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Louisville-Mississippi State preview: Cards face tall test on Thanksgiving night

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The first of two battles in the Bahamas has arrived.

SEC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (3-1) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-0)

Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship

Game Time: 9:30 p.m. (approximately)

Location: Baha Mar Convention Center: Nassau, Bahamas

Television: CBS Sports Network

Announcers: Kevin Fitzgerald (play-by-play), Debbie Antonelli (analyst), and Sam Hyman (reporter)

Favorite:

Officials: TBA

Series: Louisville leads, 3-2

Last Meeting: Mississippi State won 79-56 in the NIT Quarterfinals on March 20, 2018 at the KFC Yum Center

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Mississippi State’s Season to Date:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About Mississippi State:

There’s no question that Mississippi State will be the most talented team Louisville has faced during this young season. While the Cards haven’t squared off against the Bulldogs since the 2018 NIT, U of L fans should still be familiar with some of the names they’ll see on the MSU jerseys Thanksgiving night.

North Carolina transfer Garrison Brooks — who had decent success against Louisville throughout his career at UNC — is the team’s leading rebounder (7.3) and third leading scorer (11.5). Memphis transfer D.J. Jeffries is averaging 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. Also, Michigan State transfer Rocket Watts — a player U of L was heavily rumored to be in the mix for — was recently cleared to return to action after offseason hip surgery, and his played sparingly in MSU’s last two games.

Despite all the new faces, the engine of this Mississippi State team remains junior guard Iverson Molinar, the SEC’s second-leading scorer last season. Molinar is a wiry 6’3 guard who is at his best when he’s breaking down defenders off the dribble. He’s been a solid three-point shooter throughout his college career, but is just 4-of-15 from deep so far this season. Molinar, who is also a terrific defender, is especially apt at hitting the pull up jumper off the bounce, a shot he seems to be able to create with ease. Think poor man’s Cole Anthony here.

MSU’s second-leading scorer is Shakeel Moore, a 6’1 guard who was a role player last year at NC State but appears to be in the midst of a breakout season as a sophomore. Moore is especially dangerous when it comes to turning defense into offense. He’s recorded at least two steals in every game this season, and had five in Mississippi State’s most recent outing, a 20-point win over Morehead State.

This game is especially dangerous for Louisville when you consider that the Cardinals have struggled to both defend the three and own the defensive glass so far this season. As a team, Mississippi State is shooting the three at a 45.7 percent clip, the third-best mark of any team in the country. The Bulldogs are also rebounding 37.7 percent of their missed shots, putting them at No. 24 in the country in offensive rebound percentage.

Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism here if you’re a Louisville fan is the fact that MSU will be facing its first legitimate test Thursday night. The average Ken Pom ranking of Mississippi State’s first four opponents is a lowly 216.

Notable:

—Louisville will be seeking its 31st regular season tournament championship when the Cards play in the Bahamas Championship. Louisville claimed its 30th regular season tournament championship, winning the 2019 Global Sports Shootout title by sweeping the five-team, round-robin event and beating Akron 82-76 in the final game.

—Louisville and Mississippi State have one common opponent this season in Detroit Mercy. The Cardinals defeated the Titans, 73-67, while the Bulldogs had a little less trouble in a 77-64 victory.

—This will be Louisville’s third all-time early season tournament in the Bahamas. The Cardinals have twice finished as the runner-up in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

—Fredrick King, a U of L signee from the class of 2022, is a native of the Bahamas.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Louisville is a 2-point underdog in this game. It marks the first time this season the Cardinals will be playing as an underdog.

—Mississippi State has held opposing teams to 52 points per game this year, the sixth-lowest figure among all Division I teams.

—Mississippi State leads the SEC in offensive field goal percentage (52.0) and three-point field goal percentage (45.7) through its first four games. The Bulldogs also check in among the SEC’s top three in field goal percentage defense (34.2 – 2nd), scoring defense (52.0 – 2nd), scoring margin (+24.0 – 2nd), rebounding defense (27.3 – 2nd) and rebounding margin (+13.3 – 3rd).

—Louisville is 4-4 all-time in games played on Nov. 25.

—Louisville has an 86-74 all-time record against current members of the SEC.

—This will be the fifth game of a six-game suspension for Louisville head coach Chris Mack. Assistant coach Mike Pegues is guiding the Cardinals in Mack’s absence. The win/loss total from these six games will go on his coaching record, not Mack’s.

—Mississippi State will be looking for its first early season tournament title since 2011.

—Louisville is 30-2 over the last three seasons when scoring at least 71 points, but one of those losses came earlier this season against Furman.

—Since 2004, Louisville is 127-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.

—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 155 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of only five schools to be ranked in the AP Top 25 poll at least once during each of the last 18 seasons (others: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, & North Carolina).

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Mississippi State 67, Louisville 66