Know your Starkvegas rival: Mississippi State

USA TODAY Sports

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Alabama A&M is 8-15 this season, 4-8 in the SWAC. The Bulldogs have lost to the likes of Jacksonville State, Mississippi Valley State, UA-Pine Bluff (twice) and Alabama State. They lost to Iowa State by 58 points, to Evansville by 26, to Vanderbilt by 25, and to Texas Southern by 33. And on December 30, they went to Starkville and beat Mississippi State. While shooting just 42% from the field.

Sure, there is plenty of context here. Mississippi State has handled its other dregs-level cupcakes like a major conference program should, this was the quintessential "s*** happens" loss in many ways, and if we want to play the Transitive Property game, there are plenty of ways in which MSU compares favorably to Missouri (they lost by 18 points at Ole Miss, and Mizzou lost by 15; they lost by 25 points at Florida, and Mizzou lost by 31; they lost in OT to Texas A&M, and Mizzou lost by two; they lost by one to LSU, and Mizzou lost by three; they beat Georgia by 11 on the road, and Mizzou won by 17 at home). But the bottom line is, Mizzou cannot lose to a team that lost to Alabama A&M and pretend that it is anything more than a First Four-level NCAA Tournament team. Losing to LSU was not good; losing to Mississippi State, with all of its injuries, youth and misfortune, would be an outright disaster.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-15)


MSU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
67.8
Points Per Possession (PPP)
0.91 1.01
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.16 1.16
2-PT FG% 46.1% 48.3%
3-PT FG% 28.7% 33.9%
FT% 66.2% 66.9%
True Shooting % 49.6% 51.9%




MSU Opp.
Assists/Gm 10.2 14.0
Steals/Gm 8.2 8.8
Turnovers/Gm 17.6 15.9
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.04 1.44




MSU Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.0 11.7
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.5 13.0
Difference +0.5 +1.3

Whatever Rick Ray thought he was getting himself into when he took the MSU job, he probably didn't think it would start this poorly. His lone senior, Wendell Lewis, was lost for the season with a December knee injury. One of his only scoring options, Jalen Steele, has been suspended. Freshman guard Jacoby Davis tore his ACL in the summer. Freshman guard Andre Applewhite tore his ACL before the season began. It's like these guys think they play Missouri football or something.

The rotation currently features six scholarship players, three freshmen, two sophomores, and, without Steele, seven total players. If the roster were made up entirely of McDonald's All-Americans, it would be difficult for the team to succeed under these circumstances. But while there is certainly some talent on display here -- four-star freshman center Gavin Ware is a solid scorer, four-star guard Craig Sword can dominate the game at times (and that's often a bad thing) -- there just isn't nearly enough of it.

That said, MSU isn't a bad defensive team. Ray wants to play pressure defense, and MSU does it well, forcing 15.9 turnovers per game, 8.2 via steal. And they do so without fouling a large amount (and thank goodness -- they do still need five guys on the court). But any gains they make in terms of ball control, they give up in full. They can't hold onto the ball, they can't really shoot, and without Steele, their offensive deficiencies double.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

MSU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

MSU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 298 107 MU big
Effective FG% 296 81 MU big
Turnover % 343 299 MU
Off. Reb. % 131 56 MU
FTA/FGA 91 20 MU
MU Offense vs MSU Defense Ranks

MU Offense MSU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 14 129 MU big
Effective FG% 94 212 MU big
Turnover % 95 37 MSU
Off. Reb. % 5 319 MU biiiiig
FTA/FGA 200 16 MSU big

Where the Bulldogs are weakest

I mean, not to be mean, but you have your choice from a long list. They can't really shoot (325th in 3PT%, 225th in 2PT%, 265th in FT%, 344th in Off. Block%). They can't control the ball (343rd in TO%, 332nd in Off. Steal%, 312th in Assists Per FG Made). They don't block out (319th in Def. Reb. %). They don't really leverage you into poor shots (194th in Def. 3PT%, 210th in Def. 2PT%, 264th in Def. 3PA/FGA). And as you could probably surmise from above, they are amazingly inexperienced (329th in Experience). Hard to win games like that.

Where they are best

They do force turnovers without fouling (37th in Def. TO%, 46th in Def. Steal%, 16th in Def. FTA/FGA), and when they do foul, they foul people who don't make free throws very well (72nd in Def. FT%). They are also reasonably long (123rd in Effective Height), so there's that.

MSU's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    at No. 121 Georgia (72-61)
    No. 194 South Carolina (56-54)
    No. 244 Florida Atlantic (78-58)
    No. 270 UTSA (53-42)
    vs. No. 280 Central Arkansas (79-72)
    No. 321 Alcorn State (60-42)
    No. 346 New Orleans (97-46)
  • Losses
    No. 1 Florida (47-82)
    at No. 1 Florida (58-83)
    at No. 34 Ole Miss (75-93)
    vs. No. 28 Marquette (62-89)
    vs. No. 46 North Carolina (49-95)
    at No. 62 Providence (63-73)
    at No. 73 Arkansas (70-96)
    No. 75 Alabama (43-75)
    vs. No. 95 Texas (55-69)
    No. 96 Texas A&M (49-55, OT)
    at No. 100 Tennessee (57-72)
    No. 113 LSU (68-69)
    at No. 180 Loyola Chicago (51-59)
    at No. 286 Troy (53-56)
    No. 343 Alabama A&M (57-59)

Average Score, MSU versus Top 50 (0-5): Opponent 88.4, MSU 58.2 (-30.2)
Average Score, MSU vs. Top 51-150 (1-7): Opponent 71.3, MSU 59.6 (-11.7)
Average Score, MSU vs. No. 151-300 (4-2): MSU 61.7, Opponent 56.8 (+4.9)
Average Score, MSU versus No. 301+ (2-1): MSU 71.3, Opponent 49.0 (+22.3)

Again, the Alabama A&M loss sticks out in a major way, but as I said, that's really not the biggest problem on their resume. The biggest problem would be the fact that they average a 30-point loss to Top 50 teams. Or that they have lost games by 14, 15, 26 and 32 to teams outside the Top 50.

