Behind Enemy Lines: Auburn-Mississippi State preview with Stefan Krajisnik of The Clarion Ledger

The No. 22 Auburn Tigers earned its first road win of the SEC schedule on Tuesday when the Tigers defeated Ole Miss, 82-73 at The Pavillion.

Auburn will now look to complete the Magnolia State sweep this Saturday, as they host the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Neville Arena for a 7:30 p.m. CT tipoff.

Mississippi State got off to a hot start under first-year head coach Chris Jans by posting an 11-1 nonconference record. However, the Bulldogs have been hit hard by a tough SEC slate to this point. The Bulldogs have had to go through a gauntlet of No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Tennessee, and have visited an up-and-coming Georgia team. Their lone win on the SEC schedule has been a win over rival Ole Miss at home, and they will enter the contest with Auburn with a 1-3 record against SEC foes.

What can we expect to see from Mississippi State? To get a more in-depth look at Auburn’s next opponent, we invited Mississippi State beat writer Stefan Krajisnik to join us for the latest edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.”

How has Chris Jans performed through his first 16 games as head coach? Can Auburn overcome Mississippi State’s defense under the basket? Krajisnik answers those questions and more.

Here is today’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines” with Stefan Krajisnik of The Clairon Ledger.

The Bulldogs leading man

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Chris Jans has led the Bulldogs to a 12-4 record to this point in the season. What has been your early assessment of his performance?

Jans has done a solid job under difficult circumstances. He inherited a roster without a proven shooter and has embraced the defense-first mentality that’s made this team successful early on. He’s clearly gotten players to buy in to what his staff is selling. It’ll be a big offseason for him to find talent in the portal.

Looking for a spark

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Despite the strong start, Mississippi State enters Saturday’s game with Auburn at 1-3 in the SEC. What are the factors that have slowed down the Bulldog’s hot start?

The offense has been poor since competition picked up. MSU struggles to score in all three levels. Shooting from beyond the arc is spotty. The Bulldogs have missed some easy looks in the paint at times. Lastly, the free throw shooting has been among the worst in the nation.

Push them outside

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Auburn has seen an uptick in production on the offensive side of the ball over the last two games. How do you see them stacking up against State’s defense?

It’s an interesting matchup because MSU has done a good job of playing defense inside the arc, which is an area where Auburn’s offense has been successful. If Auburn is struggling from deep, I think MSU’s defense can have some success especially because of its ability to create turnovers. If Auburn is knocking down 3-pointers, then it could be a long night for Mississippi State.

Who runs the show?

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Tolu Smith and D.J. Jefferies have held spots at the top of box scores all season long. What makes them so special?

Jeffries is likely the most dynamic player on the team. He’s one of the few players on the roster that can get going from outside, but he’s also shown to be at his best when that’s complemented by a willingness to drive to the hoop. Smith has been one of the more overlooked players in the SEC in the last couple years. He led the SEC in rebounding two seasons ago before dealing with injuries last season. When MSU is knocking down 3-pointers and stretching the floor, Smith becomes a legit threat in the post.

The dark horse

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Who are other Bulldogs that Auburn fans need to be aware of?

Cameron Matthews is a guy who won’t light up the box score, but his athleticism makes him exciting. He can jump out of the gym – whether it be for a dunk, steal or block. He’s a game-changer because you don’t expect him to do some of the things he’s able to do. Shakeel Moore had a nice outing at Georgia, but he’s been inconsistent. He’s a solid defender at the guard position who can knock down 3-pointers when he’s got it going.

Making the easy ones

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What does Mississippi State need to do well in order to earn a win at Neville Arena?

MSU needs to hit its free throws. Nobody expects the Bulldogs to shoot 90% from the charity stripe, but when you’re shooting below 50% it’s a problem. The more they miss, the more it’ll let the crowd get into the game. The free throws struggles also make it nearly impossible to pull away late in a game.

Tigers on Top

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What is your final score prediction?

I predict Auburn to win 70-54. MSU’s defense will keep the game ugly, but I think Auburn will be able to pull away late if Mississippi State hits a scoring drought.

Story originally appeared on Auburn Wire