What follows is a position-by-position breakdown of the five first-team matchups:
CENTER: Tennessee starts John Fields but Brian Williams plays the vast majority of the minutes. Williams, a 6-10, 270-pound senior, is identical in height and weight to State sophomore Renardo Sidney. Williams has a major edge in experience but Sidney holds a significant advantage in scoring potential (14.3 points per game to 7.0). Their rebound averages are virtually the same - Sidney at 7.7 per game, Williams at 7.5.
POWER FORWARD: Tennessee's Tobias Harris is one of the country's premier freshmen. The 6-8, 226-pounder is averaging 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. MSU's Kodi Augustus, a 6-8, 224-pound senior, is averaging 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds, so these two are quite similar physically and statistically.
SMALL FORWARD: Tennessee's Cameron Tatum, a 6-6, 192-pound junior, averages 9.6 points per game and tends to play well at home. Mississippi State counters with Ravern Johnson, a 6-7, 175-pound senior who averages a team-best 17.0 points per game. Tatum needs to be a lot more productive tonight than he was in the previous two games - a 3-point effort vs. Georgia last Saturday and a 2-point outing at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
SHOOTING GUARD: Tennessee has a clearcut advantage here. Scotty Hopson is a 6-7, 200-pound junior who averages 17.4 points per game and shoots 38.3 percent from 3. The past four outings have seen him score 22 at Florida, 23 vs. South Carolina, 32 vs. Georgia and 19 at Vanderbilt. State counters with Riley Benock, a 6-4, 193-pound senior who averages just 6.7 points but is shooting an impressive 44.3 percent from beyond the arc.
POINT GUARD: Tennessee gets around 32 minutes per game from Melvin Goins, a 5-10, 195-pound senior who averages 8.0 points and 2.9 assists per game. He'll have his hands full with MSU's Dee Bost, a 6-2, 176-pound junior who averages more than twice as many points per game (16.4) and almost twice as many assists per game (5.7). If Goins allows Bost to hit his normal numbers, the Vols could be in trouble.
GAME NOTES: Mississippi State and Tennessee are similar statistically. Both teams shoot precisely 43.3 percent from the field. Tennessee foes shoot 41.2 percent, MSU foes 41.7 percent. Tennessee foes shoot 32.9 percent from 3, MSU foes 33.1 percent.... Bruce Pearl is 5-0 against Mississippi State in regular-season games but 0-1 in SEC Tournament action. The Vol coach stands 28-14 against all SEC West teams and has won 14 of his last 18 games against foes from the opposite division.... State leads the SEC with a 45.1 field-goal percentage in league games only and shares the league lead with an average of 7.5 made 3-pointers per game.... Hopson committed to Mississippi State before reneging and signing with Tennessee four years ago.... MSU freshman Jalen Steele, a Knoxville native and graduate of Fulton High School, will not get a chance to face his hometown university tonight. The sharp-shooting guard tore his ACL Wednesday night against LSU.