MSU Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Gavin Ware (6'9, 270, Fr.) 11.5 0.45 25.4 MPG, 9.0 PPG (56% 2PT, 55% FT), 6.8 RPG, 1.4 TOPG
Fred Thomas (6'5, 191, Fr.) 10.3 0.37 28.0 MPG, 10.5 PPG (46% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 78% FT), 3.5 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.2 APG
Roquez Johnson (6'7, 210, So.) 7.9 0.31 25.4 MPG, 9.2 PPG (43% 2PT, 31% 3PT, 62% FT), 4.6 RPG, 2.4 TOPG, 2.5 PFPG
Colin Borchert (6'8, 231, Jr.) 7.8 0.30 26.1 MPG, 7.8 PPG (46% 2PT, 30% 3PT, 64% FT), 4.6 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.4 TOPG, 2.9 TOPG
Trivante Bloodman (6'0, 182, So.) 6.2 0.21 29.1 MPG, 5.9 PPG (42% 2PT, 27% 3PT, 75% FT), 3.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2.9 TOPG
Craig Sword (6'3, 189, Fr.) 5.4 0.21 25.7 MPG, 9.8 PPG (45% 2PT, 21% 3PT, 52% FT), 3.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, 4.1 TOPG, 3.1 PFPG
Tyson Cunningham (6'3, 194, Jr.) 4.0 0.19 21.1 MPG, 2.4 PPG (33% 2PT, 43% 3PT, 86% FT), 2.4 RPG, 1.4 APG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Sword (29%), Thomas (24%), Johnson (23%)
  • Highest Floor%: Ware (42%), Cunningham (36%), Bloodman (35%)
  • Highest %Pass: Cunningham (71%), Bloodman (62%), Borchert (44%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Ware (58%), Thomas (49%), Johnson (44%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Johnson (27%), Ware (19%), Sword (13%)
  • Highest %T/O: Johnson (15%), Sword (14%), Ware (12%)

Again, this probably wouldn't be a particularly good team with Wendell Lewis (8.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG), Jalen Steele (9.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG), and the injured freshmen, Applewhite and Davis. But it would probably be a more competent one. As it is, this team is dominated mostly by Sword, who brings more to the table and takes more from the table than any player I've seen this year. He shoots a ton, and the shots occasionally go in -- he scored 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting against South Carolina, 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting versus Georgia, 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the Alabama A&M disaster, 17 points on 5-for-13 shooting (6-for-10 from the FT line) versus Ole Miss -- but they often do not, and his four turnovers and three fouls per game are a staggering combination. Ware is probably the Bulldogs' most advanced player at the moment, but he doesn't really command the ball and doesn't bring much to the table beyond scoring near the basket just yet.

Keys to the Game

  1. Show Up. I hate to be mean, but if Missouri brings its B-game to Starkville, the Tigers win relatively comfortably. They could probably win with their C-game. But they do have to bring at least that. We've seen some stinkers in our time, and if Mizzou isn't playing with the appropriate level of aggression or competence, this could certainly end up a loss.

  2. Make Shots. CapnCribbs looked at it yesterday, and the stats just scream at you. In Mizzou wins versus "real" teams, the Tigers shoot 49% on 2-pointers and 38% on 3-pointers. In Mizzou losses, its' 48% and 30%. In the end, this isn't the whole story in Mizzou losses -- it alone doesn't account for the disparity in Mizzou's points per possession in wins (1.19) and losses (0.95) -- but ... well ... we've seen Missouri do some serious brick-laying at times. Make your open shots (and you'll get some), and you'll probably win, even if you're turning the ball over a bit too much for my liking.

  3. Oriakhi vs. Ware. In terms of individual matchups, I guess the most important would probably be Phil Pressey vs. MSU point guards Trivante Bloodman and Tyson Cunningham. Opposing PGs tend to have great games versus Missouri on the road. But the most interesting matchup has to be Alex Oriakhi vs. Gavin Ware, one of the best big men in the SEC versus one of the future best big men in the SEC. If Oriakhi can avoid foul trouble, he should have a decent advantage over the young Ware, but Ware draws fouls quite well, and if AO is on the bench, Ware has a significant size advantage over replacements like Tony Criswell and Laurence Bowers and might be a little too much for Ryan Rosburg at this point. If Oriakhi is forced to live on the bench for a while, MSU has a clearly-defined matchup advantage it can milk (if the MSU guards can avoid turnovers in getting him the ball).

Prediction

According to the Pomeroy rankings, Mississippi State isn't quite as bad as the Texas Tech team that was able to frustrate Mizzou for a half in both Columbia and Lubbock last year. By all means, this could be a game for a while. But it better not when it reaches the final minutes. Pomeroy projects a 77-64 Mizzou win. I'd take that. In fact, I'll make that my pick, too. But hey, if the Tigers wanted to actually look good and win by 20-30 (in other words, if they want to look like the average Top 50 team playing MSU), I certainly wouldn't object.

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