Mississippi St.-Texas A&M Preview
Even though Texas A&M struggled in shooting its lowest percentage when it faced Mississippi State earlier this season, it may not see that style of defense in Wednesday night's rematch.
That's because the Bulldogs have switched to playing mostly man-to-man defense as they seek to hand the No. 21 Aggies a rare home defeat.
Texas A&M (20-7, 9-5 SEC) won 61-60 at Mississippi State on Jan. 6 despite 30.6 percent shooting. Jalen Jones' dunk with 20 seconds left put the Aggies ahead for good in a game in which the Bulldogs (12-14, 5-9) mostly employed zone defense.
"We played all zone in that game and the difference in this game coming up is we'll play all man-to-man primarily if our depth will allow us to," coach Ben Howland said.
One concern for Howland's depth is whether Malik Newman, third on the team with 12.3 points per game, will miss a second straight game with a back problem after sitting out Saturday's 67-61 win at Alabama. Newman scored 14 in the first meeting with the Aggies, who are 15-1 at home.
The loss to Texas A&M started a season-high five-game skid for Mississippi State, which has gone 5-4 since and enters off its first back-to-back conference wins.
Freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon has totaled 39 points in the last two games and has emerged as the team's top scorer in SEC play with 14.9 per game. He is clearly a much better player now and has started the last 11 games; he came off the bench for 12 points the last time he faced Texas A&M.
"They've got a lot more confidence in him all the way through from the coaching staff to juniors and seniors and when you win the respect of your seniors, that says a lot," Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. "He's been very impressive."
Weatherspoon's strong week included a 3-pointer at the buzzer in last Tuesday's 75-74 win over Vanderbilt. He earned SEC co-freshman of the week honors along with Texas A&M center Tyler Davis, who had 15 points and 12 boards - a season-high nine offensive - for his first conference double-double in Saturday's 79-77 overtime victory over then-No. 14 Kentucky.
"I love Tyler Davis, I think to get nine offensive rebounds in a game against a team like Kentucky is just tremendous," Howland said.
The Aggies are one of the best in the SEC with a plus-3.4 rebound margin while the Bulldogs are one of the worst at minus-2.3. Texas A&M held a 41-34 edge on the glass in the first meeting with 20 offensive rebounds.
"They had 20 offensive rebounds here, they just repeated that feat in the last game against Kentucky," Howland said. "One of the things I'm most fearful about is how well they rebound the ball on the offensive end of the floor."
Texas A&M seeks to avoid a letdown after an emotional home victory that featured a pregame pep talk from Super Bowl MVP and former Aggies football star Von Miller. Jones had 24 points and eight rebounds.
"We're going to have to be at our best and build off the win and not have a letdown because if we have a letdown, we'll get beat," Kennedy said.