots against UMKC, but he fouled out with about four minutes to play and left the Bulldogs' shorthanded in their comeback effort. Mississippi State has struggled when Ware heads to the bench with foul trouble. The team is 0-9 this winter when he has four or more fouls in a game.
Keys to the Game: